In Part 1 Leeyong told us about, her experiences in the fashion industry. In Part 2 she tells us about some of the challenges facing designers today.
6. You started your own label Fourth Daughter which features one-off party dresses made from vintage kimono and obi material. What were the major challenges you faced starting your own label?
Making everything myself! I’m not trained in patternmaking or anything fashion related so a lot of my time went into that. As all the garments are unique, I couldn’t get them mass-produced, and was against that idea anyway as I wouldn’t have been able to afford it unless I used sweatshop labour – to which I am of course violently opposed!
7. Before starting this blog, as a consumer I was very unaware of the difficulties facing fashion designers. What thing do you think it is important for consumers to be aware of so that they can gain a greater appreciation for the work that goes into producing clothing and accessories?
All the time and materials that go into making even one item, not to mention the energy and resource! Just think about a cotton T-shirt, for example. The cotton has to be sown, grown and harvested, which takes fertiliser, water, and lots of backbreaking work – not to mention chemicals and the illnesses and poverty that accompany their use if the cotton is not being grown organically (many farmers in India suicide because they are forced into massive debt because of having to buy chemicals, or they get really sick because they don’t know how to use them properly).
The cotton is then processed into thread, woven, cut and sewn into T-shirts, with dyeing or printing most likely taking place somewhere along the way too. That’s not even factoring in the design process – design for fit or embellishment which will differentiate it from the thousands of other T-shirts on the market. If it’s decorated somehow, where do those parts come from (beads or buttons, for example)? And then there’s also the delivery – the raw materials and the T-shirt itself probably crosses several continents before it gets to you, which of course all takes up resources. Something to think about the next time you buy a $5 T-shirt – if it’s that cheap, just consider how many people must not be getting paid properly!
And if you’re buying something made by hand locally, just think about how much time and effort went into that too – I’ve had people say my things are too expensive but handmade items take a lot of time. If I sold them for the same price as something at Zara, I’d be paying myself $5 an hour!!! I hate to be a party pooper and I’m actually the last person you’d find paying more than $10 or so for a garment (I shop at op shops!) but we consumers have had it too cheap for too long. We’re going to have to start paying proper prices for things sooner or later!
Fair trade allows communities in developing countries to be paid a fair wage and work in fair conditions, meaning that they have adequate light and ventilation and fair work hours, among other things. The system also allows schools and other community facilities to be built, meaning that it’s not only the workers but the whole community that can benefit. My major issue is time but courage as well – I haven’t been able to look into starting a fair trade label as I’d really have to go over to a country such as India and spend a significant amount of time finding manufacturers and staff who could co-ordinate things on my behalf when I’m not there, and it’s a very big step and huge commitment.
9. You have experienced life in the fashion industry from an editorial and designer perspective. What do you believe are the major issues facing the fashion industry today?
Sustainability and ethical issues are probably the biggest ones but as I’ve gone on about them already, there is of course also the issue about new and upcoming designers – are they getting the support they need? I think so many young designers go in to uni with huge dreams, end up completing their course, and then have to work in other unrelated fields or in retail for fashion because there are only so many jobs in fashion design that actually pay.
10. What exciting projects do you have planned for the coming months?
I’ll be making more of my own clothes and accessories, as usual, and documenting them on my blog. I’m also blogging for The Clothing Exchange once a month and creating things for Peppermint. Apart from that, I’ve just started organising the fashion show for Fair@Square festival in December, and if I still have time then I’ll start looking into the fair trade label idea a bit more!
Thank you Leeyong for taking the time to share your experiences! It's great hearing from someone who's had such a varied career in the fashion industry:)
Images courtesy of http://stylewilderness.blogspot.com