Fashion Revolution Week: Who Made my clothes?

Laura Ashley label

This week (18-24 April) is Fashion Revolution Week when people are encouraged to look at who made their clothes and what working conditions they labour under. It’s nearly three years since more than 1000 garment workers were killed when the factory complex, Rana Plaza, collapsed in Pakistan. Many of the workers were making clothes for us to buy (cheaply) in the West.

Since then, organisations such as Fashion Revolution, Clean Clothes Campaign and Labour Behind the Label have campaigned to improve the working conditions, wages and rights of garment workers around the world.

During Fashion Revolution Week we are encouraged to ask the question: Who Made My Clothes? Even though I buy (nearly) all of my clothes second-hand someone still made them. So I thought I would investigate Laura Ashley, who made the jumper I’ve been wearing all winter long (purchased at Barnardos in Devizes). Although the label says Made in Great Britain (perhaps revealing its age) I wanted to know where their clothes are manufactured in 2017

Secondhand Laura Ashley jumper

I have a very cosy image of Laura Ashley: homespun tunics and classic English Rose dresses. A few years ago I explored the Laura Ashley exhibition at the Bath Museum of Fashion here.

Laura Ashley exhibitio - Second Hand Tales

I was rather surprised to learn, then, that the company is now owned by the MUI Group of Malaysia. The original Laura Ashley factory in Wales was closed in 2005; its current site in Powys manufactures paint, wallpaper and curtains but I wanted to find out where their clothes are made. But, short of going into a store, I couldn’t find anything on their website about manufacturers and working conditions.

Buried in the Laura Ashley website, though, is a Social Compliance Policy, dated from 2007. They state that Laura Ashley should ensure ‘as far as possible’ that any subcontractor complies with their Code of Practice, which says the usual things about no child or forced labour, fair wages that are at least minimum or local wage, reasonable working environment and being able to join unions, or “in countries where the creation and joining of a trade union and collective bargaining is not permitted by law, the operators…or the suppliers should strive to foster parallel means of workers’ representation.”  Although you could argue what are they doing working in countries that don’t allow people to unionise in the first place?

So I have now done the usual things and posted on twitter etc to see if I can find out any more about where their clothes are now made and the working conditions of those who make them. Will try to keep you updated!

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Second-Hand Shopping in Bath (Part One)

Bath is great for shopping (even Jane Austen thought so) but I prefer the second-hand sort, rather than department stores and overpriced boutiques. As it’s my nearest shopping centre I tend to visit quite a lot and so hope this will be the first of a couple of posts on charity shopping in Bath city centre, and beyond.  I recently took a morning off from being a mum and travelled into Bath to explore Walcot Street, Broad Street and Pulteney Bridge/Argyle Street.

Walcot Street is know as the arty bit of Bath and there are lots of independent and artistic shops along the road (as well as some good cafes for a coffee stop, such as Sam’s Kitchen and Made by Ben and not forgetting to stop for a pint at the wonderful Bell Inn).

At the bottom of the road, just beyond Waitrose, is Save the Children which had a very colourful window display:

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Be warned that Walcot Street (like much of Bath) is on a hill but there are plenty of second-hand shops to keep you distracted. Further along is the Julian House shop:

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Julian House is the local homeless charity and it operates two shops in Bath. I really like the Walcot Street one as it has lots of clothes (including a vintage rail) and a large book department.  The other charity shop along Walcot Street is run by the Bath Women’s Refuge. It has been on Walcot Street for quite a few years (certainly the 15 years I’ve lived in and around the city) and is literally piled high with clothes, children’s books and toys and dvds. It is rather a fight to discover things amongst the rails and piles but can offer some great finds:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Although it’s a climb right to the top of the road, Jack & Danny’s is the original Walcot Street vintage shop, well worth the visit. Inside is a treasure trove of men and women’s clothing. You may have to work your way through the racks but there is something for every occasion. Many years ago I picked up an early 1970s halter neck dress for a 60s/70s summer party.

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At the other end of the street (and on the level) is another vintage clothing store. The Yellow Shop also sells a range of new labels. A bit farther along from the Yellow Shop is the small Saturday Market which sells some second-hand clothing (not pictured).

