My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

The Gothic subculture is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, and looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Tim Burton, Siouxsie Sioux and Anne Rice et al.) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. Goth should not be limited by what is considered "goth", inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The Ethics Of Goth Clothes


I have been stalling writing this blog post... It's one of those topics that is very easy to sound preachy and self-righteous about, and I'm not wanting to dictate other people's shopping habits - rather, I would like to start a conversation (feel free to comment!), one that occurs about mainstream fashion, but which seems overlooked within Goth. 


Manufacture & Sweatshops
Quite a few mainstream 'fast-fashion' high-street brands have come under criticism for having garments made in sweatshops where working conditions are poor, workers have long shifts, health and safety is overlooked, wages are a pittance, and sometimes even children work. Investigative reporters and groups interested in sustainable and ethical have tracked back their supply chains, produced rankings and reports to check major companies, and some retailers have since moved production to different manufacturers after public scandals, but the issue of sweatshops remain. Imported clothes at impossibly low prices, for example, make me question where the customer saving comes from, and to where that cost has been shifted.

When it comes to Goth brands, especially the larger ones, the supply chain is pretty opaque to the average customer- we rarely even buy them from the brands themselves, but from resellers. These are often niche companies, ranging from very small businesses run by either one person or two or three, to small companies, to much larger companies making thousands of garments, maybe tens of thousands, but very few are anywhere near the scale of the big high-street retailers selling millions of garments each. They are not large enough companies to attract the attention of the groups monitoring sustainable and ethical production, and it's often very hard to find out if the companies just design and distribute the garments, or if they also produce them in their own factories rather than contract that out.  This makes it very difficult to know anything about the production and supply chain.

Some, like ::Holy Clothing:: (fantasy, Medieval-inspired and bohemian styles, usually available in black, dark purple and other colours that make them very Gothic - great place to get gowns!), make a point to say their clothes are 'Ethically Made' and even have a section on their website about their workers, and Dracula Clothing also seem to be treating their staff in their tailoring workshop in India well, and others like ::Alchemy Gothic:: are very proud of their production methods and tell you all about it if you look on their blog (part 1 of the process is ::here:: and you can find the rest of it on their site. Their jewellery is made in Leicester, England). There are also companies like ::MoonMaiden:: and ::Hysteria Machine:: that are very small operations, making their own garments and accessories.

I thoroughly endorse Alchemy Gothic's products, and I'm not being sponsored to say that or anything! I've been collecting their jewellery and homewares for several years now,  and am a very happy customer, and I think their jewellery designs are gorgeous! 

A lot of what Goths actually wear isn't sourced from Goth-specific brands - it's from mainstream retailers. These often ARE assessed in terms of sustainability and ethical production, and there's been quite a lot done to research exactly where our high-street fast-fashion comes from. With those, I strongly recommend looking up exactly what is made where. Personally, I now buy nearly nothing directly from fast-fashion mainstream retailers, although I will buy stuff manufactured by them from charity shops etc.; I don't want my money to support an unsustainable fashion industry, but also understand that clothes waste is a serious issue (which I will address later in this post), and so would rather buy second-hand clothes and put my money towards a good cause. 

Production & Pollution
There is also an issue that is part of all fashion - the manufacture of fabric, especially synthetic fabrics made from what are essentially plastics derived from the oil industry, and the dyeing process. The dyeing industry is notorious for water pollution issues, With fabrics derived from natural materials there is also the concern for the farming methods used - for example pesticide use on cotton grown on irrigated land and the leaching of pesticides back into the water system, especially as cotton is often a crop grown with high use of pesticides. Check out ::this article:: for an overview of the issues relating to specific fabrics. One piece of bad news for Goths is that one of our favourite materials - PVC - is a plastic with a particular issue when it comes to production.

It is important to look at what materials a garment is made from. Personally, I think this is a good reason to look towards either secondhand or recycled clothes as much as possible rather than towards brand new clothes made of brand new materials, thus not encouraging further excess production. Of course, that's not always practical, plus there'd be a pretty big negative economic impact if everyone suddenly stopped buying new clothes!

When making our own clothes, it also important to think about where we are sourcing our materials. Some fabrics and trims are made in factories that are just as much sweatshops as garment factories can be, sometimes even worse as the dyeing and synthetic fabric production processes use a lot of harsh and dangerous chemicals. There is also the issue of health and safety, especially in factories that use antiquated machinery and child labour. Conditions in some places aren't much better than the lethal cotton mills of Victorian England. It is unfortunately very, very difficult to find out the conditions in which our trims, buttons, lace and fabric were made, as we are usually at the end of a very indirect supply chain. It is certainly possible to reclaim materials from used garments and furnishings, but this isn't always practical, and good quality materials secondhand can be hard to come by - especially as another aspect of fast-fashion flooding the market is that cheap, substandard materials have become the norm, and therefore the secondhand market is full of things that are simply already too worn-out and damaged to be easily up-cycled. 

