Let the Clothes Do The Talking

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by WOW Talks on 03 August 2011
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Alex McIntosh is Fashioning the Future

If what we wear is our most immediate form of self expression then ask yourself, what is it that you really want to express?

Alex McIntosh asked this question at June’s WOW Talks, and gave us a lot to think about.

Most people in the room were wearing some form of cotton. He pointed out how many gallons of water it takes to make one t-shirt.

While many in the world go thirsty, here in London people queue at Primark to buy five pound trousers made of the stuff that is partly causing the drought in the first place. What are we really wearing?

Shopping us up there with food and sex, Alex argued. We get a quick hit from conspicuous consumption, which lasts about ten minutes and inevitably leaves us more deflated than when we started out.

What is it all about? We need to clothe ourselves, it is a basic need, and yet there is all of this vulgarity and perversion around its consumerist tendencies and vapid advertising and media culture telling us that we should feel badly, ugly or fat or old, based on the clothes we do and don’t wear.

What about fashion as empowering, making a positive and healthy statement, as having an emotional value that can do good for the world?

Alex is asking these tough questions in his role as Business Support Manager at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion. He started out his career as an actor, and quickly came to the conclusion that it was ‘all about him’, and consciously decided to take a more holistic route in his life, finding fashion as a means of expression, both personal and collective, and naturally found his way to supporting and encouraging sustainable practices in the industry.

The Centre has taken Alex to India where he has been fortunate enough to meet expert pattern cutters who can make one’s head spin with their precision and speed, and other master fashion craftsman from both rural and urban environments.

He warned that the West’s need for a constant supply of cheap clothing has the potential to dry up work for these specialists, who have been honing their skills for generations. Alex put together designers with embroiderers and leather workers, connecting people whose hands had styled and created the same piece of clothing who otherwise may have never met.

But what was he wearing? Alex told the story of his classic black leather shoes, purchased in East London because he liked the way ‘they were worn’, by someone else, with a different story, who walked with another gait.

The sustainability of his choice was plain to see. His dark-blue jeans were worn with thick, turned-up cuffs to reveal colourful socks. He mentioned that some things he was wearing were new, others were old, or gifts from friends, expensive and cheap, all a mix of what represents a very personal expression.