Friday 15 December 2023

Lucy Siegle - Journalist, Author, Broadcaster


Lucy is brilliant she is a very accomplished journalist, author and broadcaster, and has always used her writing and her voice to point towards the need for change across all supply chains. The stories she tells are evidence driven. Evidence is a guiding light for her and she has a brilliant journalistic instinct for finding the truth. A truth she has been perusing since she was 15. Her drive: ‘always, to offer people something better.’


Since Lucy and I spoke she has returned from COP 28 where yet again the fate of the world’s population lies solely in the hands of men. Lucy posted an image from the talks that highlights that again 50% of humanity is missing from the decision making, are voiceless and only allowed to make sure things run smoothly in the background. Lucy asked a pertinent question in her post “Do we need a women only climate process?” I for one would be all the way in for this. When I started this project it was obvious to me that women already lead the way, so why do we not see ourselves represented front and centre at these global gatherings?


It reminds me of a quote another of my Inspirational Women Anyango Mpinga mentioned ‘The world of humanity has two wings – one is women, the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible.’ Abdu l- Bahá


This is a great read, I hope you enjoy it as much as I have bringing Lucy’s story to you.



D: Where did you grow up Lucy?


L: I grew up in lots of places. I was born in the northwest of England. Dad's from Ireland and mum is from Liverpool, but my grandparents retired to Chester and were in New Zealand for a year, so I happened to be born in their house. So it was by fluke really, that I happened to be born in Chester. Then we moved around a lot, we lived in Ireland, and England, I feel like my roots are from the north, that northwest Irish thing which is very common. In the 80s we lived in Mullingar in County Westmeath, and lived in Bray on the coast and went to school in in Dublin so as you can see lots of different places. Then I moved to London when I was 17 to go to university, and I've pretty much been in the southeast ever since. In a sense, I've been in London much longer than I've been in any of the other places, but I think you always feel attached to your roots and your family context and mine is, Irish Northern and Liverpool.


D: Multicultural.


L: Yes, in a very narrow sense. From a mixed religious marriage, Protestant and Catholic which used to be quite a big deal back in the day. But I hope we’re all OK with it now.


D: It creates an understanding that creates peace.


L: There are lots of divisions that exist, cultural and historical divisions but you're not really alive to that context, because it's your reality. One thing I have been conscious of is that I was brought up not to discuss politics in the main. So I was brought up to be quite  apolitical apart from bursts, like when mum got quite keen on Greenham Common but part from that very, very non-political. My husband on the other hand is from quite a political family, so I really notice the difference. I have always been interested in politics but I always felt like it would be too upsetting to talk about at the dinner table, so I probably focused on more on history and literature. I think this absence is probably why I have taken the approach to journalism that I have. I never formally studied anything apart from English and Drama which I did at college, I prefer to feed of what's around me, then do deep research, that’s how I like to work. I do have quite a political sense, I've developed this sense though. I feel like now I’ve got quite good at reading political currents.


Growing up I also got to experience two political systems. The one in the UK, I find to be particularly bat shit, and proportional representation, which I grew up with, which I find to be, much more democratic. So I've grown up in a democracy part time, that is how I would phrase it.

D: I saw that you'd been to school in Ireland and had studied music and we're an academic exhibitioner, what is an academic exhibitioner?


L:  That was part of my secondary education. Because we moved around so much, we were always being parachuted into different places. I went to 15 schools, which is a lot of schools, mainly primary schools, where sometimes we would start halfway through the term. I don't think you would be allowed to do that now, because there's a lot more cohesion around the understanding that, that's not actually very good for kids. Also, with the pressures on places in state schools now, it would be almost impossible to turn up halfway through term and get a place. Sometimes, even then I couldn't get a place, so my parents used the private system, but it was a bit out of our price range, which meant I always had to have a scholarship or an exhibition and became quite good at taking those exams. That was kind of fun at the start because, in those days you wanted to be more individual whereas today kids want to assimilate, that's the big thing. My nephew won’t wear anything unless it's black Adidas, they all even wear the same socks they don’t have any deviation whatsoever.  But at school I always felt like I wanted to like stand out for some reason, also because I was only ever there for quite small amounts of time, I wanted to make an impression quickly whether that was having the craziest fashion sense, or being the most musical, or being academic. Whatever I could do, I would try and find that little niche, which often led to scholarships. 


D: Maybe the moving around allowed you that individualism, a lot of people get to that teenage point where they want to assimilate, and only after their brain is rewired when they are about 18 that they say ‘It's OK for me to be different again’.


L: I think it's healthy to want to assimilate. I'm not sure it's massively healthy to want to stand out the entire time, it certainly was a little bit exhausting.

