prime mark

This was a strange Monday.

I met up with some lovely friends first thing in the morning - didn't bring my camera, it's been so cold and dark, there's not much style on the street. I even thought, as I crossed the street in South Ken/Knightsbridge, and saw Chanel (and thought of Pearl, who unbeknownst to me, was at that very same moment, posting about Primark), that it's kind of surreal, in JUNE, to be seeing next Autumn/Winters' clothing in the window and thinking 'Yeah, I wish I was wearing that jacket now, it looks so WARM.'

It was as if the mannequins looked so sad because they were thinking 'another summer day gone by, and I STILL can't go swimming.'

Street style at the moment seems to be more about staying warm and dry and protected from the elements, so no one seems in the mood to friggin' colour block, or wear our little short shorts or wispy frocks - a wafty maxi in a bright colour would look absolutely ridiculous on the London streets. So minutes after snapping the Chanel window with my phone camera, I saw this girl outside South Ken tube. I hesitated but she was standing in such a cool way (not this shot - I didn't shoot her) - it was kind of like a ballet fifth position, and she looked like she was waiting for someone.

I wish I remembered her name! She was so nice (hopefully she'll get in touch: she's visiting London from Edinburgh, so chances are she hasn't got her laptop with her). I admired her dress and asked if it was vintage and she smiled and said 'no, Primark.'

Which brings me to my rant.

I received a very nice email from someone who I guess works with Primark, letting me know about the recent BBC tribunal clearing them of the child labour charges. This video explains it much better than I ever could, and it's really worth watching (it only takes six minutes):

I've since spent much of my morning looking into the history of Primark, which isn't in the States, but is somehow affiliated with JC Penney (I believe). And maybe it's because the founder - who stepped down a few years ago, but is still on the board - shares my father's name, Arthur - or maybe it's simply because I can't wrap my head around why some person, who was GETTING PAID BY THE BBC to produce a show for Panorama, would go to the lengths he did to fabricate a story to bring down a company. Frankly - and I mean this in the most personal way - I just don't understand anyone going to any lengths to cause another human being, or group of human beings, harm. If you don't want to shop in a shop for whatever reason, don't. If you don't want to be friends with someone, or don't want to sleep with someone, or don't want to work for someone.. don't. But what possible good did this guy see in lying about a brand? Did he see himself like some kind of hero, a Man of the People sticking it to Big Business? I just don't get it.

As someone who tends to try to see any situation - political, or in business - as coming down to human beings, my first thoughts when I realised that this has been going on since 2008 is that that is a lot of legal fees for Primark to have to clear their good name. A lot of time, and sleepless nights. I imagined that somewhere, ultimately, there would be one person who had created this brand - even tho countless people worked hard to continue to make it successful - someone who might be a father (or, a mother) with perhaps children, (in this case, possibly even grandchildren - the founder, who is still on the board, is 76) - and it broke my heart when I read the wikipedia story. This is a very impressive company, who are providing inexpensive clothing and other goods for us all.

Yes, I understand that Chanel is Chanel. Good for Chanel.

And I understand about how it's all about the construction, and the quality of fabrics, but - while I hesitate to speak ill of the dead - I can remember, in 2009, being in Harvey Nicks and seeing one of McQueen's dresses - those kind with the digital prints - and the prints on the seams didn't remotely line up. And I looked at the price tag. And it just didn't seem right, somehow. That dress could have fed a family of five for a year, in most of the world's countries, and they couldn't be bothered lining up the patterns on the seams.

And even if I was in one of the top 50 richest families on the planet (which, incidentally, I am not) I STILL wouldn't dress in top to toe Chanel, or any other designer. I have some friends who are royalty, and some are from the wealthiest families on the planet, some are even famous, (no names), and guess what: they still proudly point out, when asked, that they're wearing something from H&M, or Topshop, or, yes, even Primark. (I remember my ex sister in law, a Brit who lives in NY, having returned from London, showing me her stash of Primark goods - she actually introduced me to them, that day at my brother's farmhouse in upstate NY. I can still remember her eyes bulging wildly as she pointed to a skirt and telling me how ridiculously cheap it was - and another item - and another, until finally she ripped open her blouse and pulled her bra strap out and said 'this bra: four pounds. FOUR POUNDS!!)

And - for what it's worth - it was a fabulous bra, at that.

