The dignity and beauty of those who make our clothes

Made in Bangladesh, a searing new film by Rubaiyat Hossain, will make us think twice about the garment workers who make clothing for the West. They are mostly women – “because they can be controlled” – and their lives are desperately harsh. When the film’s main protagonist, the courageous Shimu, says “fucking job” – its because a colleague has died in a factory fire, not a bad day at work. Starting a union, which is what the film is about, is not straightforward.

Hossain tells the Guardian: “Too many people think of Bangladeshi women as victims sitting behind a sewing machine, but it is thanks to female garment workers that Bangladesh is now a middle income country. These women aren’t victims, they are often feisty, young, spirited women who are fearless and brave. All that dignity and beauty had to be the starting point for the film”

Part of the Human Rights Watch film festival this is definitely a film to see. Based on true stories, it is beautifully made, transporting the viewer to the hustle and bustle of Dhaka’s streets and alleys and giving us a glimpse of the lives of women and the choices they must make. It is available through Curzon Home Cinema

I won’t spoil the plot but these women are resourceful, dignified and brave.

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Spring sunshine and pretty dresses to lift our spirits

These are such strange times – especially for me, as I lost my darling brother on March 20th. He died of a heart attack it transpired – and his heart illness was not picked up on in the pandemic. I feel he is with me still somehow – his presence seems almost tangible sometimes – I don’t know if others have experienced similar after the death of a loved one. But it brings me comfort – and yesterday I enjoyed a serene walk in the spring sunshine to get the wee dog out.

As we came home through the park I spotted a woman wearing a beautiful floral dress chatting with a friend – it looked exactly like a Nila Rubia Ruby dress. I asked her if it was – shouting from a safe distance.

Nila Rubia Ruby dress in shibori print

The friend looked at the label – it was another brand – but looked so similar. Another woman nearby, who had overheard the conversation and also noticed the dress, agreed it was indeed  a lovely dress – and I explained that I had a company that sold these dresses on line. Its not the time for buying clothes I observed – when so many are wondering how they will survive financially. “But we need these lovely clothes to lift our spirits!” exclaimed the woman. This is in fact our company’s motto I pointed out – Gorgeous clothes to lift your spirit.

So do have a look at our collection for this Spring/Summer. Karin and I have worked hard to source and photograph the clothing – together with the fabulously talented Ruth Claydon (Moth & Magpie), who has designed some wonderful jewellery to go with our collection and done a bit of modelling for us! Ruth is wearing a Cofur City dress above and a Jaipur dress and scarf in the picture below.

We hope you enjoy it. If money is tight don’t forget about our preloved marketplace – where you can buy and sell clothes and receive discount vouchers to use against new clothing.

Better to have a wardrobe with a few things you absolutely love and that lift your spirit each time you wear them.

Hope you keep safe and well

Sylvia x

 

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Wearing the Autumn Winter collection (dog not included!)

Here are some outfits and looks with our Autumn/Winter collection – as worn by us, our lovely customers, and friends

Denise is rocking this fantastic ensemble – Dev coat with crushed velvet Roshan dress
Sylvia going for autumnal hues in the Dewani dress and Winter Forest coat

Carolina wears Amogh embroidered coat

Carolina wears Amogh coat and Gaugin shawl
Sylvia wears Dev coat & Kajol pants
Yavi/Raga art coat and Kajol pants
Julieta coat, Gaugin scarf, Kajol pants

 

Sohar top
Missy wears Yavi art coat and velvet Roshan dress
Sohar top, Kajol pants and Dev coat
Jacquie wears Julieta coat and Leaves shawl
Leaves shawl over Clementina coat
Lynne wears Nellore coat over damson Dewani dress

 

 

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Just Wear It!

Working in wonderful an ethical fashion boutique in York I became more adventurous in my style. I began to see the advantages of wearing clothes I loved every single day. I was always telling customers in the shop just to wear the dresses they bought for special occasions every day – wearing velvet for example – it just makes the day seem special and more luxurious.

My dear friend Rosie Dean, who is an incredible artist, came for supper last week and I showed her a lovely preloved Whistles coat we had to sell. She absolutely loved it and commented that it would have to be for best. Just wear it! I said – it looked fabulous on her – the dark forest green was such an unusual colour and suited her perfectly. The style and fit were gorgeous. Why would anyone not want to wear such a great looking coat and keep it hanging in a wardrobe?

