Ethical Style Icon Rosalind Jana discusses Fashion Revolution
Please can you tell us about your involvement with Fashion Revolution?
This year it’s a combination of things. I was asked by the very lovely Alice Wilby if I’d get involved with shooting some clothes for Rentez-Vous, a brilliant peer to peer lending service where you can hire anything from a fancy ball gown to an electric blue leather jacket. They’re essentially all about the stories behind your garments, and thinking carefully about what you wear without being wasteful. I’ve also written something about the BRILLIANT brand People Tree for All Walks Beyond the Catwalk (who I work for regularly). Other than that, it’s a lot of social media activity – adding my voice to the general chorus pushing for change.
Why should people get involved with Fashion Revolution?
So many reasons. I think the main one is that we remain very disconnected from the origins of our clothes – buying them with little thought of the people who made them for us. Fash Rev is a good way to redress that. The question ‘who made your clothes?’ is a powerful one, because it brings you back into contact with that very long trajectory from weaving to sewing to transporting to shop floor to your wardrobe – or at least makes you realise that contact is pretty much impossible, because a lot of brands have pretty murky supply chains!
Beyond that though, it’s a significant day in three ways – first, in ensuring that the victims of the Rana Plaza collapse aren’t fully forgotten. Second, in celebrating those labels who are doing things differently, and are transparent, fair and humane in their production. Third, and this is the BIG one, in raising up a storm of noise directed towards those big companies and conglomerates who could be doing so much better. They need to change, but they won’t do unless they know that consumers want that change.
What is your favourite item of clothing, who made it & where is it from?
It’s a very special item – a fitted, knee-length black cocktail gown that used to belong to my grandma. When she was a struggling actress in New York in the sixties, she bought it in a thrift store for twenty dollars. The shop assistant assured her that is was Balenciaga! (it was a thrift store in a very exclusive neighbourhood) There’s no label to confirm it, but the elaborate scrolls and whorls and curls of silk black tubing hand-sewn together into an outer layer are definitely couture standard. Spiders-web levels of intricacy there.
How can we learn to dress more ethically and be more sustainable?
The first step is just being a little bit more aware. It’s about questioning things, and not being complacent – trying to find out a little bit about the origins of a new dress or t-shirt, if you can. To be honest, it’s still pretty challenging to dress ethically, not least because we need waaaaaay more designers whose clothes are delicious and delectable and knee-trembingly beautiful, and JUST SO happen to be sustainable too. (I have an ongoing quest for more clothes that appeal first and foremost to young consumers just because they’re gorgeous. i.e. I want to notice the design detail and then be pleasantly surprised by the sustainable credentials).
My own chosen route at the moment is to source most of my wardrobe second hand (think charity shops, flea markets and vintage stalls), then supplementing it with the odd goodie with an independent designer, British-made brand or sustainable label. Obviously I’m not perfect. No one is. Not everything I wear was made ethically. But it’s better to make small changes than none at all.
What I often say, actually, is that just becoming a more conscious shopper is really helpful. This doesn’t mean banishing yourself from the high street, or living exclusively in organic cotton – it’s just about being picky. Only buy the things you really love, and that you know will have longevity, rather than splurging on three things because they’re suddenly ‘on trend’. Save up to invest in pricier things that you’ll adore. Do something every now and then, if you can afford it, like treating yourself to a pair of knickers from Who Made Your Pants. Vote with your purse, and then voice your concerns to the big chains whose clothes you love – but whose ethics leave a lot to be desired..
Who are your favourite brands?
On the sustainable front (a mix here of ones I buy from, and gorgeous ones I just like to ogle): ASOS Africa, Goodone, Beautiful Soul, From Somewhere, Reve en Vert, and Reformation. In general for design amazing-ness: Mary Katrantzou, Roksanda Ilincic, Erdem and Rodnik Band.
What are you wearing today and who made your clothes?
I’m wearing this ASOS Africa dress. It’s an old favourite, and I’ve worn it on SO many occasions now. ASOS Africa garments are supplied by SOKO Kenya: a clothing manufacturer with “social and environmental principles at [their] core.” Most of their task force are women, and SOKO provide training, fair wages and support for their employees.
This particular time pictured it was snapped by Natalie (http://www.natalieoffduty.com) a while back. However, today it’s got a men’s white shirt from a charity shop over it, and some Orla Kiely for Clarks yellow t-bar shoes too.
What is one thing can a person can do today to make an difference?
Take your favourite item of clothing, turn it inside out, snap a picture, and tweet whichever brands it’s from asking who made it yet. It’ll take you less time than procrastinating watching a Youtube video..
How did you first become aware of ethical fashion/brands?
Aged 16, I read the lovely Lucy Siegle’s ‘To Die For: Is Fast Fashion Wearing out the World?’, and it really opened my eyes to the reality of the industry. I felt increasingly uncomfortable with my consumer choices, and so began researching and writing more (I blog regularly about sustainability, used to write for Oxfam, and have discussed the ethics of fashion for The Guardian and various other places).
What have you got coming up over the summer / next few months?
I’ve just finished up big revisions on my non-fiction book Notes on Being Teenage (out with Hachette summer 2016) – so hopefully relaxing a bit! However, I’ve got lots of exciting articles, essays and other bits of writing to keep me occupied in the meantime, as well as some blogging adventures. That, and doing my summer term at Oxford..
Who’s your fashion icon?
Katharine Hepburn. Or maybe Kate Bush. Can I have both? That way there’s great tailoring, fabulous trousers AND wild hair with long, floaty sleeves.