Lucy Siegle has a passion for ethical fashion
PUBLISHED: 16:21 19 January 2015 | UPDATED: 16:21 19 January 2015
Matt Austin Images 2013
She’s a familiar face on our TV screens and an even more familiar face in the fight for ethical fashion. Ahead of Lucy Siegle starting a monthly column for Devon Life, ALEXIS BOWATER talks to her about her campaign
Meeting Lucy Siegle is a real eye-opener and a bit like being bowled over by a gigantic and gorgeous enthusiastic brown-eyed puppy wielding a couple of PhDs in environmental ethics and consumerism.
I first see her as she chairing a debate at the Dartmouth Food Festival, expertly bringing through the views of cook Diana Henry as Observer Food Monthly editor Allan Jenkins shares his.
Lucy’s smart and funny with a quick wit and sharp observational skills. Warmth for her colleague and mentor Allan is palpable as they bavard about, ruminating on ruminants and root veg. Then again, and again, and again, drilling down into her passion, Lucy brings the conversation back to ethics - of food, of fashion, of what we are doing on and to this earth.
It’s not a debate the audience was anticipating, but it’s clever, intelligent; opinions are well-researched and welcomed.
Later, over coffee in her husband Ben’s gallery in Dartmouth, she explains what drives this Devon girl and her campaigning determinism to make us think about what we wear.
I wasn’t expecting Primark but here it is, right between us, the elephant in the artfully-arranged ethical room full of artisans’ work from small scale, talented, hand-picked local producers.
For this shop is the walking of the walk for the Siegles. Lucy may campaign on a global scale for change, but they’re actually practising what they preach here in the back streets of Dartmouth.
“We knew we wanted to work with producers who made work on a small scale,” says Lucy.
“Our makers spend thousands of hours on making hand made products, using real skills to create pieces that last.”
Lucy’s book To Die For: is fashion wearing out the world? unzips the coat of shallow consumerism to reveal the consequences of it on real lives all over the world.
It exposes the impact of the rise of fast fashion and the inevitable, hideous, environmental, social and ethical result of that: Dickensian conditions, subsistence wages, headline deaths of innocent factory workers in unsafe buildings.
“We are looking at the slave trade, or what is going to be regarded as the slave trade in the future,” she says. “So if we’re buying into it consistently without any acknowledgement, without any trouble, I really think we have to ask ourselves what we are doing.”
And what are we doing? Lucy’s arguments are clear, concise and consistent. You have to admire an activist with this campaigning ability, knowledge and communications skills. From a scholarship at Newton Abbot’s Stover, to working on The Observer, to The One Show, she’s standing on a platform, with extraordinary and honed abilities in her skill set, and a potential ability to springboard leap and instigate radical, global change.
She’s clearly passionate about working on The One Show: “I love being part of a show that’s so in the fabric of many viewers’ lives. I am probably peculiar in that I can actually remember storylines from Nationwide from when I was a small child,” she says. And yet I walk away from the interview thinking that although this woman is in a good place - it’s maybe not the right place. She’s just published a follow up to To Die For, exploring the footprint in every woman’s wardrobe - the environmental fallout from cotton to leather and the millions of people in the supply chain. It exposes the impact of the rise of fast fashion and how we are buying clothes for less than the price of a cup of posh coffee and a sandwich.
Take a look if you can not at clips of Lucy on The One Show but of her speeches and TED lecture and you will find a deeply passionate environmental campaigner speaking on Kickstarter films and at conferences all over the world.
She surprises and somewhat alarms me by mentioning that she’s genuinely concerned that, aged 40, she’s going to get fewer jobs on the telly. And I want to say to her: “Don’t worry, stop it, buck the statistics, when I was watching telly last Saturday night every single presenter between 7pm and 10pm was female: and they were older than you!”
There is a paradox in this woman that confuses me. She looks great, she sounds great, she is arguing about the long-term detrimental impact of throw-away fashion and the shallowness of it all. Her arguments are deep. Yet she’s worried about age and I don’t want her to be.
For the infectious passion of Lucy Siegle lies not on the way she looks, but the way she thinks - and that, I guarantee you, is worth much, much more to you, me and people all over the world than the age she is.
For if the world could be changed by sheer force of personality and will, then my money would be on that table in Siegle and Co in Dartmouth before you could say recycling.