One of Rosie Dean’s wonderful seascape paintings

As I reflected on wearing clothes that were for best everyday I remembered a lady who I used to treat when I worked at the Hoxton Health Group. – a complementary health project for the over 60s. This lovely lady was 97. She would appear in a leopardskin print coat, underneath it she would be wearing cut off evening dresses. She looked amazing!

If we are going to get up to 30 wears per item, which is what we are told we should be doing to make an item of clothing worth purchasing – we better be more like my Hoxton lady and Just Wear It! I don’t have a problem with this at all. I am pleased to report that Rosie is wearing the coat!

Rosie wearing the coat!

 

 

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Artisan techniques: Hand block printing & Kantha work embroidery

We’re often (try always!) being told that ethical and sustainable clothing is too expensive. It IS  expensive, but only compared with certain high street brands. If an item costs practically nothing, you can guarantee it’s costing the Earth, environment and the quality of life of the producer. Not the seller, not the high street, which is making profits, literally on the back of someone else and the environment.

We are choosing to source garments that pay a sustainable wage to workers and that use ethical work practices, such as breaks and medical care. Even without that aspect of a decent wage, the techniques used themselves  are painstaking.

Hand-block Printing

As the name suggests, this is done by…hand! All aspects of it!

It has been practiced in Rajasthan for around 500 years and was originally introduced by the Chhipa Community, now famous for its vegetable dyes and mud resist block prints. The tradition is passed down through generations, with the ‘recipes’ for the traditional dyes kept within families. Colours depend on the plants, water and the experience of the printing masters.

The process begins with the design, drawn first on paper and then carved into wood blocks, which are around 18-25cm across. These are done meticulously by hand.

 

These blocks are then stamped across the fabric. Each colour in the design in carved on a separate block. The outline block is usually the most elaborate and intricate and is stamped first. Then this is filled in with possibly the ground colour block. The carving itself requires years of apprenticeship . Once these are carved, the dyes are prepared, which are poured into wooden trays and the blocks are stamped into the colour each time; then stamped across the fabric in a repeat pattern, with the printing master carefully aligning each block as he prints.

We stock Nila Rubia designs, these are stunning hand block printed clothes for summer and winter – printing on a range of lovely textiles: organic cotton, chiffon and bamboo silk.

 

 

Kantha Work Embroidery

Some of the garments that we source use Kantha work, a form of embroidery often practised by women in rural areas. It is considered one of the most important textile arts in Eastern India.

It began 500 centuries ago in West Bengal and Orissa as a method of reusing and recycling dhotis, sarees and other pieces of clothing that people were reluctant to throw away (perfect upcycling!). Yarn salvaged from worn clothing was used to embroider large repeating motifs and designs across whole pieces of fabric. Kantha extensively uses running stitch across the whole fabric design, normally in a single colour but there are various standard styles for stitching this. Usually, the stitch under the fabric is shorter than the one on top, which causes the distinctive wavy look to the fabric.

Currently we stock beautiful kantha work jackets by Yavi, an award winning Indian design label

So, is ethical fashion expensive? Not when you consider the work behind it, the history and traditions and also the fact that the dyes are ethically sourced, as well as the fabrics. Buying this type of fashion not only helps the garment makers and their families but is also kinder to the environment – as azo free dyes are used!

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Invisibility and the ‘Sack’ part 2

Yesterday Sylvia mentioned the ‘sack’ and how I’ve now been converted. The absolute truth of the moment is that I’ve had a revelation. I’ve noticed that women of a certain age, especially if they are….more curvaceous, become invisible, to everyone. Especially if self-esteem goes down and they feel irrelevant. For years, I’ve skulked about in, tbh, boring clothes that didn’t draw attention to myself at all; even though I yearned to burst out of the self-made cocoon and wear the joyous clothes that I wanted. This became even worse when I became aware of the environmental and ethical issues revolving around fashion. What was a self-conscious, curvaceous woman with ethical dilemmas to do, except stay with what she’d worn for years, at least that way not adding to the fast fashion?

