The New Mulberry Zip Tote, and the Importance of Shopping Ethically

SO. I bought a Mulberry handbag.

I know, I know. Before you say it, or even think it, I can hear a horrified wave of tutting and gasps building in the distance, like a tsunami of disapproval. I’ve been (half) jokingly lusting after one for years, and Tom finally turned round and said that volunteering to teach all summer instead of going on holiday was the cherry on top of the working-70-to-100hr-weeks-for-the-last-four-years cake, and I deserved a reward. I thought about just posting a few photos and weathering the storm (“Mulberry handbag? Where? Gosh, how did that get there?!”) but decided, actually, to use this opportunity to write about the importance of paying good money for the things you believe in.

Don’t worry, I’ll post photos as well.

When I was growing up, designer clothes only existed in Vogue. People at my state comprehensive certainly didn’t wear them! If you wanted to dress in something that wasn’t from Topshop you rummaged through the charity shops, which resulted in wonderfully cheap and eccentric outfits. I was perfectly happy with this at the time, but I did know that there was something else, something better, out there. I found it in London.

I still shopped in Oxfam, vintage stores and Topshop (have you SEEN the flagship store at Oxford Circus?! It’s amazing!) but I began to develop an eye for other, better quality British brands. I noticed the difference in quality, both in design and materials. Fabric that regained its intended shape even after numerous washes, that didn’t wear through with holes or split at the seams, and that didn’t fade at the first threat of water or in bright sunlight. Real leather that was supple and weathered with age, rather than plastic that didn’t. Shoes that didn’t cripple me.

I did my research as well. I read about horrendous working conditions in sweatshops producing cheap clothes. When 1,129 people died in the Primark-supplying Rana Plaza factory in April 2013, it reminded me that paying more for clothes is not simply vanity; it helps prevent tragedies like this. The damage done to the environment by industrial levels of pesticide and bleach (poisoning local water supplies and wildlife) in the mass-production of cotton, is another example of destruction resulting from greedy consumers demanding cheap clothing. I’ve always tried to buy organic food as  I don’t particularly want to ingest toxins if I don’t need to, but also because it sends a message to the supermarkets. They control farming these days, and if the consumer says they want to pay a tiny bit more for organic food then the supermarkets will themselves encourage this. Buying clothing produced sustainably and fairly is an extension of this.

Also, although I love clothes and shopping, I dislike mass-consumerism. I don’t need a wardrobe bursting at the seams, and I find the modern flippancy towards clothes, happily throwing away last year’s fashions to make room for this year’s, distasteful. I spend a lot on my clothes, but I probably only buy one item each month, if that. Why would I need any more? My clothes last! If I do manage to damage them, I repair them. I think carefully about every pair of shoes or garment that I buy, and I value them as a result; I take pride in their ownership. A value that our consumerist society has, paradoxically, lost.

Finally, I also like supporting British brands. Hobbs, Barbour and Really Wild; Karen Millen, Reiss and Ted Baker; Turnbull and Asser, Aquascutum and Mulberry. I’m not saying they need my money, but I feel proud to wear British fashion. I know with Mulberry in particular I’m paying a lot for the label, but as someone who has built a brand based on quality myself, I respect that. They’ve earned it. I’m also contributing to our economy positively, helping to provide desperately needed employment and maintain high standards; our laws on production, wages and working conditions are a lot stricter than in developing countries. We should pride ourselves on this.

I’ve worked hard as long as I can remember to be able to live a lifestyle I enjoy, but being able to make moral choices is a major factor in this. Most people don’t even notice my Mulberry handbag, as it’s not exactly ostentatious, but that’s not why I bought it. Apart from all the other arguments I’ve offered you I’ll probably use it for the next thirty years, which works out at £50 per year, and it’s not just a part of my wardrobe now: it’s a part of me.

Plus these choirs of angels start singing whenever I look at it. Funny, Mulberry didn’t mention that that would happen!

Coat Karen Millen, shoes Hobbs.