Whew. I'm done. That felt good ; )

So: what do you think? Truthfully. Was the BBC apology reasonable and just? Was it enough? There wasn't any mention, I noticed, about any slap on the wrist to the producer, or any consequences. (When I went thru my own ElleGate hell last winter, for example, altho I was offered compensation, I never got it - or even a proper apology. And the girl at Elle.es, far as I know, has gone unpunished, and her reward is, in a country that was, according to Hachete Filipachhi's lawyers, 'too poor to pay the compensation fee' - she's still got her job! And, I might add: I have nothing but love for the Elle brand, which has since been sold by HF. I always knew it was about two nasty little women, in an office in Madrid - and would never seek revenge on the company, or any of its hard working employees. And I certainly would never seek to distort the truth.)

You can read more about the Primark story on Primark's site, and tell them how you feel.


Shopgirl said...

Another great post Jill. Well thoughtout. I wrote about my own dilemma re ethical fashion vs fast fashion at the weekend and, after seeing Pearl's post and another this week, I'm planning a follow-up, which will also include a reference to this post - if you don't mind, of course!

I am like you ex sister in law - I just LOVE a bargain and take no greater pleasure than telling people exactly how little I paid for something!!! :)


Pearl Westwood said...

Wonderful post Jill I can feel the steam coming off it! As you know I will be addressing this in my own post too but you know it really makes you wonder how they got away with it. It is disgusting that they had to make up such a fabrication. People feel threatened by another's success perhaps this is the case with Primark, they certainly have had the rest of the high st shaking in their boots!

Roz said...

Jill - please, please, please read Lucy Siegle's book (To Die For) for an extremely well researched response to the clothing industry in its entirety. Even if you don't agree in the end, it is wholly worth finding out more about the bigger picture.
It's not just about the way that the workers are treated, or just about Primark. It's about every supermarket clothing brand (or high-street, or some designer for that matter), and the impact not just on the individuals involved in producing the garments - but on the planet too. Mandatory cotton picking at the age of sixteen to feed a rapacious cotton industry? Rivers coloured blue with the excess dye from jeans manufacturers? Humanity is in the process of consuming itself through its vast consumption of all materials and resources - and fashion is but one part of that.
I read in the book that a t-shirt sold for £4 gives the maker just 1.5p. There is a reason why these clothes are priced so cheaply, and the cost is human and environmental.
I do agree that faking footage is wrong - however only a small part has been proven to staged. I have read various first hand personal accounts on different websites of the sometimes horrific conditions people are forced to work in to produce the garments we so eargerly buy.
I still don't know what the right answer is - and I'm not criticising anyone here - but we do have a collective responsibility.

Fashion Limbo said...

I'm divided with this one... I agree that the staging of events for the BBC doc is utterly pathetic, but that's TV for you and just shows that there is so much the media can play with and most of the time it goes unnoticed.

With regards to Primark, I generally avoid shopping there, and I can't help but feeling that if certain items are so cheap, how little did they cost to be made, and how little did each individual person involved in the project get.
On the other hand, designer wear is incredibly overpriced and a lot of it is produced in the same conditions as the cheapest of high street fashion.

In an ideal world, we would all be able to afford buying great fashion at a good price, and have our minds at rest, but sadly it isn't so.

Finally as i said at the start, it saddens me to think that someone working for the BBC thought that faking a section of a programme would add weight to the point they were trying to make. It's so unprofessional and undermines any other true arguments against Primark.

As usual, I simply love your posts ;)

jill said...

Ooh Roz that's uncanny that you wrote that just now - because I'm compiling something that you'll soon receive -and it's to do with dressing using vintage and/or recycling (OR, buying cheaply) - I am completely with you on this.

As much as I passionately feel that faking a documentary to bring down a company is wrong, I also feel even more passionately about waste. I can't bear, for example, to see people buy bottles of water (I can't even get started on that one). I am careful to wash out and dry (so it doesn't get mildewed) a bottle of water and then fill it with tap water. I feel that if I am privileged enough to live in a place that has not just safe, but really great drinking water, that it is immoral to essentially commission someone in another part of my country, or possibly the world, to put that citizen's drinking water in a bottle and use whatever modes of transport to get it to a shop for me to buy.

I know I sound like a hypocrite, but the truth is, I don't really shop much at all. I don't mind wearing clothing that is stained or has holes in it - I try to keep clothes in good condition, and if I'm really not wearing something I'll give it away to charity, but usually anything that's in style at any given time, I've saved and already have.

The thought of rivers coloured blue with excess dye, to dye jeans, as one who loves to swim and values safe water for the ecosystem above all, makes me feel teary. I'm getting that book!

This is what I was hoping would happen: I really do want to hear people's opinions, on all sides of the argument. I just received in my inbox, an invitation to a book launch to a book called 'It's Your Right to be Wrong in Relationships' and I feel that it's my right to be wrong about whatever comes out of my mouth. As long as my mind is open, it means I've got a shot at learning something new.

So please: speak your mind! Just avoid profanity if possible, please ; )

jill said...