Recently I went back to Dublin, one of my best friends from school: his daughter was 10 and they are non-religious and although he was brought up in a very Catholic household, it was not for him, he discovered atheism early on. But because their little girl missed out on First Communion, all her friends had the dress and also get loads of money, and course she wanted the money and the dress. So they had a humanist celebrant, and had an age of reason ceremony instead, which was really nice and she was happy because she got the dress, the money and the gifts. My husband's her non God Godfather and we went over to celebrate that with them. He is typical of the people that I went to school with as a teenager and are still very much in each other’s lives.


I feel very bonded with my Irish friends. I think it was probably because we grew up in quite a humanist, value laden schooling system, which was also quite free, and you had to find your own set of values quite quickly. It wasn't perfect, and I know a lot of people probably didn't enjoy it as much as I did. But for some reason we're still quite close in each other’s lives. Whereas some of the other schools I went to, I wouldn't know the people if I passed them in the street.


It's a strange thing when you decide to stay in touch and how that experience shapes you or whether it even shapes you. I do understand when people don’t have anything good to say about their school years. I suppose with teenage development that you were referencing before, or young adults, there are certain periods in your life when you're probably more able to make deep bonds with people and it just so happened that because of the way my childhood progressed, I think of it in two year blocks almost, that was a snapshot which I ended up taking with me.


Of course Dublin was very cool, it was in a transition, it was in an emergent phase. It was turning from a sort of backwater, with a massive heroin problem and crime problem into something else, almost a Centre for the Arts. Adam Clayton from U2 went to my school, obviously he is much older than me, but we had someone we could say, this represents us. There was a big music scene. The Commitments, the film came out, and everybody knew someone who was in the Commitments, it was like a cultural force.


I didn't really have a strong identity because I'm not really from anywhere, but I also could latch onto identity. Mum was luckily from Liverpool, at the time of The Beatles, dad from Northern Ireland in the era of George Best, so I've always had different cultural bits that I'm sort of allied to. I think that's helps you orientate yourself. As part of a choir trip we went to Boston and just having Irish Travellers cheques was enough to stop the whole Shopping Arcade, they were giving us free stuff, once we realised that…


D: Being Irish is an amazing thing when travelling.


L: In Boston it is.


D:  I've been to so many places, where being Irish has stood me in great stead.


L: So, there's a cool group of people who I went to school with from mostly from South County Dublin. 


D: You said you went to university when you were 17. That's young, and writing and drama, do feel that's helped you as far as your career is concerned?


L: The the drama, definitely. I did a BA in English and Drama between Queen Mary and Westfield and Central School of Speech and Drama in Swiss Cottage which doesn’t exist anymore, but we had a good run and it allowed me to do drama school without having to pay full fees because drama education was not covered and in those days your tuition fees are paid. I also got a full grant, which was the last year to get that. I also worked at the Royal Court theatre. The course was not a good enough grounding to be an actor, which I now realise because I have friends who are actors who went to Drama Centre or Rada and when they graduated they were doing Hamlet. When I left Uni I had no focus, no direction. But it did teach me a few skills, like memorising scripts. Afterwards I went to City Lit on Saturdays and kept up my drama, learning with people who had actually been actors. That was really good because when I came to do TV quite a few years later, I could work, to a camera, I could do live, and I can memorise chunks of text which you need to do. When I started doing TV about fifteen years ago you didn't have an autocue for your phone. You would be given a script on set and the crew would all stand there until you knew it.


D: No pressure then…


L: That was a random skill that was helpful for me as there was a big gap between college and doing TV. I have always known that I could, write and was taught to write essays at school I had a great teacher, a history teacher who had been a barrister and was very, very good at constructing arguments. I think, like many of these things, it's a knack, which enabled me to turn that into my job eventually.


D: Did you have any fashion influences growing up?


L: I used to watch the Clothes Show and mum was always very stylish. I had a lot of interest in how people wore stuff and from a very young age, was very interested in Vivienne Westwood, which was strange because nobody around me was into fashion, except maybe one of my friends at school, who came to London on a trip and ran off with a photographer, she got into fashion that way. But we would have been the ones that were trying to do the Vivienne look at parties. I would have a choker and I was trying to get a bustier from somewhere, there was no fast fashion then. Mum used dress agencies which were secondhand where you could also sell and mum was very into those and we would spend hours in this dress agency. Dublin was quite a fashionable place but it was very craft driven, it was all about the making of, and where the wool was from and it was very cliquey. There seemed to be a great interplay between the tourist board and the clothing, which I kind of got but I also didn't get, because I could see that it wasn’t done on design merit but on marketing.

