If I asked you to name a product that every one of you have in common with one another, plus you rely on it so much that you take it with you everywhere you go, would you know what it is?
This product is a 2.7 trillion dollar industry, employing 75 Million people globally, producing an estimated 100 billion units per year.
What if, apart form being one of the oldest products crafted and traded I also tell you that it can actually enhance a person’s performance and mental well being?
It’s gotta be an app then on your smart phone right? No. It’s much more part of us than even our smart phones.
It’s clothing. Yes, these seemingly simple pieces of fabric sewn together and draped around our bodies, literally touching us, are so much more than ‘just clothes.’
My passion for designing clothes and the people that wear them didn’t come about because I was brought up in the fashion industry. Far from it. In a small rural fishing village in the NE of Scotland the closest I came to making any sort of fashion statement growing up was whether I wore my brothers hand me downs, inside my wellies that season or over the top!
The most important thing I have learned, in the decades I have been working with people and the clothes that they wear, is that, it’s not actually, about how you look that really matters,
It’s how clothes make you feel.
Whether we are fully aware of it or not, the clothes that we choose to wear are an extension of our personality and our desire to belong, stand out or blend in.
We use clothes to attract a partner, to make a statement, to be protected physically and sometimes emotionally too.
Even taking clothes off, is part of sex and arousal in our complex mating game.
The Victorian Industrial Revolution started right here in the UK with textile mills and the first mass-produced commodity. From this revolution many words, terms and expressions are still woven into everyday figures of speech that a little like our attitudes to clothing have become so normalaised that their importance has almost been lost.
Discussing a strategy with a colleague last week, we came to the same conclusion and she said, “We are cut from the same cloth”. Later that afternoon I read an email from a friend and she’d written, “It’s all falling apart at the seams”
We catch shuttle buses, weave through traffic, follow comment threads of online posts and before I loose the thread of what I am saying, terminology from textile production and the tailors workrooms are still very much part of the fabric of today’s society.
Our performance and happiness levels are intertwined with what we wear and there are several studies to support this.
Northwest University asked subject groups to carry out a set of mental tasks. One set were given a Doctors white lab coat to wear, a garment that is associated with attentiveness and care.
The other group wore their own clothes.
The results from the tests showed that the group who wore the Doctors coat were significantly better than those who simply wore their own clothing.
In the 2nd study they gave the group the exact same coat, but this time told them, that it was actually a painters overall.
The results from this group were considerably less than those who believed they were wearing the Doctors lab coat.
In their final study, a group were asked to look at the doctor’s white lab coat. This was placed in front of them and they had to imagine that they were wearing it.
These results were similar to the subject group who wore their own clothes in the first study.
The conclusion was that it is not enough to just think you are wearing something that is associated with professionalism; you actually have to be wearing it, to reap the benefits.
This is called Enclothed Cognition.
But we already know this ourselves – when we pull on something that makes us feel good inside. We stand taller, we’re braver, we have that little bit extra confidence and self-belief.
Fashion has used this emotional boost clothes can give us, to their advantage. Selling more and more to us as we chase that dream, of an enhanced version of ourselves.
But if we continue consuming the volume of clothes we do today, it is predicted that by 2030 we will be using two Earths worth of resources, with the demand for clothing expected to rise in that time period by 63 percent.
Today we can buy clothing that costs the same as a packet of posh crisps or a coffee. Quite literally clothes have become as cheap as chips.
The consumer’s expectation of fashion is that it is cheap and therefore they can buy more. But there is a huge environmental and social cost to be paid for this fast fashion trend.
Clothing production takes vast amounts of water to produce as well as toxic chemicals during the dying and manufacturing processes. Some of these chemicals cannot be filtered or removed from the watercourses. The textile industry is the second largest polluter of clean water on the planet.
Many of the farm and factory workers in the poorest countries are trapped in modern day slavery making the cheap clothes we have come to expect.