Limbo: funny, you sent that while I was replying to Roz - and I agree with you, too! AND thank you Pearl, and Emily.. THIS is why I started blogging, and this is why I continue to - despite anything negative or time wasting that might happen along the way.

This is just like what I love about my real life friendships (or for that matter, my marriage): just having a conversation about whatever it is that drives us, that we're passionate about.

Thank you for taking the time to write this - each of you lovely women with your beautiful minds.

Roz said...

Well Jill, I promise not to swear ;)
I just feel that although Primark has been wronged on this occasion, it does not necessarily make everything that they do right. And as I stated above - it's not just abuot that one brand - even though they often seem to be at the forefront of the argument. And I know I am speaking from the point of view of a pretty much non-high street shopper, so that does make me a little biased. Nevetheless, my reasons for my decisions do boil down to ethics (and also just because I prefer charity shops and ebay!) I would like to live in the knowledge that my existence and buying choices harm others as little as possible. Nobody is perfect, but I think the effort is sometimes worth making.
Thank you for engaging with me and listening to my point of view. I definitely agree that people have the right to be wrong, and also have the right to learn about what they wish (and to have their own opinion).

I agree on the waste front - and my family never buy bottled water. We also keep all our old bottles (and containers) to re-use. I think you really would enjoy Lucy's book - or at least find it a fascinating read. She gave the example of a high street retailer who dumped bags of clothes outside their shop because they had not been sold. These clothes should have been in perfect condition (and therefore been highly useful to those who needed them most), and yet when they were discovered, every single item had been ruined - slashed t-shirts, shoe soles cut up and tears in everything. To me, that is the ultimate waste.
And the dye in the rivers upset me too. The amount of water used to create a single pair of jeans is crazy. The environmental part of production sometimes seems to be forgotten.

Looking forward to this whole project/ idea you have up your sleeve.

the trainee mum said...

This is becoming a great debate, Jill - you always seem to be able to stir up peoples emotions.

I agree with Roz that there seems to be an awful amount of waste involved in fast fashion. This is something that Pearl talked about in her post too. I certainly don't agree with those who go to Primark and fill bag upon bag upon bag with cheaply priced and cheaply made clothes. But, also, just as Pearl pointed out; for some people even a £40 pair of jeans in Topshop or a £20 pair of jeans in H&M are just not attainable and so Primark becomes their only place to shop - if they want new clothes.

I guess that I am a pretty selfish shopper - I buy what I like without too much thought to where it comes from. If I find a pair of sandals that I like in Primark for £6, I think, BARGAIN! If I find a bag I like in Selfridges for little less than £100, I think, why not? I'm in a priviledged position to be able to make these choices but many are not.

I think it sometimes feels like, it is sometimes too expensive to have ethics...

jill said...

; ) So true, Shopgirl!

Limbo said she's divided on this.. I feel like an amoeba, I'm like cell division, going off in different directions. I agree with everyone, about everything! I really am an amoeba: I do not have a spine, or a backbone, on this issue.

First, re jeans: I have not purchased a pair of blue jeans in the 21st century. True story. Lexxi and Charlie May saw me wear a pair of 70s style wide leg jeans that I bought in the early 90s (the Gap were attempting a comeback - an idea too soon). I've bought white jeans - just because I was tired of people making fun of people like Katie Price and I wanted to embrace the chav look (they're my favourite pair actually) but blue jeans, my last pair was in about '98, '99 - gap, skinny, they cost either £40 or £50, and I wore them the first day of holiday at the Hotel Hurricane and my husband went mental on me. He called me a shopaholic and didn't talk to me all day (he got over it, but still - he ruined the first day of holiday on a stupid, pointless argument).

But I know what you mean, Emily. I bought a pair of sandals at H&M that I didn't need, for £6.99, just because I liked them and couldn't believe how cheap they were. I brought them to Hay but it was too rainy/muddy to wear them, and haven't worn them yet, since. I guess it's an age thing, too: when I was a single girl in NY I bought a lot of vintage but I just as easily charged things beyond my reach - but I was never a shopaholic, even then I wasn't ridiculous about shopping. And now, I'm just such a pack rat - and I know my own taste - that I really do have more clothes than I'll ever need - so I don't really shop much at all.

The one thing mother never tells you is that, if you're not careful who you marry, you could end up with less freedom, shopping wise, then when you're a child living with your parents. So I'm kind of on an enforced 'waste not, want not' thing with clothes.

With food - plastic packaging - oh, don't get me started. I just can't believe how much packaging we are forced to throw away every day. I'm like obsessed with recycling everything I can. If I could get away with it, I'd carry every banana peel to our communal garden, and recycle it behind a hedge.

Oh I am SO on a roll today...