Last weekend I went to a beautiful wedding. I know most women say they don’t have anything to wear, but I really, truly, didn’t.
Over the last few years my wardrobe has become smaller and smaller. In part because my ‘clothing budget’ has been allocated to developing ElementAll, but also because I’ve been trying to get as much wear as possible out of my existing pieces. And most are now looking a little tired. Some have actually worn out.
Therefore on the Thursday before the wedding, I went in search of a dress. Because I’d left it rather late, I’d let my fingers do the walking online the previous night and I had a shortlist of stores to visit. Actually, store, singular. I was cutting it fine. An hour and a half scheduled into the middle of my day was all the time I had to find something. However, I’d passed Goodness many times and popping in once or twice, I’d seen a style I liked. Beautiful fabrics, rich colours, classical and a bit quirky. Elegant but not taking itself too seriously. And while I’m not a seamstress, the clothes appeared to be of high quality, well-made and not outrageously expensive.
Setting out on my little shopping expedition, my intention was to find a green dress. Apparently Cinderella’s fairy godmother was in town on an equally tight schedule because I walked into Goodness and immediately spotted a gorgeous green silk dress made by the in-house label Hale Van Traa. Trying it on, I was assured not just by the lovely woman serving me but a fellow customer that it was flattering and feminine and suited me. So far, so good!
Fast forward, Saturday afternoon. I’m sitting in the little wooden church in Martinborough fanning myself with the order of service, watching men in suits swelter in the early summer heat. Feeling fresh as a daisy in my pretty green silk dress.
Fast forward, Sunday early afternoon. I’m at the ‘after-match’ lunch enjoying being told by numerous people how lovely the dress was and how much it suited me.
Fast forward, Sunday evening. I’m checking the label to find washing instructions and find a little white label saying simply ‘Made in China’.
A frisson of disappointment. But aware of the fact that New Zealand designers are having to manufacture off-shore in order to sustain their businesses and are paying attention to the other aspects of sustainability, I didn’t let that sense of disappointment settle in. Instead I looked at the Goodness website, hoping to find the story behind the label. Information on where the product is made and why. But I didn’t. Just the little white label with ‘made in China’.
My heart sank.
It really did.
Mostly, I think, because I was disappointed in myself. Every year, I give a lecture to the fashion design students at Massey University on sustainability. I’m fully aware of the fact that ‘Made in China’ could mean that the beautiful green of the dress was created by using a toxic dye which now runs through a river in China. The sweet little buttons may have been stitched on by a young woman working horrendous hours for barely anything. But in my haste, I didn’t stop to look at the label.
Let me be very clear, my issue is not with ‘Made in China’, the issue is that I don’t know who it’s made by. China, after all, has a long, rich history of producing stunningly beautiful fabrics and garments. But it also has a history of human right rights abuse and environmental degradation. It is experiencing industrialisaton on a truly massive scale. I see ‘Made in China’ and I think mass-produced, impersonal, care-less. I don’t think to myself ‘the hands that made this are appreciated and paid a good wage and care about this process’. I know this is a generalisation, but it’s what I think, and these thoughts instantly diminished my appreciation of my pretty green dress.
A green dress which is, right now, sitting quietly in the corner of my bedroom waiting to go to the dry-cleaner. something else I should have checked as I’m not a fan of ‘dry clean only’ pieces. It sits there with a worried expression, like a much loved dog which has been told off for doing something wrong and it doesn’t know what. My green dress says plaintively to me “What have I done?….” and I reassure it. Explain that I will, of course, wear it again and love it. But before I do, I’ll go in and have a conversation with the gals at Goodness. Gently share my experience and ask if they can tell me more of the tale of a pretty green dress. I’ll let you know what they have to say.