Carbon Footprint & Air Miles

There are two issues with clothes being manufactured a long way from where they are consumed - relying on imported goods and outsourcing cheap manufacturing overseas damages the domestic manufacturing industries, and shipping things half way across the globe is bad for the environment - those ships and planes pollute. Some companies, such as ::Cykxtees:: and Moon Maiden manufacture their clothes in the same country as their primary market (in the case of Cykxtees, that's the U.S.A, Moon Maiden the U.K.) but many have their primary sales markets in Europe or America, but have their clothes made in India, China, etc. While this is obviously economical in terms of cost of production, it does have an impact on the environment, and while it might beyond the scope of small companies to make much change in the economic forces that drive manufacturing to far away places, there is an issue with that, too - but the economic growth in many of those countries has in many cases spurred a huge increase in the local standards of living (and in other cases, contributed to local pollution to toxic levels!). It is a case where there is not always a clear and definitive ethical demarcation of whether it is "good" or "bad" - but I think it is something that needs to at least be thought about. 

Cheaper & Greener

I really recommend shopping secondhand for Goth clothes. It's how I get about ⅔ of my clothes, initially only out of budgetary concerns as I just can't afford most new clothes in the Romantic Goth, Gothic Aristocrat and Gothic Lolita styles that I like, but now also because I don't want to contribute financially to the encouragement of overproduction.

It takes a bit more time to look through charity shops and online to find what you want, but I think it is definitely a worthwhile endeavour; I've bought fancy buckled pointy boots for £1 and a heavy winter woollen coat that was probably £100 or more new for under £4. One thing I will note is to always check the cost of postage, and from how far away someone is selling. It requires patience, and knowing the nuances of how to shop secondhand; something that is outside the scope of this particular article, but there are plenty of guides out there, including ::this one:: I wrote.


Reuse, Recycle and Resell
There is also the issue of what to do with our clothes once we no longer have use for them, as well as how we get them in the first place.
If something no longer fits, alteration is also an option, especially if a garment is now too big. Things can also be made larger with the insertion of fabric panels, or where the seam allowance allows. If something is damaged, see if it can be mended before you throw it away.


Reselling clothes in good condition is certainly an option. There are many second-hand sales communities on the internet, as well as second-hand marketplace websites. You can often recoup a reasonable amount of money, especially for the more elaborate and unusual items, especially if you're in the right targeted group for a niche community. People will still buy fancy garments with minor damage if they're informed of it up front, as buttons can be changed, tears mended, etc. Permanent stains are often more of an issue, especially if they're obvious. There are also Goth swap-meets and bring-and-buy sales in person in some areas.

Donating old clothes to charity is also an option. Charities prefer clothes without tears, damage or stains, because they are selling them to a broader market, and most people outside of looking for a niche garment where there's less of an availability issue, will reject damaged clothes. Some charity shops can sell on damaged clothes by weight for material recycling, but this isn't possible with all fabrics and with all shops - some shops are actually charged for the disposal of clothes they can't sell.

There is also the option of reusing garments as something else. The staples of this in our subculture are long socks with the feet cut off and a thumb-hole made used as arm-warmers, and ripped tights being ripped up even more on purpose for a textured, layered look, especially in post-apocalyptic and ruination inspired fashions, Deathrock, and Trad-Goth. With more sewing skills things can be dismantled and the fabric, trims, etc. all reused. Plenty of my clothes are repurposed from the fabric of something else; a torn lace skirt turned into a 'butt-cape', a over-sized neck-tie turned into a headdress, an old jacket turned into a hood and cowl, etc. The internet is full of crafting ideas for reusing unwanted and damaged clothes. I have a stash of reclaimed fabric, trims and buttons.



Fast Fashion vs. Goth Fashion
For the most part, Goth is what I would call a style rather than a fashion - what is fashionable is often fleeting and transiently cool, whereas what is stylish remains stylish through time. There are plenty of Goths now that dress pretty much like Goths did 40 years ago, or 25 years ago, etc. and we often buy clothes, especially statement pieces, with the idea of them being an investment we're going to keep for a good few years. This, I think, is a lot more sustainable than what mainstream fashion seems to be like - ::this:: recent video by Huffington Post asserts that mainstream garments are now worn only an average of 5 times before they're thrown away, and retained for an average length of just over a month. (Which, with how long many of us hold on to clothes, must mean some people wear things once and throw them away straight off, for that to be an average!).

We hold on to our clothes longer, have less of a demand for new clothes, and are more likely to buy secondhand, or to make our own clothes, including up-cycled clothes, all positives, and it is good to acknowledge this is already an aspect of the fashion of our subculture and the attitudes within it.