Futures Before Fashions

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Archive for the tag “Sustainability”

Crocs, Socks and Spring Cleaning the Camino de Santiago de Compostela

I have just come back from walking a 160-something kilometre section of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

Preparing for this mad adventure was fairly easy, as what was abundantly clear from those who had done it before was that it was absolutely essential to keep the weight of your bag as low as possible (no more than 10% of your body weight)… After all… It’s a long way to carry a bunch of unnecessary crap. For me… This meant that my packed bag should weigh no more than 6 kilograms. Underwear and socks, a pair of tech trousers, a couple of lightweight tops and some thermals, some waterproofs and my boots… Perfect.Approaching the start date of our camino I was conscious that my challenge was only just beginning and that if there were any specific things I needed (and was unlikely to find second-hand in limited time), I would need to get them before Earth Hour and the launch of my challenge. Turns out, I could make do with mostly things I already had, and only bought a super-light waterproof jacket and some new socks.

Regrettably, though the socks were made from terribly ‘green-sounding’ bamboo fibres and felt pretty soft, they did not live up to my expectations. I had blisters by the end of the first day, and after some very superficial researching found that their environmental credentials are a bit hit and miss. Yes – the growing of bamboo to make the fibres is environmentally friendly, turns out that the manufacturing process to turn this into fabric involves significant amounts of very toxic chemicals. (The message is here that the clothing made from Bamboo fibres is very soft and quite a treat to wear – but if you are buying it for environmental reasons – dig a bit deeper… all is not as is marketed). I persisted with the socks rather than buying new ones, and they held up fine.

Camino de Santiago

The exact moment I realised that I could not effectively intake enough oxygen required to walk up a hill and eat chocolate at the same time…

The walk itself was absolutely stunning… Rolling green hills, crystal clear streams, crisp mornings and fresh air, exactly what was needed to detox from our lives in London. Despite thousands of people walking the routes every year, it was really nice to see only small amounts of discarded litter along the way, probably less than I see each morning on my ten minute walk to the tube station in London. This observation was either an indication that things have changed since 2010 when a Camino forum user posted this or that because we were ahead of the busy 2013 summer season, the litterbugs had not yet arrived. Or maybe the “Spring Clean the Camino” campaign of 2009 is starting to take root, and people are heeding the messages about this issue on the forums. I have my fingers crossed that people are actually engaging their brains.

As we neared Santiago, large blue bins appeared which were filled with the discarded waterproof ponchos and boots people had offloaded as they neared their destination. I’m not sure who provided these as they didn’t have the usual local council logos on them but I did wonder where they ended up after collection and made a mental note to try to find out.

Anyway… What I packed in my bag was not an issue really, but after strolling (read: limping) into Santiago after days of walking down muddy trails, rock hopping over rivers, and at times just dragging my concrete boots through brown sludge… I had an unexpected desire to find the nearest store and ask them to dress me from head-to-toe and throw in some new shoes. Actually, truth is, I would have been equally as happy to buy some clean tracksuit pants and a hoody – the urge was primarily about the comfort of warm, dry, and clean wrappings (evidence of this was later in the evening of our arrival unashamedly walking through Santiago in Crocs… with socks…..).

I managed to fight the urges and instead only bought a couple of postcards and a fridge magnet. Stephen bought a wicked shirt of the Camino, something I would be all over under normal circumstances but resisted on this occasion – even when Stephen pointed out that if he bought me a gift it would not technically be breaking my self-imposed rules for the year ahead. I clutched my fridge magnet and postcards, quickly left the shop and we went back to our apartment to wash all my stinky walking clothes to let them dry another night over the heater in our room ready for wearing the following day on our drive back to Bilbao airport.

Quite an adventure it was, and an exercise in restraint on a number of levels… Packing only what I needed – dictated largely by what I could carry on my back for up to nine hours a day, and having to really consider this carefully in advance, knowing full well I would not be permitted to buy anything else along the way.

SIDE NOTE – Sustainable Tourism / Development? 

