I have worked in the apparel industry for more than 20 years, and my work has taken me from Berlin to Shenzhen. I’m incredibly grateful to be doing something I love.
I would consider myself a clothes horse, though it is not the most endearing term used to describe someone who places emphasis on clothes rather than the functional wooden contraption used to hang them on. I find the entire process of creating clothes intriguing — from deciding on fabric, thread and colour to CMT (cut, make and trim), which is the process of assembling panels of fabric into wearable garments. I still get a kick out of seeing someone wearing a piece of clothing I played a part in creating.
I must admit, I’ve become disillusioned with the garment industry, particularly after the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, which claimed the lives of 1,134 garment factory workers. The tragedy spotlighted the long-known but ignored plight of many factory workers who worked 12-hour days for a pittance, often in inhumane and dangerous working conditions.
The 2016 documentary River Blue shed further light on the detrimental environmental effects of the denim industry in particular. The processing of denim fabric uses massive amounts of water, with estimates ranging from 4,000l to 10,000l for a single pair of jeans. And to make matters worse, all that toxic effluent was being pumped into rivers and streams. It must be noted that strides have been made in recent years with the recycling of water and a dramatic reduction in the use of chemicals.
I consider it a talent to sniff out a great deal. Still, years ago, it dawned on me that my insatiable drive to pay as little as possible for an on-trend shirt from a high-street retailer was having a direct impact on the most vulnerable in the supply chain, namely the factory workers. And that shirt would invariably be relegated to the back of my closet after the season had ended, along with an embarrassing number of other discarded garments.
This has led me on a journey to explore minimalism. While the concept was originally a post-World War 2 art movement that was a reaction to abstract expressionism, minimalism nowadays has become a blanket term to describe a lifestyle choice that encapsulates a more considered world view, a possible antidote to over-consumption and gross consumerism. A position where you consider the source, process and impact your purchase makes.
This brings me to the question I’ve wrestled with and which I’ve given much thought to: can you approach style with a conscious or minimalist mindset?
Mahatma Gandhi once said: “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Not only have I come to believe it’s possible to approach style with this ideology, but I’ve also come to understand that this is actually the epitome of style. Excess is never stylish.
I use the following points to help curate my wardrobe and inform purchases.
1. Buy better but buy less
You have heard me harp on about this in other pieces. Buying the best will sometimes mean postponing a purchase. This is a good thing. I’ve learnt that often our wants are not our needs. Buying better quality will often mean the garment will be around for much longer and, as with great quality, they get better with age.
2. Develop a uniform
Much of menswear has its roots in uniforms. Developing a uniform or look helps to cement your style. It’s a misnomer that uniforms should be Zuckerberg-esque — a wardrobe full of T-shirts and hoodies in the same shade. You can have a varied closet but prescribe to the idea of a uniform. Sticking to what works for you will help to make purchase decisions.
3. Support sustainable brands
Buy clothing from brands that are committed to a sustainability plan and who have a proven track record with how they deal with their suppliers. Hold brands to account and ask tough questions about the fabric and place of manufacture. Vote with your hard-earned cash.