From a young age I was very anxious to get to London. A friends grandmother had a little flat in London and one summer we must have been about 15, we came over and stayed there and remember going to Hyper Hyper in Kensington Market three times a day which probably sparked my interest more and I would walk round Harrods literally making notes.


D: It’s such a shame that Hyper Hyper's not there anymore.


L: It was brilliant. That same year our family moved to Manchester and Afflecks Palace was there, which was my church really. I was at school in Manchester from 15 to 17 and probably didn't go to school as much so should have. But I certainly went to Afflecks Palace and of course I got into the rave scene, at the of tail end of the Hacienda and also went to a little club called The Limit. An enterprising girl in my year who used to dress like Betty Boo, with big headbands, very short tartan skirts and over the knee socks, I really liked that style, was also one of the first people to start producing flyers for different club nights and giving them out around Manchester. Style was connected to rave culture and my fashion awareness was very much around clubbing, and again Vivienne Westwood. But I could only afford the very small pieces like the underwear, like a body with Baroque Rococo and devore embossing. I really was attracted to that, Dangerous Liaisons, hyper historical influence. Also, weird fabrics, PVC that kind of club thing with lots of plasticky fabrics and that hyper global stuff that turned different colours. My style was a mix of rave but not hippy rave, I never did hippy raves in those days, and that is where my fashion sense came from, very influenced by i-D and the Face and very much heading towards fast fashion.


D: How did you end up working for a factory? Did you go there after school?


L: After school I went to university. After university there was a little bit of a recession in 95/96 that’s a bit lost in the annals of history. I did a bit of acting, a little bit of music. I used to do some session work musically on club house tracks. My best friend and I did various theatre projects together and also had a club theatre event were we would create performances in clubs. I was an aerobics instructor for a long time, which I loved but I needed more stable work and ended up temping and living in South London. I temped in a wallpaper and textiles factory which I enjoyed and still have friends from there. A lot of them came out of design schools and were textile designers. I used to work in the contracts department and provided fabric and wallpaper for the big hotels like Hilton. Eventually I moved into their press office, because I felt I should do something a little more creative and worked in that department for a year. During that year I was meeting lots of interiors journalists for the likes of House and Garden Magazine, who were all lovely and I thought, ‘oh, I'd much rather do that than what I'm doing, why don't I try and work in journalism’, at the time there were so many interiors magazines and I was more interested in textiles than fashion, so it made sense.


When I was working in the factory, someone phoned from a changing rooms type programme it was another BBC show, this incredibly sweet guy and who was a researcher/presenter and the house they were going to film at had fallen through and he was like ‘Oh my God, do you know anyone who's got a house that we could film in last minute?’ I said ‘no’. But he called back, so desperate asking ‘can we film in your flat, please?’ I said, ‘OK’, laughs. Then he said ‘but you need to be in it, you and your husband’ – I can’t even remember if I was married then. But Ben and I had to get a day off work. They came round and filmed this thing, and what a rigmarole. The whole crew had a sort of bust up halfway through and it took about 14 hours to shoot. I remember thinking, this is madness, they didn't seem to have any interpersonal skills and it was all a bit weird. No one was taking charge, and I thought, I can do this better.


I suppose that was my first airing on TV because those shows, were huge then. I remember everyone coming round to watch the show go out live from our the flat, where the makeover had been done.


D: Was the makeover good? I have always wondered.


L: It was appallingly bad. They put a massive stripe around the room to make it look bigger, which made it look ridiculous, and they put a big tree branch in the room. It was really bad. I don't think the landlord liked it at all. Two things happened as a result of that, my sister-in-law, we were looking after her sofa, because she’d moved to Brazil and they dyed it for the show, so we had to buy the sofa and I think we had to buy the flat, (laughs). So the whole thing was quite strange. But there was a window of opportunity because there was this burgeoning of makeover/DIY shows going on in the UK then and brands like Homebase and Kingfisher were obviously trying to flog products. I had worked for Laura Ashley as a Saturday girl when I was at school so I sort of knew the industry, but I wanted to do something that was a little bit more interesting and I was drawn more to the architectural side. I had also come across writers of the day like Min Hogg of World of Interiors, people who had a much more elevated understanding of decorating and how to use textiles.


