Wednesday, 4 April 2012

"What have we done?"

'What have we done?' - the question repeatedly asked by Mary Portas in her Channel 4 series 'Mary's Bottom Line'.  I watched all three episodes back to back on 4OD this morning, while I was hand sewing.  And I have to confess it really got to me.

As I was sitting, in Britain, hand sewing my English wool and Irish linen with my British thread and British needle.

Not only the parts where Mary Portas was talking about her teenage years (she lost both parents, aged 16 and 18 respectively), that could be expected to choke me up (I also lost my whole family before I was 18).  But the desperation of the people in a run down area who were trying to find work, but couldn't, and the idea that they were on the scrap heap before they had begun.  One 20 year old (who as it turned out, has a natural ability with a sewing machine) whose parents never had jobs, and who had borrowed a suit from a friend for the interview, because he was determined that he wouldn't be like that, and that his young son would grow up with a father who went out to work "like a proper man".  And the woman who said that before getting the job, she'd thought she was coming to the end of her life.  At 34.

All this in an area that a few decades ago was a key centre of the British textile industry.

 Of course, the deeply stupid thing is that we - you and I - are the ones responsible.  In our insatiable demand to be able to buy more, more, more, more, instead of good quality products that last, at a reasonable price.  In our idiotic belief that 'value' and 'cheapness' are the same thing, we've killed town after town, and left people utterly desolate.

It isn't just about those people though.  It's about us.  Our economy is currently bouncing along the bottom of a valley.  We may go into recession again.  But we seem to think that it's a good idea to send the money that we earn out of our country, and into other countries.  I'm not talking about foreign aid here - that's a completely different discussion (and I believe that foreign aid proves we're part of the world) - I'm talking about the fiver you have in your pocket, the tenner in your purse.  That money could create jobs for people here, in the UK.  And those people would then have money to spend, and that would create more jobs, and so the cycle continues, and suddenly, our economy doesn't look so bad after all.

You may be asking me what on earth this has to do with a costumer, but I make clothes.  I may not work in a factory, or produce thousands of garments in a week, but I'm a textile worker.  And I'm a textile worker confronted at all turns with cheap, poor quality imports from overseas.  Even in the highly specialised area in which I work,  the stupidity that we've all displayed for the last few decades is evident.  (This is not me moaning about that, by the way - I get enough work - but I have no doubt that sooner or later there will be British craftsmen and women put out of business over the issue.)

This is before you even get into arguments about conditions in overseas factories - some of which are very good - some involve the chaining of workers to their machines 36 hours a day, and the beating and torture of children.

The programme is available to watch here for a few more days / weeks

The knickers are sold through ASOS, Boots, Liberty, M&S, House of Fraser, John Lewis, and Selfridges, when they're in stock.  They're selling out all over the place, and being wait-listed - which I think is absolutely fantastic!  Updates are here:

In order for the trainee machinists to hang onto their jobs, the brand needs  to sell 100,000 pairs of Kinky Knickers per year.  So I think the choice is easy - next time I need to refresh my knicker drawer, I'll be buying British, even if it costs a few quid more - at £10 per pair it's worth every penny.

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