For the last week or so, I've been seriously contemplating spending a lot of money (fortunately in the sales) on a coat and a jacket. Both items have been designed and carefully handcrafted from beautiful, ethical tweeds, woven on the Isle of Mull at Ardalanish Farm. Each stage of their production has been thoughtfully and creatively completed without any adverse affects on the land or the people involved. And Eloise Grey, the woman behind these designs, prides herself on her values, which benefit the environment and the disappearing traditions of beautiful tailoring.
Grey's garments are investment pieces, intended to last for lifetimes and destined to become heirlooms. A little research into the astounding features of pure wool tweeds attests to this - it's an amazingly tough and durable fabric, vulnerable only to moths. And the sculptural cut of her coats defies trends while remaining distinctly stylish. A certain quality of elegance has always transcended fashion, and it is this which really defines her work, together with the ethics of her label.
As well as the sheer beauty of her clothing, what has really struck me about Eloise Grey's approach to fashion is her steadfast principles. I've spent the last two days in bed with flu, and I've been reading her eloquent and informative blog which not only details the process of setting up her business, but also looks into the impact of the fashion trade, mass production and global corporations. To a degree, I've been aware of this situation for several years now, but moving to Australia, which is swamped by cheap imports from China, and mothering three small children, have distanced me from my former ethical lifestyle aspirations. Slowly, I am becoming re-accquainted with my previous modes of living, and given that we now live in the countryside, have added a good few more. We grow a lot of our own food now, and what we can't produce ourselves, we try to source locally. Organics are also very important to us. We make a lot of our children's toys, we buy them either pre-loved clothing or sturdy, tough things which last more than one child. And when we can, we buy handmade items from friends with small, ethical businesses. I also knit, and have been known to stitch, their garments. It's not easy, and I still make choices that are far from ideal, but I am at least aware of trying to make good decisions.
So, when it comes to a major purchase for myself, I am trying to be extra careful. Even though these garments will cost me more in the short term, the alternatives are far more expensive in the long - in terms of their impact on humanity and the earth. Many of them will have been manufactured in sweatshops, made from fabrics doused with countless chemicals at all stages of production, and ultimately intended for one or two winters at most. I'm ready for something more than that.
These days I'm working in a profession where appearance counts - on a relatively deep, psychological level. I'm having to think about how I represent myself. I haven't bought a new winter coat or jacket in nearly a decade, and it's time for me to make a considered purchase, taking into account my age, my work, my environment - and also my feelings. I have lately realised that good clothes matter a lot to me, and I am now quite comfortable acknowledging this. For me, clothes are very important, and I like to feel really really good in them. A great piece of clothing is an emotional investment. It can comfort you, cheer you, transform you. It can feel like an old friend, or even an extension of you. I appreciate unusual design and have sourced handcrafted items on ebay and in second-hand shops for decades now. I'm a self-confessed fabrics snob, always seeking natural over synthetic. I refuse to knit with acrylic and will always pay for pure wool over and above blends. I also look for things from reputable shops in the sales, and I have many lovely English vintage items in my wardrobe - also, thankfully, an ethical choice. Sadly though, none of my pre-loved coats have lasted beyond a few years, mainly because the shoulder seams and linings have torn (although I do have one green jacket I am going to have re-lined and fixed up).
So I have more or less decided to spend this considerable amount of money, and buy myself these two classic, beautiful pieces of clothing which I know will connect me into a whole chain of farmers, weavers, the designer, the tailor, and the efforts involved in all of their incredible endeavours. The real downside for me, of course, is the transportation involved in flying them over from England. But when I consider that nearly all of the alternatives will have been shipped from somewhere to somewhere for some stage of their manufacture, I realise that this one, albeit long, journey is also worth it. There is actually no one like Eloise Grey here in Australia, and nothing like these garments. I wish there were - I can see a lot of potential for this kind of thing here in Tasmania, an island full of sheep and alpacas. I hope that one day someone sees fit to develop a really good clothing label here.
For this, and for now, I cannot spend locally, but these are clothes my daughter will inherit and, hopefully, cherish. I know that their value exceeds their cost, and that they will stay the course. In so many ways, they really are worth it.
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