But the thing that no one ever talked about anywhere was where everything came from and who made them. I really couldn't believe that that wasn't of interest to anybody, ever. In the textiles industry I always wondered about the big bolts of silk that would arrive, beautiful silk and I remember questioning their origin. Who wove them? Where was the silk picked and processed? I was told they were from India and then I wondered if they were from Varanassi as I had been there when I was 15. When I visited India a friend and I looked around the back of a building and we and had seen a little boy working in a sweatshop working a loom. He was blind and was about six or seven and was so small that his feet kept missing the pedals. This experience had quite a profound effect on me and my friend and we got into a lot of trouble because she was trying to demand what this kid was doing and we were asked to leave, and not for the last time. That experience had an awakening in me. These two influences came together and I knew if I wanted to write and work in this area, interiors, fashion, textiles being the driving force, I knew I wanted to work somewhere where they were interested in finding out where things are from, that side of the story. I probably wasn't even familiar with Fair Trade or any other initiatives at that point. Initially I got a temp job on the Guardian, as an editorial assistant. The only place I was placed was with the Observer magazine and quite quickly met Tamsin Blanchard who was the interiors editor and I realised that some of the things that I was thinking about were exactly what she was thinking and wrote about. She wrote about textiles and design, in exactly the way I thought about it. That was a pivotal meeting for me, because she had quite a lot of different little bits throughout the magazine. The magazine was a big format paper, called Life. And it felt like all of life was in it, it felt really vital. Quite soon she was encouraging me to write different pieces for the magazine, and really bringing me through. Which was amazing as initially I wasn't there to be a writer. 



D: So it was serendipity really that brought you to Tamsin.


L: Totally, and she picked up on the fact I'd had quite a lot of experience with interiors magazines. I understood how they were laid out. I suppose in a way I had media trained without being in the media, and I sort of knew how to interview people and everything came together. Before I knew it, I was interviewing Terence Conran and I used to do this hilarious column called Me in my Chair, which was a bit like me and my spoon that Private Eye used to run. I interviewed someone each week about their favourite chair and learned a lot about chairs as a result. Then not very consciously, as we never had a dedicated column, but Tamsin and I were both on that sustainability wavelength and were asking from an ethical viewpoint, where is this from? How is this produced? Is it made of plastic? Tamsin was very, very into animal rights, for example, and would constantly avoid hideous fashion labels who would smuggle in fur. That was a big ethical frontline for her. So I was around people who had ethical front lines, in the media, and saw how they were constantly bombarded by all sorts of bullshit. I remember for example with the big brands, that when our fashion team went to interview their head designer, would insist they were wearing the brand.  But this wasn't their vibe. They were very democratic. They were inclusive, they were probably wearing men's suits before that was a thing, they were on the cutting edge of style, they had been at Saint Martins. So I had this creative hotbed, of resistance, it was a war of values and ethics. And that really set the tone for everything I did. So when fast fashion came along, it was unlikely that were all gonna go ‘Yeah, fine come in’.


D: What an amazing foundation for your career.


L: What I will say is that I was very lucky to find: I can't remember who said this but it's sort of referenced quite a lot, that if you want to have an authentic voice, you have to use what's in you, otherwise what's in you will probably destroy you. We have to let it out and I think that that was what I was able to do. Whether I was scanning to find a place and then found a place, or whether it was all only good luck, I don't know but, there's a variety of things that I had and that they wanted at that time, and it was the right place for me. Because of that bedrock, I always, always felt very confident talking about the ethics.


D: Of course this intersected with the fact that globalisation was mushrooming at that time too.


D: You've written five books, and the one that probably stands out as being most famous because of the link with the True Cost movie is your book To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? which amazingly, was published 2 years before the Rana Plaza disaster happened. Can you tell us a bit more about that? Why did, write that book in the first place?


L: That’s a good question. So much was starting to happen around textiles and sustainability, and there were various different influences. I remember going to a conference in Leeds University, where there were a number of chemists like Richard Blackburn, who was looking at the chemical formulations that were being used as finishing chemicals on fabrics. I can't remember exactly why I was so obsessed with uncovering bad labour practices, because it really seems to me, looking back, that this was before a lot of the big exposés. I can only think that it was from my earlier experiences when I was a teenager and then from working in the business. These questions kept surfacing, where's this from? Where's all this fabric coming from? Who makes it? Who’s on the looms? Are they machine made? Then looking at sequins, how a sequin is applied? Everyone's assuming that they're done by machine, but I found out it was done by hand, and by talking to loads and loads of different people I was uncovering the truth. I was really conscious that everything was starting to change. You referenced globalisation earlier and by the time I was writing the book we were already quite far into that journey in terms of fashions outsourcing and offshoring. I was very much a child of the Thatcher effect and I suppose I wanted to understand what the conclusion was from all of that. She left office was in 1990 and by the year 2000 coming up to the Millennium, I thought that that was a good time to look at what was going on in our industries. We still had the end of people who had worked in textiles factories people who could make whole pieces, people who'd run textiles factories and some of the brands that I’d even watched on the Clothes Show back in the day. What had happened to them? At the same time we were starting to have these symposiums, meetings, conferences where you were getting some of these people coming back into the picture and saying, ‘do you know what happened to us? We lost everything. All our knitting machines were sold to China’ and I knew this was a story. Here's a story I have to tell. I left the Observer in 2004 there were various issues there which have become rather well known. So I left and went to work in magazines. First, I worked for Marie Claire as a section editor, which I absolutely loved and loved working for Marie O’Riordan, who's a spectacularly brilliant editor and lovely human. I was looking up close at how fashion worked, Heat magazine launched, Grazia launched too and I did quite a few shifts on Grazia. One of the things that we used to get very upset about at Marie Claire was cover mounts. These were free gifts strapped to the front of the magazines and it was killing the industry. I don't know why I cared about these things, but I know I used to think what an absolute waste, all this plastic crap, my environmental radar was still, very, very strong, and always there in the background.


