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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