One of the most cheerful developments over the course of my lifetime has been the advent of cheap clothes. In my mother’s generation, elegant garments were beyond the reach of most people, and especially most women, who often yearned for pretty things.
Look at the photographs of yesteryear: people of means did have decent clothes, and in Ireland, very nicely-made tweeds and woollens. But poor people had either inferior clothes, or were even quite ragged. In my childhood, some Dublin children went barefoot. New clothes were a big deal, and had to be either budgeted for – or bought on tick, sometimes at usurious rates.
Then a fashion revolution came about which meant that even designer frocks could be copied by the mass-market, almost instantly. Factories started up in developing countries which produced attractive clothes at bargain prices. The durable denim became a global garment. We could all dress brightly for a fistful of dollars.
But a dark side of this fashion revolution began to appear. We learned that factories in developing countries, from Bangladesh to the Philippines, often employed women and children at subsistence or exploitative wages. Sometimes they were even unsafe and appalling fires in the plants killed workers. Those lovely jeans you picked up for a snip may well have been produced by a young girl working in appalling conditions. If the jeans were deliberately torn – a currently fashionable look – they would have taken even more sweatshop labour.
The left-wing economist Jeffrey Sachs argued that low wages in developing countries were better than no wages at all, and those of us who liked all these cheap clothes took comfort from this.
But now there is another shadow looming over this garment industry: the issue of the environment. Eco-warriors are claiming that ‘fast fashion’ – cheap clothes from under-developed countries – are responsible for 10% of the world’s ‘carbon footprint’. Cheap clothes don’t last so we throw them away and they end up in landfill dumps.
The Quakers – always favourable to plain dressing anyway – are now organising pledges against ‘fast fashion’. Oxfam is encouraging women to promise they will buy no more cheap clothes, and perhaps no new clothes at all. Kylie Minogue and Sheryl Crow have donated funds to the campaign.
What’s a girl to do? Purchase no new frocks, or recycle everything? We’ll try to do the right thing, but will we? Another tussle ‘twixt conscience and vanity!
“To live in a Western country is to live in a society still utterly saturated by Christian concepts and assumptions. This is no less true for Jews or Muslims than it is for Catholics or Protestants.” This is the central idea in Tom Holland’s magisterial new book Dominion, which is about the “revolutionary and transformative” impact of Christianity on the world.
Our societies certainly to be reminded of this narrative. Our politicians need to be taught to appreciate it.
Birds of a feather tweet together
I often grumble about the pervasiveness of electronic media – wherever I go, from Maastricht to Mayo, people have their faces stuck in their screens, usually looking at Facebook, Twitter or other social media. Manchester has now provided a special ‘walkway’ (similar to a cycle path) for people reading their screens, since they are otherwise liable to bump into other pedestrians.
Yet electronic media can be a valuable additional source of information. If it hadn’t been for Twitter, I wouldn’t have known that 20,000 people went on a peaceful demonstration in Belfast last weekend to uphold the pro-life cause – since I didn’t see any report of this impressive march to Stormont in the mainstream media, or hear anything in mainstream broadcasts.
For the written word, this newspaper is one of the few which publishes an account of such public events. I believe The Irish Catholic fulfils a unique role as the newspaper of record, of a major public manifestation which the secular media’s ‘agenda’ chooses to ignore.