Then having these people around who were suddenly doing PHD's on the chemical formulations of finishing chemicals in garments and were looking at factories overseas and saying, what are these people breathing in when they are sandblasting jeans, what are they breathing in, they are getting silicosis of the lung? I was tripping over these stories all the time. I couldn't believe it, every day I was deluged in more stories and thinking ‘what do you do when you’ve got so many stories?’ As a freelancer you can only type so fast. Also I didn't have that many outlets to tell all the stories. I was still talking to people, especially in the magazine world who were saying ‘what are you talking about? That sounds a bit odd’. And their reply to the fact that there were lots of chemicals on these fabrics was ‘well you’re not eating them, are you? What's the problem?’ The whole reality of what was happening was not really getting through. Then another of my really good friends, also from Dublin was working for a literary agent at the time and said ‘do a book’. I said ‘what, how?’ She introduced me to her boss, he took me on and got me a deal with Louise Haines at Harper Collins, who had work on all those brilliant food books, and is Nigel Slaters editor. Louise is very brilliant, and she also has this way of unpicking a supply chain, and asking how can you remake this in a really wholesome way that has loads of energy. Energy for people, as we don't want to only eke out a living and do the less bad thing for various abstract reasons. How do we make something real, whole and authentic, which sustains people? When you look at the way Nigel Slater's done that with food and Monty Don did with gardening I thought, well, maybe there's an opportunity to do it with fashion. So although To Die For is often seen as an exposé because of what came later, it was actually not. It was a manifesto of what fashion could be. Say we are driving a car, the fashion car and it’s about to go really badly wrong and veer off in the wrong direction. It was a call to say ‘hey, let's bring it back’ and ‘this is what we could have’. I think the last chapter is called the Perfect Wardrobe and it really is a love letter to an authentic, planet sustaining, livelihood sustaining industry, which is important to us historically and could be important to us again because it is in us. That was really marrying together everything that I thought of in terms of design. What I want design to be and how I thought about textiles and design and even architecture to an extent. Years and years ago I did quite a lot of work around Kelmscott Manor and William Morris and deep learning about those ideals about what design could be, should be, and those values were never far from my thoughts. Whilst I was looking into it, I realised that I was quite a good investigative reporter and that I had some of the sharp skills and the hustle you need to be able to get strong stories. It’s become sort of a thing that people laugh about who work with me, even in TV, that if we're filming in a particular location, I would always somehow arrive before everyone else without any pass and get in on site. I will always be in waiting. And they ask, how do you do that? And I don't really know. I just do. So next thing I knew, I was in Bangladesh with secret cameras hunting down the story, which I really enjoyed doing and there was a lot of story to hunt down. I don't know where that comes from, it's an instinctive reporting instinct, which I happened to have, and didn't know I had. I'm always on the lookout. 



D: Of course, the heritage that we had in this country, meant people were able to make a whole garment whereas in fast fashion machinists don't know how to do that, as they sit and sew in a straight line all day.


L: To be completely honest, the other reason stories take off and why you can do a solid piece work at a specific time is because of course a lot of people have already done a lot of work in that direction. Unfortunately, I didn't meet him, but there was someone called Neil Carney, who was a very active trade unionist and was very experienced in cataloguing how sweatshops work and the mismatch between buyers placing orders and how the factories were operating. We call them factories but they weren't really factories, they were makeshift, some were offices and didn't have the right struts in the floor to put heavy machinery on, as we discovered a few years later. Neil Kearney had really done a lot of that work. When Professor Doug Miller had the chair of sustainable fashion at Northumbria University he introduced me to a lot of that work. My work is evidence based and because I also worked in factories and because dad worked in factories, I understand the processes. So I was able to look at some of that evidence, bring more evidence from visiting places and actually demonstrate what was going wrong. Because the brands were saying one thing and the factories another, and terrible disasters were happening. One of the very unfortunate qualities that it gives To Die For is this prescience, because there's one chapter which I can't bear to read because I think it predicts Rana Plaza. When the disaster happened in 2013 happened that hit me so hard. I mean obviously the people in it. But that was absolutely terrible because it’s not a nice feeling to have predicted something like that and living with the thoughts of ‘if only I campaigned harder’. You're a journalist or you're an activist. But there weren’t so many activists around then. I used to work with people like Labour Behind The Label and War On Want, and there was always a clear division between what they did and what I did and that worked really well. Whereas there's much more blurring these days. There are also lots of influencers today, particularly in sustainable fashion who are campaigners and then they broaden their campaign to lots of other things. For me, without that evidence and without that eye witnessed account and collecting those testimonies and those stories I wouldn't go there. I only go there when I have something to add.


