I am a writer and executive administrator for Trusted Clothes, which is an ethical and sustainable fashion organization. The following is a series devoted in honor of the work done in collaboration with the Schroeckers and the Trusted Clothes team. Here is part 1.
Tell us about yourself – family background, personal story, education, and previous professional capacities.
I was born in Edinburgh, in 1969, but grew up in the Scottish Highlands, one of the most rugged and beautiful parts of the UK.
I studied journalism in Edinburgh, then moved to the Shetland Islands, in the far north of the country, for my first job. I intended to stay about a year, thinking I’d move back to the city, but somehow I’ve never really left. I worked at a local newspaper then was one of the founding members of a news agency, writing daily articles for the UK press. A lot of our stories were about the North Sea oil industry, and following the Braer Oilspill, which hit the islands in 1993, I co-wrote a book, Innocent Passage, The wreck of the tanker Braer, with my work partner Jonathan Wills.
In my early 20s I left for three months backpacking in China after booking a flight on a whim one wet, dark January. It was my first time out of Europe and I remember arriving in Beijing with no plan, being bundled into a rickshaw and being cycled down the backstreets of the city for about an hour, with no clue where I was being taken. The light, the smells, the different sounds were all so new to me, it was utterly thrilling and I have continued to love travelling on my own.
Within a year of that first visit I had taken a year’s job at China daily, as a “polisher”, editing the stories written by Chinese journalists. I worked there again a few years later, but that time with my husband Pete and son Leo along with me. Living in Beijing in the late 1990s was an amazing time for us; we explored as much as we could, walking and cycling for hours around the old hutongs, the courtyard houses; taking trains, buses and horses and carts to remote towns and villages, often chosen based on a random recommendation or by sticking a pin in a map.
When I was pregnant with my second son Cosmo we returned home to Shetland via a few months in New Zealand. When the kids were small, I decided to retrain as a teacher, which is a job I still do today.
We headed East again as a family in 2008, backpacking across China, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and India for several months. Friends thought we were a bit mad taking our kids (aged 7 and 11 at the time) out of school for so long, but they were up for it and I was pretty sure we’d have some life-changing adventures together. (We did…from being trapped in a car by a swollen river in a deadly flood, to our youngest son dislocating his neck playing football… but mostly our experiences and the people we met were fantastic.)
When the money for travelling ran out, we took jobs in an international school in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong. It was set in a botanical garden, but close to China’s massive factory belt, producer of a vast percentage of the world’s manufactured goods. In contrast to these huge factory complexes driven by Western desires for cheaper, quicker goods, we often took trips to small towns and villages where traditional skills were still used to create beautiful fabrics, art, furniture…even simple kitchen utensils, carved from bamboo or a twisted root. Around this time the seed of an idea to find an organic source of exquisite Chinese silk was forming.
We returned to Europe, spending three years teaching in Berlin, where I was again involved in curriculum development within an International Baccalaureate (IB) school, before finally making it back home to our tiny 400-year-old croft house by the Atlantic Ocean last August. Leo has now left to go to university in Glasgow, but Pete, Cosmo and I live here with our rescue cat and two ducks.
What is the importance of ethical fashion?
When I was growing up, ethics and fashion weren’t really ever connected. We bought stuff in Oxfam and other charity shops, but that was more to do with having no money, rather than concerns about the fashion industry. Now, having seen and met so many people on my travels without the advantages we’ve grown up with, and who daily face more challenges than most of us encounter in a lifetime, I have no excuses not to be as ethical as I can as a consumer and producer. Watching an old lady sitting on the street, struggling to sew zips on a pile of jeans, you can’t help but wonder, ‘what if that was my granny?’ We have to try to do the right thing by people, wherever they happen to have been born.
What is the importance of sustainable fashion?
I really applaud the whole “30 wears” idea put forward by Livia Firth here in the UK to encourage people to buy smarter and hold onto clothes for longer. In reality I suspect most people outwith the fashion industry and unfazed by trends have many pieces they’ve worn on and off for decades. If something is made well, to last, then it has sustainability built in. If it passes through a secondhand shop at least once in its life, then that’s sustainable. Fast fashion never makes it that far.
For me, sustainable fashion is about two or three things. It is about using natural resources carefully, avoiding the use of damaging products and practices as far as possible and it is about having a sustainable workforce of skilled, fairly paid people, who can feel proud of their day’s work. It is up to industry leaders to make sure this happens and consumers to keep the pressure on.
You are married and have sons. How does being married and having sons change perspectives over time?
I have no idea! But they’re all great people, and I’m sure that rubs off on me!
All images courtesy of www.trustedclothes.com.