Since coming back from Spain I have come across some interesting research about sustainable development of the Camino de Santiago, acknowledging its appeal to tourists as a personal challenge or non-religious spiritual journey as well as those with the more the traditional religious pilgrimage motivations. There was quite an apparent difference in the style of camino people were doing, including many doing the “Last 100 km” who were clearly being catered to by mass tourism interests meeting large groups at the beginning and end of every stage, ferrying their belongings in advance to their high-end accommodation in advance of their arrival. Though not as I would want to do it, there is no judgement from me about those who choose/have to do their Camino in that way, but it does raise questions about the impact of this form of mass tourism in the region, and the long-term impacts of this on the environment. To read more about this issue – click here. 

Camino de Santiago


Where it all began… the Age of Stupid, Fast Fashion and my Pledge…

For some time I have been reflecting on the amount of clothes I seem to buy, wondering why I am always needing more, and pondering why it seems that clothes just don’t last as long as they used to. I wondered whether it was simply that I was tending to buy sale items or from cheaper outlets, and this is why they were wearing out or losing shape after just a few wears, resulting in me needing to throw them out and buy more. I started spending more, with the assumption that buying from bigger labels meant better quality and hopefully longevity. Not so. I just ended up with fewer items AND less money.

When I lived in Australia, it was common practice for me to scour the charity shops and markets for clothing, because it fit with my style, was cheaper, and I would often find unique items which I was unlikely to see walking past me on someone else. On reflection, it always seemed that the pre-loved or recycled items I bought lasted longer too. I guess this is probably because they have been worn, washed, and worn again many times over before I got them – they had already proved their resilience by the time they found a new home in my wardrobe.

When I moved to London, over time, I slowly got sucked into the same way of thinking as many other Londoners, that is – looking the part, wearing the labels, and only ever went into a charity shop if I needed something for a fancy dress party. It’s interesting, though, that in London, if you can pass the item off as “vintage” as opposed to “used” or “pre-loved”, they will happily triple the price and your money goes into the pocket of some hipster instead of to one of the many charities supporting the needy.

What I had also realised though, is that after a while, the unique aspects of the way that I had previously dressed were less often seen, and slowly but surely I began to resemble many of the 8 million or so other people wearing the “London Uniform” and conforming to what is a very generic and superficial sense of style, image and value.

I have recently watched a film called “The Age of Stupid”, set in the future we watch on as an archivist looks through film and news footage from 2008 in an attempt to understand why humankind did nothing to address the issue of climate change, despite all of the warning signs. In the words of William Nicholson, writer of Shadowlands and Gladiator, “I hate this film. I felt as if I was watching all my own excuses for not doing anything about climate change being stripped away from me.”.

I started to think more seriously about climate change and wonder about my contribution as it relates to my clothing dilemma. I know to recycle, I minimise paper waste, and I buy long-life light bulbs. What I didn’t know what exactly how my clothing choices impacted so significantly on my carbon footprint.

I started by doing some research. Overconsumption is a major factor in climate change. We buy much more clothing today than we did a generation ago, and too much of it is what is known as “disposable fashion”. Shops like Primark, selling low-cost clothing, are going from strength to strength in the current climate or austerity, with their stores becoming bigger each time a new one opens. These types of brands are careful to point out on their websites the ways in which they are trading ethically through supporting their workers in overseas countries, and through their use of biodegradable packaging such as paper bags instead of plastic. What is less clear is the end result of millions of people buying these cheap items which quickly become un-wearable and are designed to worn a few times before being thrown out and replaced.

In 2006, a report called “Recycling of Low Grade Clothing Waste” for Defra found that around 1.5 – 2 million tonnes of clothing and textiles waste are discarded every year in the UK . Of this only 16% (300,000 tonnes) is currently reused or recycled with 63% (1.2 million tonnes) ending up in landfill.

What we wear, how and where it is made, and what happens to it when we are done with it all have potential to have either a positive or negative impact on our communities and our futures.

I made a pledge that I would commit to a year of buying only second-hand clothing, whilst at the same time – researching as much as I could about the impact of the fashion and textiles industry on climate change and sharing this anyone that will listen. This is where it all began.


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