D: Then you know that what you're saying is true, which is back to being evidence based.


L: You have to have the evidence you really do. Also to gather the evidence, you have to be very informed about what it is that you're looking for. It's a cat and mouse game, and there are lots of brands that really enjoy that element of it. Philip Green and people like him really enjoyed that element of cat and mouse, and it's exhausting. The sad truth about a lot of that work which persists today is that you can only really call to account brands when you find their labels in the rubble like in Rana Plaza, which then of course is too late. During COVID there was an element of this where you are able to find their labels on the dockside, because they had cancelled all the orders. But we do have really good evidence on wage theft, which is endemic, like you say and the lack of career opportunities, which probably resonated with me to an extent, but also doing the same seam over and over and over and if you do something else, you don't get paid for it. That's not being a tailor, and it was being sold as empowerment by the brand. So there's a mismatch between what's happening in factories but also what the brands were selling and the more noise that was made about sustainability, the more brands upped their ante and that's when we get into this whole horrendous tsunami of greenwash that we've seen from them on social, environmental and ethics for many, many years to such an extent that now it's almost farcical. I have a real benefit, because when I started looking at this I had time to look intently. I put in the shoe leather and wrote it all down and put it out there, so you can't deny that I did it. And I saw it very clearly, because it was before all the layers of complexity, before the brands got really, really good at hiding. That's why I think today, even though Rana Plaza is not in the book because it was published before that happened, I think that today To Die For is still valuable to people, because it's got that privileged lens of right place, right time, but also right place, wrong time, because it wasn't able to call out sufficiently what happened next.

D: Also it’s at the beginning of calling people out as far as this is concerned.

L: I think calling out is interesting because ultimately, it's not always the most effective thing to do.


D: Do you think that makes people hide more?


L: Some of these brands are so well resourced that if they anticipate how you're going to react, it’s a war. They can bring in the right PR, pull the right PR lever or distract and say ‘look over here’ which they can do incredibly well. Today it’s not only that they have loads of money and they can get good PR people but it’s the fact that they have everyone's data now too. It’s really, really incredible how much power they have in this space. What you need to do is really work through legislative change and advocacy. That's really pulling different levers because if you're trying to meet them head on two things are going to happen, you're going to be frustrated because you can only get small wounds in now and again, if everything is aligned. Or you're going to be co-opted, which a lot of people have. One of the things they did early on was go, ‘hey here's a check for some sustainability money. Everyone fight for that over there’ which is peanuts to them, and a lot of people did that. Or you can work behind the scenes with experts like lawyers who know about living wage, which is what I've chosen to do quite often, which doesn't get me likes because it's really boring (laughs) for people but it’s the evidence, look at the evidence. It's not the only way of doing it because you have to try and hold the line as well but it's real work and there are some exciting bits of legislation which will ladder up to change. 




D: What’s in the pipeline at the moment?


L: There are lots of EU laws coming in. There’s lots of lobbying that goes on especially from people who just want to sell us those plastic clothes. But we're now seeing a broadening of understanding. Now people understand fashion and that today's fashion as fossil fashion, made from fossil fuels. That then leads you into a whole area of pressure, legislation, activism, campaigning, whatever action is based on a non-proliferation strategy which is costed, worked out by people far more intelligent than me. Suddenly you have focus for action and amazing potential to leap forward. There’s the decommissioning of the very toxic idea that fashion is a special case. It's not. It's only something that requires some materials, that sells at a price and robs people of their wages and puts them in deathly hellholes and everything else we know about the industry. There's no get out of jail free card because when you start applying the right lenses and the right laws, those things are illegal. And its starting to happen, The Circle (for whom I am an ambassador) did three living wage reports. Jessica Simor, KC leads on those. They are really good, really sharp and those are coming to fruition because they are more legislative. The EU Green Deal has been very instructive in this because it's really changed the outlook, if you look at the timber supply chain for example, that is going to be completely revolutionised next year. Which also has to do with other things like satellites and Copernicus, the European satellite data is available to everybody. So it means that scope one, scope two, scope three, come into play and everyone is able to knuckle down. Whatever route you take to it the outcome is the same. Impact is lessened on the environment because illegal monstering of resources has got to stop. So if you can start to do that with fashion then hopefully that will turn the tide there too. Fashion is a little bit different because it has made this sort of cultural name for itself. Also, we don't have any outliers in terms of brands that are sufficiently revolutionary in their outlook. There's no, I know people are critical of him, but there's no Paul Polman like there was for Unilever. There's no Paul Polman for fashion. There are only people who are slightly pretending to be Polmanesque, and maybe go to a few of his workshops, but they don't actually do anything. But it only takes one and I feel like we are going to get one of those.


