Saturday, 9 January 2010

Just Do It

It’s so simple to pluck mass-produced trendy items from the rails in men’s clothes stores. And although one could argue the range is not as varied as women’s options; the prices in Peacocks, Primark, Asda and the like are comparable to those on the tags of ladies garments.

In this culture of growing social awareness, however, where we check our supermarket groceries increasingly for Fair Trade logos alongside the more traditional pie-chart emblem, more are asking for the opportunity to intersperse style and price with a clean conscience.

Popular fashion brands have associations at first invisible to the naked eye: Hugo Boss gloss over their history of Nazi sympathies and suppliers of uniforms to the SA and SS guards with well-known sleek and sexy advertising. Nike...where do I start. A tarnished history of employing slave labour who get what they’re given after working unthinkable hours in sweatshops so we have too many pairs of trainers to chose from.

The fact is that there are reasonably priced outfits available but the marketability for such is ambiguous. Sure, celebrities will pose in the buff for transient anti-fur campaigns, but what of longer-lasting promotion? Socially responsible companies don’t have the money to advertise their advantages whereas the companies that exploit their workers consequently do. Plus the most popular fashion advertising is generally aimed at women, so what efforts are being made to draw male attention to fashion ethics?

A brief internet search I conducted into the topic of ethical fashion threw up such names as www.hippyshopper.com and www.nomadsclothing.com – names which may discourage a large proportion of potential consumers who do not wish to be affiliated with bohemian culture and student-activist connotations. I have a feeling my conclusion that eco-friendly clothing, to become commercially attractive, needs to be re-packaged, is not entirely too dismissive and off the mark.

A study named Consumption Trends in the UK – 1975-1999 conducted by the IFS revealed “there is a significant gender effect on the clothing share”. Unsurprisingly the difference was less marked in 1999 than the extent of the contrast revealed in 1975. Women’s magazines still try to encourage expenditure on clothing with the excuse of it being a comforting exercise, a way to promote the self, a way to get what you want out of life – be it a lover or a job. Men need less pressure to spend because they do not fall prey to the same trappings to the same degree – there is little desire created to constantly rejuvenate their wardrobes to pander to the latest seasonal requirements, men tend to replace clothes when necessary, rather than for narcissism. News reports frequently emphasise the destructive nature of fashion advertising on women’s mental and physical health, rather than peer pressure that may arise in male groups. Less competitiveness is generated in the men’s clothing industry compared to women’s to get the best, newest version of whatever.

Venturing from my home in Canterbury to go down the coast to visit Hastings recently, I was struck again by the lack of diversity in the town’s main shopping precinct. It has been acknowledged by many a socioculturalist for years that British towns are becoming homogenised – for any acquisition of ‘uniqueness’ one must venture into the back alleys, or the internet. And sometimes the back alleys of the internet. An example of which is www.etsy.com. Launched in 2005 its ever increasing popularity is indicative of the consumer desire for handmade and recycled items. However, the result you’ll stumble across, time and time again, is that if you want to be ethically sound you’ll have to part with more cash. The choice is yours.