Fashion is responding, with closed loop production systems, up-cycling clothes, even renting not buying our wardrobes. Better biodegradable fabrics, sourcing from sustainable sources and using waste products such as orange peel and pineapple tops for textile applications.
Plastic scooped from the ocean made into footwear and developing fabrics that don’t shed microfibers when washed that find their way into our oceans and food chain.
All of these take time to develop and adopt, but something we can start right now is shifting our consumption habits.
I want to take a moment to explain how I think we got here. Where the demand for cheap clothes has meant that brands squeeze the manufacturers to lower their prices and pay less than a living wage to their workers, with little regard for the damage to the environment in the process.
Clever marketing. “Must have”. This week’s “best Buy” or “it bag,”
Subtly toying with our emotions convincing us for the past 30 years that if we are not consuming we are not fashionable.
Brands are profiting from our insecurities. Insecurities, that they themselves have created.
With their celebrity endorsements and their clever social media schemes they have us all believing we must buy, buy, buy and then share, share, share. But the thing is they are not actually selling you clothes. These marketing machines are selling you hope.
I call it, Hope on a Hanger.
You hope, by making that new purchase, that your body will be magically transformed! You hope you will get the job, you hope that your partner will still love you,
You hope; you might actually like yourself; just that little bit more.
Let me ask you two questions:
We’ve all done it…
For the past 5 years I have been looking into which clothes have the most power and influence on us. And my conclusion?
It’s completely subjective. There are no rights or wrongs in what we choose to wear. It is a feeling that comes from within us, not simply about buying another new dress or shirt.
We need to understand which clothes make us happy and why; before we make any more purchases. This is what I call, understanding your Style DNA
Being stylish, fashionable or more simply, just comfortable is not merely about the items you wear; it’s about how those clothes make you feel from the inside out. This is tapping into your style DNA.
It could be their colour, their texture, that feeling of comfort that they give you, like a child swaddled in soft blankets. Clothes are part of who you are, as much as they have shaped the world you are living in. Yet we have reduced them to frenzied levels of consumption in search of the next quick shopping fix and dopamine high.
Fast Fashion is eroding the very essence of what clothes mean to us as humans as well as pillaging the planet of its resources.
Why do women have more clothing than men yet have less confidence in the choices they make?
Five year olds love to dress up and explore different characters and expressions through the clothes they wear, but many girls as young as 7 are now concerned with their appearance including the clothes they wear.
Strict dress codes of what you can and can’t wear are long gone form our society.
Left to our own free will to choose what ever we desire, to drape, hang, suspend or wrap around our bodies has brought about mass uncertainty.
What will I wear today? And when we do put something on another question enters our head. Does this, actually, suit me? Who are we asking when these words puncture our thoughts? Usually it is just ourselves, and we are pretty quick at responding.
From my studies; the contentious little beastie that I call, “Mirror Mouth” had 82% thinking negatively about the clothes they were wearing. This little inner critic hacks into our brainwaves and tells us things we wouldn’t dream of saying to someone else, yet, we listen to them.
But I’ve developed a black belt in self defence. It’s all about dressing your positives.
When, that question, “Does this suit me?” zaps across my front cortex, my mirror mouth scans my reflection, checking that I’m ticking only positive boxes. No more thoughts of: does my bum look big in this, can you tell I don’t have a six pack yet, does it show I missed my gym session last night?
Instead of focusing on concealing what we don’t like about our bodies, we need to concentrate on what we do like. Your positives can even be that you are wearing something sustainable or ethical.
It’s time to adjust our view of what marketing has fed us for decades, to be less judgemental on what is right, wrong, beautiful or unattractive – and it starts - with ourselves.
When you develop your own Style DNA, focus only on your positives, those social media likes and shares or what others think, is no longer important. And even if your appearance is not a thought that runs through your mind daily, the impact you have through the clothing choices you make, still affects the planet on which we all live.
I want to see the fashion industry continue to thrive. But I believe we should pay a fair price to those who make our clothes. A world where we buy better, where we buy less, where the money filters right to the base of the supply chain. A world, where we really do care about what we wear.