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30 thoughts on “The New Mulberry Zip Tote, and the Importance of Shopping Ethically

    • Glad to hear it! I may just investigate Shepton Mallet next time I allow myself to go shopping (though it won’t be for a long time I suspect, given my most recent purchase!) Jx

  1. Great post! I love the bag. I have a mulberry bag that I bought five years ago and still use almost every day. A much better investment than a cheap one that falls apart after a year. Gorgeous scarf as well, where’s it from? Xx

    • Thanks – I’m looking forward to many happy years with mine! I bought the scarf in Edinburgh, from one of the numerous shops selling tartan woollen things along the Royal Mile. It’s actually a wrap, so not the most practical scarf, but I like having the option of wearing it both ways, and it does keep my ears warm when in scarf-mode! Jx

  2. Send this article to British Fashion Week immediately!
    Yes, I remember Topshop Oxford Circus – back in the day, in the basement, you could pick up stuff from the fashion colleges grad shows. Probably doesn’t happen nowadays but I had a couple of pieces that lasted years and were fun at the same time. Happy days.

    • Aw, thanks Jenny!

      I don’t think Topshop do sell fashion grad show creations any more, more’s the pity. They do have a large vintage section though, marked-up at twice the price you pay in the original vintage stores! Jx

  3. I loved every word of this , and so agree with you. I LOVE good clothes – their cut, their quality, textures, their one-off – ness, It’s also great to read your absolutely spot-on take on the ethics of buying.
    Many of the names you mention you love, I’ve loved all my life, and I’m 75!
    By coincidence, I’ve written about bags this week too, Confessions of a bag lady !
    Great post, thank you

    • I completely empathise with your bag lady dilemma – whether or not you can justify buying something that you want but know you don’t really need!

      The clothes and accessories we wear are a projection of identity, and are therefore a form of communication. Of course, some people wear outfits as costumes, but I wonder if there isn’t a surprising amount of truth to be found in the masks we choose to wear in life. In one of her essays Virginia Woolf described our manipulation of our home environment as a projection of our identity, that can harden under scrutiny and form a protective shell. This theory can also be applied to the clothes we choose to wear, and (for me, anyway) helps justify buying things I want but don’t need! Virginia would probably disapprove.


  4. Yes, buy better and less often always pays off especially if it is British made. We should apply the same to all that we buy, especially food to help our farmers. There is one vegetable that really gets my goat in the supermarket, ‘fine green bean’ always from Kenya! I take great umbridge that such a dear sweet vegetable has to be brought from thousands of miles away, so we don’t buy them ever! Sorry, rant over….. a classy timeless handbag as you say it will be with you always. I can see a series of Mulberry and I coming up 😉

    • It seems strange that we have to impose such dietary restrictions on ourselves doesn’t it. I always try to buy food in season as well, as I look forward to and enjoy it more as a result. It tastes better, it’s cheaper, and it hasn’t accrued air miles, but knowing that it was growing in the countryside until very recently also makes me feel closer to the land; it’s a psychological attempt to realign myself with the seasons.

      Photos of ‘Mulberry and I’ will be staged with great frequency I think!


    • SO warm! I’m hopeless when it comes to being cold (I blame growing up on a tropical island, but really I’m just being a wimp) but this coat keeps me warm however cold it gets! Jx

      • I am too! I live in Australia, but you may be surprised how cold it can get here in winter, especially with no central heating. The whole Aussie ‘tough it out’ thing also means it is quite hard to find a coat that really is warm! Can I ask what yours is made of?

      • I was born in Australia – we lived just outside Melbourne (Mount Macedon)! I don’t remember it ever being cold though, so I think I was lucky. The coat is 80% wool, 5% cashmere, and 15% polyamide… whatever that is. Basically wool though! Nothing beats it. Jx

  5. …It’s such a treat to get away to the country… Many thanks for the cocktails too…BeYOND, ravishing, dear! As for the Mulberry, you’ll find no disapproval here! NOT. ONE. JOT. You wear it beautifully… It was meant-to-be… BUT beware, for ’tis a rare thing, NOT to succumb to the wiles-of-workman/woman-ship and buy another one…. and I just, might be talking from experience! That said, I don’t regret a fashion-moment of it! Have a FAB party..and congrats on the sparkling site!xA

  6. I agreed with everything you’ve written about the state of the fashion industry right now. I am an artisan knitter supplying my collection to a small number of boutiques in London and cherish anything & everything to do with handmade and ethical products. There are far too many stuff with hype in the world. We should celebrate individuality and eccentricity more. Let’s make a world better place for all of us (^-^)

    • Thanks, I’m so glad you agree. Consumerism is critiqued so frequently that people forget ethics plays a part as well. Thank goodness for people like you! Jx

  7. Pingback: Day 29: New lot of Posts and Blogs I like!63 days to go! | My journey on becoming full-time designer.

  8. Pingback: A Devon Writing Retreat, and the River Cottage Canteen | Cocktails and Country Tales

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