D: We do have people who are trying to work in better ways of course, like Amy Powney with Mother of Pearl.


L: She is phenomenal. Incredible. Fashion Reimagined that movie about her, has one scene where I can hear my voice on the radio (laughs). I love that film. But I think, it puts the fear of God into people, because you see how hard it is to do things properly. About a quarter at least is about the supply chain.


D: And people want to know that supply chain.


L: Which proves another point, that people are interested in this.  And disproves something which was always said to me which was ‘people are not interested in this move on’. 




D: You mentioned earlier the fact that the fast fashion clothes are mostly made from plastic a fossil fuel derivative yet we have the 6th climate budget, which was mentioned in The Great Climate Fight on Channel 4. They talked about that, and say it sets out very clearly that, Britain was a leader in this and this is now nowhere to be seen because this government are totally disregarding everything from the report, a report they commissioned. On the first programme they said that the proof exists that windfarms are the answer. Also recently Portugal powered their whole country on renewables for a week, which is fantastic.


L: The UK has done really well on renewables and one of the biggest offshore turbines went on stream less than a month ago, it's absolutely huge. Now every turbine can power something like 160,000 homes.


D: So why are we looking for oil?


L: Well, we're not really it's basically just political, posturing. We have run into strong political headwinds and Sunak did that odd thing by denouncing net zero, which is really strange because it didn't show for him in the polls because every other metric shows that people want action on climate change. There's also some seriously good news coming in from renewables because, as a friend of mine puts it, who works in that business ‘we've got terrible weather and chemical parks, which means we're in pole position to capitalize on the green economy and businesses know that’. I curate and present the Times Earth Summit and businesses are falling over themselves to be part of the green economy. I also presented, the Net Zero Energy Awards and lots of other events recently, and businesses are furious about what he's done. So he must be trying to send messages to other people with this stance, because I think with all of this you have to learn who is the audience, and the audience is not us, so I don't know if he's trying to send a message to funders or the right wing of the Tory party, yet that doesn't seem to be working either. So, I think, it’s really important not to get too caught up in that. I know it's a good hook for a programme and everyone likes a rant at it, I've done that myself. But it’s the forward-looking nature of business that really counts. Could they be doing more? Oh my God, yeah. We haven't had a proper manufacturing strategy for 13 years. We haven't had a proper climate strategy for 13 years. Mmmm, what is the common denominator? What we have to do is think what's coming, say we had a shift in Government and we've got these things, imagine what could happen and it's pretty tantalising. But then at the same time what if Trump gets back into power and blocks the inflation reduction act and comes out of Paris again…. So constantly the political headwinds are appalling there's no getting around it. But in real terms, it's a dent in confidence and it looks terrible internationally, but I do feel like there's some good progress being made in business in the UK with the exception being fashion.


D: Of course we heard about Boohoo again recently.


L: I personally think Boohoo was lucky to survive some of the reputational ‘challenges’ it has encountered. The whole Boohoo COVID regulation sweatshop thing, which blew up quite a while ago now, The Sunday Times did a big investigation. I looked into it afterwards and I see they used a topflight barrister and ex judge to write an ethical manifesto that to me read like a word salad. When I looked to see who had been prosecuted after the expose, it was one poor guy who worked in one of the factories who's an asylum seeker, whose papers weren’t in order, he was prosecuted. Nobody else. I think they were lucky to survive that in tact and only because of a disinterested political class.


D: I heard this story too. It's terrible. Every time, they step they into factories it's the people who are working there that are demonised not the unethical factory owner doing the bad things, stealing the wages and all the rest.


L: It’s very difficult isn’t it, because you have people who can't afford to feed and clothe their families, who were promised so much. Jacob Rees-Mogg specifically and repeatedly said that Brexit would bring cheaper clothes and shoes, and they are not accountable. Accountability is a massive thing for me. I find it very difficult to know what to do when people refuse to be accountable. Same thing with the fashion industry, that has been one of the great problems, lack of accountability.


D: Two final questions. What drives you Lucy and how do you see the future?


