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Space Oddity, T-shirts and a Fashion Revolution

Published 9 January 2014

Last month I heard an inspiring BBC radio interview with Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut whose Twitter following hit the stratosphere last year as he strummed David Bowie's Space Oddity on his guitar while orbiting Earth. In the radio interview he spoke passionately about the precious majesty of our lonely planet and his deep concern about the changes he has observed from above in his prestigious career spanning numerous space tours. He spoke of shrinking icecaps and desertification, noting the heartbreaking decimation of the Aral Sea in Uzbhekistan. 'Dust blows from what once was the Aral Sea floor', he observed, having seen the desolation of the region from way up high. 

Dust blows from what was once the Aral Sea floor.


Uzbhekistan, so far far away from a usual day in the world of fashion. Or is it? Yesterday I read about the Aral Sea again.  John Thackara, environmental design advocate writes about the fashion industry in ‘A Whole New Cloth: Politics & Fashion’. 

You probably need to be naked to read this paragraph with a clear conscience... it takes 700 gallons of water to make a cotton t-shirt and 25% of the world’s pesticides are used on cotton crops...  it’s partly down to me that 85% of the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan has disappeared because its water is used to grow cotton in the desert.’


The Aral Sea is not so far away after all. Houston, we have a problem...

Closer to home, I recently fashion commentator Susie Bubble’s blog ‘Half-Arsed Ethics’. Susie, in her typically self-effacing style, comments on the challenge she has to apply any more than a ‘half-arsed approach to the unsavory ethics of the fashion industry.’ She admits, ‘I care about provenance and about where and how things were made and about the quality of what I’m wearing, but my ultimate goal is for aesthetic pleasure.’ 

In the article she interviews Orsola De Castro, designer and founder of From Somewhere, a label devoted to upcycling & sustainable and fair trade sourcing.  In awe of Orsola’s commitment to building an alternative model for the fashion industry, Susie questions the extent to which other designers, big and small, can follow suit in a consistent, whole-hearted fashion. Orsola is optimistic. She says the new generation carry a genetic make-up different to the people on corporate boards currently. In her view it is the high-end big brands who have the power to change but are lagging behind a newer way of thinking.  

This is a generation who are thinking that if something isn’t done soon, it might come to the point where there isn’t a fashion industry at all.

In Orsola’s view there will be a time in the future when it is the non-ethical brands who will fall out of favour with consumers.

And this optimism for change is also evident in John Thackara’s account, despite the critique he gives of big business’ insatiable drive for exponential growth. He believes that profound shifts in beliefs about the inherent value of resources across the world is causing a quiet transformation:

At a certain moment - which is impossible to predict - a tipping point or phase shift is reached and the system as a whole changes.

That brings me back to the inspiring interview with Chris Hadfield. Melting icecaps and the dust storm of the Aral Sea are not enough to dampen his optimism for the future. He speaks of the need to challenge our kids to grasp concepts currently just beyond human possibility and imagine themselves as the ones who will make it a reality in their lifetime. As with his vision, those who have the audacity to imagine a world of fashion that is clean and accountable are the ones who will make it happen. Who's hoping their kids will get the chance to sail across an abundant and flourishing Aral Sea one day?


Note: 24th April 2014 is Fashion Revolution Day, to mark the anniversary of the tragedy of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh. Mark it in your diaries! 


Images attributed to NASA educational website.

January 2014