The ridiculous thing is that I tell my own daughter to not obsess with how she looks, to enjoy life, not wait for the mythical figure to arrive on the scales and have life suddenly be perfect. I look back at photos of myself and I’m appalled at the waste of time I spent agonising over the fact that I wasn’t a size 10. I was lovely!  And then…Lo! The arrival of Sylvia, fashion guru and style queen. I saw the Roshan, aka ‘the sack’ and thought….hell,no. Well. Try and prise me out of it  now. I’ve worn it on numerous occasions and love it. What’s even more amazing is the comments I get. I walk down the street and people – of both sexes – say ‘morning’, ‘hello’, ‘nice, isn’t it?’ Some have commented on the dress. I am not so shallow as to say it’s the dress, but more like that I’ve discovered ethical fashion, I am doing something that makes me feel better, that I am doing something worthwhile and that I am back to being relevant (as I always felt as a teacher). I feel happy, I am way more confident and I want to wear the clothes that I like, that are more interesting, that are helping towards my own personal campaign for more ethical and environmental friendly. I want to no longer be invisible! And this attitude, is, I think coming through. So it might only be a dress, but it has definitely helped me to redefine myself back to how I used to be. Go, the ‘sack’! Oh and curvaceous ladies….this is a s/m and I’m definitely not that size!

 

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The ‘Sack’ – my favourite dress

Styles and fashions change but my favorite dress at the moment is the Roshan dress by Nila Rubia. I have three – and I wake up in the morning and wonder which one I should wear. I remember these dresses first coming in when I used to work in Maude and Tommy, a fantastic ethical fashion boutique in York where I learned so much about ethical fashion. I remember thinking they looked a bit shapeless at first. But when I tried one on I realised how clever Nila had been with the design. They don’t look great on the hanger – but they do look great on. And they have pockets!! Fabulous big pockets. I love a dress with pockets.

The first one I bought was made of bamboo linen – it has a lovely silky sheen and is quite heavy so it drapes really well. It looks special and sophisticated, without being over the top dressy. It is an unusual colour and dip dyed so it’s quite striking – especially with a scarf that tones in with the colours – I am afraid I have a bit of a scarf addiction – and this dress looks great with a scarf! I wore this dress to present at a conference last year and it was perfect. I felt confident and relaxed.

I bought an indigo dyed organic cotton Roshan dress last summer – I literally wore it every day.

This year, when I tried on the yellow rose print, it had to be mine. It’s so summery – and even though we haven’t had much of a summer I feel summery in this dress – wearing it with leggings and a cami or Tee underneath to brave the British summer. On the beach this dress came into its own – it was a perfect throwover come changing tent!

When Karin came to see me in York to talk about working with me I showed her the dress and she called it the sack – but when I managed to get her to try it on, she bought two! It looks lovely on her too – its so easy to wear, and looks great on so many different women. So if you want a dress that is incredibly comfortable and stylish in an understated way – I really recommend the Roshan dress.

They feel so generous and easy to wear. Here is Karin in the lilac bouquet – looking pretty fabulous wafting around the garden!

We have had these dresses made up exclusively for our Curvacious Apparel collection to fit up to size 24 – so do have a look. The ‘Sack’ is a great style whatever your size or shape.

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Accessorising with a shawl

For a special occasion a shawl can be the perfect accessory. A cosy wool shawl will keep the winds at bay and also look fabulous. Nila Rubia’s jacquard weave shawls, with their vibrant colours and striking motifs, can make a real style statement. Here the leaf and jungle bird motif shawls are shown with hand block print Farah and bamboo linen Roshan dresses from the Autumn Winter 18 collection.

A shawl is also a great way to update your wardrobe and create a look that is totally unique.

For products and prices for the Nila Rubia collection click on this link here

 

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The five choices you can make to be more ethical in the way you dress

It has never been more important to start make more ethical choices in terms of what you wear. Here are five choices everyone can start making.

  1. Choose environmentally friendly fibres grown from sustainable crops. Hemp, linen, bamboo and organic cotton are all positive choices. Tencel is also environmentally friendly. Eucalyptus trees are grown in planted forests that are pesticide free. Natural fibres that are breathable, feel fabulous to wear, and are so much kinder to the planet.
  2. Choose environmentally friendly production processes. This means the manufacturers not using dyes and toxic chemicals that harm and pollute. Look out for azo-free dyes, which do not contain carcinogenic and toxic compounds, and have a low environmental impact.
  3. Choose fair pay and humane work conditions for those making the clothes. See what steps the manufacturer is taking to ensure the people who make the clothes are not exploited and do not suffer.
  4. Choose traditionally made textiles that keep skilled crafts people and the communities they work in alive and thriving.
  5. Choose to re-use and recycle  Buying ethical doesn’t mean buying new. The amount of clothes that are being thrown away is vast – apparently, according to a report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, this equates to a truckload wasted every second across the world! Wearing preloved clothes is one of the very best ways to be ethical on a budget.

 

 

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