L: I'm driven by a need to, as I always was, to offer people something better. I can see the potential, I can really, really see the potential in if we get this right or elements of it right for liveable conditions, which I think is the big fight in a meta sense. People don't realise how much they relied on a stable climate and it's a very hard lesson to learn. It's almost unimaginable that we are actually having to go through this right now. When people say ‘it doesn't bother me’, it will bother you, and when you're hit by it, you will only know when it's too late to do anything about it. Obviously that’s the bigger framework, as what I do has bled into the wider climate and nature conversation. But also on an industry level the opportunity for a life with dignity. There are amazing stories about people being designers and tailors. Years ago I interviewed a woman who used to run a workshop in Leicester making garments for some of the big brands, because they wanted to bring more production back, because they needed a quicker turn around, to be faster. She told me that the girls that used to work for her, would come to her straight from school. They were really good machinists. They made their own wedding dress because they had those skills. They could buy their first car from their wages, then could buy their first house, and it’s that dignified journey through life that we are losing completely. In whatever job you do, wherever you are, even in journalism there are 0 hours, contracts and in TV and it's not dignified. You can't predict your income, you can't predict when you'll be working it’s a head wreck and that lack of stability is really, really appalling. When you think about that for garment workers in the global south and I mean not only garment workers, textile sorters, all sorts of people in fashions supply chain. It is a shameful existence and shameful on our part that we're allowing it to happen. The fact that we're not interested in talking about it is really, really problematic. Now, on one hand, it's getting very difficult to have these conversations because we have such epic levels of diaspora, we have a refugee crisis which is way beyond anything, and that was before Gaza and Israel. You have women and children on the frontline of that all the time, and their prospects are extremely bleak. I went to the Zaatari refugee camp a couple of months ago, then they were already telling us that their budgets were being cut per person by X dollars a day until November, they were going to have to stand on their own two feet. But they can't because they're not allowed to leave, they don’t have any papers, they don't exist. Then when we're adding another 2 million people to that, that then makes people who have a job in a hellhole garment factory look like they've won the lottery of life, comparatively. So we get into this healthscape and it's really, really hard to keep having these conversations and keep the profile of what’s happening up, because there's so much need and there's such a slim window of attention. This is where I think terms like ‘global feminism’ are really, really important. They capture the fact that we're not here to triage. We are here to apply the principles for our sisters. In terms of how we talk about this going forward, this is a really, really important way to view it. Maybe in the past it’s been a bit segregated.

That’s the sort of brain I have and the way that way that I operate.

In terms of my own work, maybe I need to make some sort of broader arguments or really explain out how all this is all tied together a bit more. 


What's happening in the future: I do think there's a lot of legislative points which are quite exciting. I've talked about fossil fuel a little bit. There's greenwashing legislation that's coming in. All of this can be used if we really do use it to hold brands to account and brands have been a part the problem for a really long time. So I think that's really interesting and I do believe that we have a very, very engaged younger audience, younger than me anyway, coming through who understand a really important thing, and that is, that fashion isn't a special case. But they do like it, and it is really important but that it doesn't have to look like it looks now. In fact, they are rejecting that in many, many different ways and forms. That collective approach, collective rejection, is really super interesting and could actually go our way and we have had wins already. I'm very struck and impressed by Brett and Scott Staniland the twin brothers who are fashion sustainability influencers. To go on Love Island and reject the whole notion of fast fashion was quite a bold move and then, to be part of that movement, which got ITV to change its sponsorship to eBay. OK, so these seem like, little things, but it's big because you’re talking to a huge audience. It also shows you that sometimes these things can be done, and ITV didn't feel that that branding was in keeping with their CSR programme. I think that sort of pressure and that sort of activism is super, super interesting and can orbit us into different territory that we didn't even know could happen in 2011.




Twitter: Lucy Siegle


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1 comment:

Panty Buns said...

I both love and am extremely intrigued by this fascinating in-depth interview, by your (Lucy's) brilliance, and by the accompanying lookbook of fashion beauty and lifestyle photographs!!!!!!
It is a shame that the fate of the world seems to an excessive degree to be in primarily in the hands of misogynistic (and lesbophobic) men.
Sadly this seems also to be the case in government as well as in all forms of mainstream and mass media.
It is nice that you also don't turn a bling eye to the use of sweatshops, forced prison labour, and environmentally unsound practises.
P.S.: I also have to admit to also being attracted like a moth to a flame to your journalist prowess in addition to admiring your beautiful mind and your beautiful appearance.
I also LOVE the appearance of the wonderfully feminine purple blouse you were wearing in the 3rd, 5th, 8th, and 11th photographs.
Best wishes for much success in all of your journalistic endeavours and elsewhere as well.

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