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Running parallel to Walcot Street is the shorter Broad Street which is really worth a visit. As well as being home to Rossiters Department Store,  Cath Kidston and a few high end boutiques it has a couple of second-hand shops. At the moment my favourite shop in Bath is this Dorothy House shop. It has a real vintage feel to it and appears to be aimed at people who are looking specifically for vintage, or designer, clothing. Back in the summer I bought a wonderful playsuit here which became my favourite holiday outfit. While the clothes can be pricier than regular charity shops they are still real bargains compared to the rest of the High Street.

Further along Broad Street is the Black and White Shop. This operates as a dress agency and is packed with some beautiful clothing, accessories and shoes. I recently picked up a slinky evening dress for a friend’s cocktail party for £24.

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Almost opposite the Black and White shop is Broad Street car park and if you cut through this you find yourself in a small alleyway that houses Bath’s original vintage store: Vintage to Vogue.  Before vintage was a buzzword this shop was selling clothes from bygone eras. About ten years ago I picked up a beautiful matching dress and coat in a delicate duck egg colour. This has been my staple outfit for nearly every wedding and christening since.

The other area I tend to browse in is located in an area just off the bottom of Walcot Street, past Waitrose. While Pulteney Bridge is one of only two bridges in the world that has shops located on it (the other being the Ponte Vecchio in Florence), it is also home to two great charity shops. Well the actual address is Argyle Street and they are just off the other end of Pulteney Bridge. This Dorothy House branch sells more traditional charity shop clothing than the one on Broad Street. I picked up a great red dress from Warehouse earlier this year then proceeded to shrink it (see here).

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A couple of shops further along is Oxfam which, again, is of the more traditional style Oxfam shop. (There is also an Oxfam Boutique in Bath city centre which I will blog about in Part Two). I have picked up some bargains in this Oxfam shop and here I think is the reason why Bath is so good for charity shopping: it is an affluent city (although not in every part) and people donate good quality, high-end clothing. While some charity shops have caught onto this and now charge quite expensive prices these are still cheaper than the High Street price. Plus the clothing tends to last for a long time (unless you shrink/iron holes in it!)

While I feel uncomfortable taking ‘selfies’ I did end up buying the blue dress and have had quite a few complements when I’ve worn it out. The Laura Ashley dress was tried on just because I could but, in no way, shape of form, did it suit me!

I hope to have another child-free day soon and explore some more of Bath’s second-hand hotspots so watch this space….

Fashion through the ages – and a touch of Laura Ashley

I feel very fortunate to live within easy travelling distance of Bath’s Fashion Museum. The costumes on display date from the 1700s to modern day (every year it awards a Dress of the Year). In many ways this is the ultimate museum for all of us who love second-hand clothes. While I doubt the items on display would ever be for sale in Oxfam they are a great way to see how fashion changes (or rather doesn’t).

Court dress, dating from the 1760s. Okay, so maybe fashion has changed for the better...

Court dress, dating from the 1760s.

1930s red velvet evening dress

1930s red velvet evening dress

1930s red velvet evening dress

1940s fashion

2012 Dress of the Year by Dior

2012 Dress of the Year by Dior

There are two aspects to the museum that I particularly like: the temporary exhibitions and the room devoted to the changing styles of dress of the 19th century.  The current exhibition is ‘Laura Ashley: The Romantic Heroine’ which marks the 60th anniversary of the fashion label.

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The museum is displaying over 70 dresses that range from the early 1960s, through to the label’s heydey in the 1970s. Bath was home to one of the first Laura Ashley shops in 1971 (still present in the city on New Bond Street). I like the fact that many of the dresses that are on loan to the museum have been worn by ‘real’ people, with their own stories to tell. Quite a few of them were worn as wedding dresses in the late 1960s and early 1970s which I guess echoes the label’s reputation as a romantic one. While I have to say I have never been a big fan of the Laura Ashley style (being short I don’t think long dresses suit me), this retospective made me look at the fashion house in a new light. I like the way that Laura Ashley developed a new simple style that moved away from the short hemlines of the 60s and embraced a longer hemline and more natural fabrics and colours. While the dresses reminded me of The Good Life there was a distinctive element that went straight back to the style of the Victorian era.

I think there is a strong similarity between the 1970s styles above and those below, on display in the 19th century room, and dating from 150 years before Laura Ashley opened her shop in Bath.

Having been slightly inspired by the exhibition I decided to try on a classic Laura Ashley dress that I discovered afterwards in Oxfam. While it was fun to dress up this did confirm what I already knew: that the style is not for me, but rather one to be appreciated from a distance.

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