Amidst the shifting crowds of students and commuters, under the gothic spires of dreams, Oxford Fashion Week returns to transform the centre of academia into a lively hub of style and glamour. The first week of March sees the exhibition of outfits from designers like Ted Baker, Karen Millen, and Clements & Church in a variety of shows ranging from High Street to Couture. Below is a coverage of all the shows in their respective order by Fashion Editor Fred Shan.
Tuesday 4th – High Street
An intimate, casual show displayed at Varsity Club saw the transformation of bar space into a mini catwalk, where models strut from one end of the room to the other. The show featured designs from Next, Henri Castro, Lula Le Bon, Aspire Style, as well as bags from Brit-stitch.
The outfits mostly emitted the casualness that went alongside of high street shopping. Next showcased pieces that could easily be seen on a hard-working student in the Bod, whilst Henri Castro and Lula Le Bon offered dressier upgrades. As usual though, the menswear lagged behind womenswear in terms of uniqueness in design and was a little underwhelming. What lacked in menswear was made up by some of the more thoughtful designs, especially from Henri Castro. The brand was effective in playing around with various prints and mixing them with solid bold colours. The dresses also fitted beautifully, and helped to accentuate the features of the models. Lula Le Bon showcased a selection of well-crafted trench coats, the deep electric hues of which had a distinctively urban feel. Aspire Style exhibited their interpretation of the classic florals dress.
Stunning dress from Henri Castro, bringing to the High Street a certain feel of Couture. Photo: Blower & Lyon
Henri Castro bringing modern art into Fashion – Florals are no longer enough Photo: Blower & Lyon
Excellent fit with just the right choice of material to give off a beautiful shine from Lula Le Bon Photo: Romain Reglade
A modern take on the spring classic with a distinctively vintage feel Photo: Romain Reglade
Student living isn’t always conducive to a good wardrobe. While students tend to get away with far more daring sartorial choices than most, there are other constraints on time and finances which mean we can’t always dress how we’d like to. Then there’s the pressure to look cool which, although subtler than it was at school, still plays a role in how we dress. One Somerville student told me that she had practically lived in a festival T-shirt during Freshers Week so that people would think “ah, she goes to festivals – she’s cool.”
At times it can be difficult to maintain a sense of one’s own style, but OxStu is here to help. Using a highly scientific survey of my Facebook friends at universities both near and far, I’ve compiled this: your definitive guide to retaining your individuality at university.
1. Remember that anything goes
As Ed at York pointed out “PJ’s are always acceptable at university, it’s the basic state of fashion.” Nobody really cares if you’re tackling your essay crisis in a onesie or white tie, and this is something to take advantage of. Danielle, a 6th-former who’ll be starting university later this year is looking forward to the change of scene. “It could be an opportunity to break out from a fashion rut that you’ve got yourself into. Because they’re all new people, they wouldn’t find it weird that you suddenly changed your style.” This is especially true for freshers, but even if you’ve been here for years, the atmosphere tends to be one of acceptance. “I’ve noticed that people don’t actually care whether or not their shoes go with what they’re wearing, and it’s actually a refreshing change. College was so different because everybody wore the same thing!” said Holly at Oxford Brookes. Want to start wearing bright yellow all the time? Do it. Been too scared to try oversized jumpers? Give them a go. Now is the time to experiment.
2. Don’t feel obliged to follow trends
Just because a certain look is popular doesn’t mean you’ll feel comfortable or confident in it. Olivia, a student at Queens University Belfast, stated that she disliked keeping up with current fashions: “I have to wear things that are unique.” But what do you do if you want to try out trends without compromising your own sense of self? Amber, who has spent the last few months in Liverpool, where shopping is an art form, has some advice: “it’s great to get a feel for other people’s style, but if you see that there’s a particular look making the rounds then perhaps pick elements from it that you like and combine them with elements from a different kind of style to make it more personal to you.”
3. Invest in key pieces
When you have two essays to write, a play to rehearse, and a football match to play in, the last thing on your mind is looking chic. The answer, according to Amber, is to “get yourself some go-to clothes that you can mix up with lots of different things. Maybe a really striking jumper, a big necklace or a cool coat/shoes.” At this time of year, coats are a particularly good bet. Livi, an Exeter college student, told me about hers: “My decorative coat can be thrown over any old thing and it immediately looks like I’ve put in a sartorial effort.” Meanwhile Stuart, a Newcastle student and the dapperest chap you’re ever likely to meet, chipped in with the tip that “A fabulous selection of bow ties can spice up any number of otherwise mediocre outfits.” Men (and women) of Oxford, take note.
4. Leave the High Street behind
One major theme in my findings was a preference for charity and vintage shops over chain stores. Olivia even went so far as to say “I never shop in high street stores, I feel lost in them.” Though it can be time-consuming to rummage through a second-hand shop to find something good, the advantages are numerous “It will suit your student budget and you can be sure that nobody else will be wearing the same” said Louisa, a member of 1940s vocal group The Spitfire Sisters and all-round queen of vintage. In Oxford, we’re lucky enough to have various charity shops, markets, and vintage stores. The Ballroom Emporium (5-6 The Plain, Cowley), who provided the clothes and setting for our shoot this week, is a great place to find everything from oversized silk shirts and genuine military jackets to flapper dresses and moviestar-style sunglasses. For those who are unsure about what will look good on them, they even offer an individual styling service – ideal for finding that perfect summer ball dress.
5. Variety is the spice of life
Incongruity isn’t really a problem at university, especially if that university happens to be London College of Fashion, as Amelia revealed: “it’s no surprise to see people coming in head to toe in Givenchy or in 12-inch heels for a lecture. I dress how I’ve always dressed – others have no influence. Everyone is different here and that is what makes it interesting.” Don’t be afraid to be different, and that can even mean that you change your own style day by day. Jasmine at Birmingham told me “I can have days where stuff I’m wearing is quite unusual and I feel really good, but also days where I’m wearing muddy jeans and a raincoat and haven’t brushed my hair. The alternation prevents boredom.”
Featured image and 4th image by Jacob Sacks-Jones, all others linked to source
Style isn’t about age
The notion of style could be seen as a somewhat elusive one; you can’t just buy it or copy it. It doesn’t involve buying the most expensive clothes as suggested by Vogue or straight from a mannequin. Instead, style requires knowing yourself and your body and channelling this into an outward form of expression. Age then has no influence on style, because there can be no guarantee as to when such self-knowledge can be achieved.
Looking back on past outfits, we can all single out a few that we may wish we’d never worn. From oversized khaki pants to dungarees, the word fashionable may not be our first choice to describe such things. Yet this seems to be where the line between fashion and style is drawn. While fashion relates to trends, style can be timeless and need not correspond to them at all. We can be consistently stylish yet questionably fashionable. We call somebody stylish when they own what they wear, and when we just sheepishly follow what we’re told is fashionable, we can never look properly comfortable. The slender twenty-somethings that storm the catwalks and fill our magazines may epitomise fashion, but there are undeniably pensioners who own their style much more. There are clear examples in both extremes of age who demonstrate that style is in no way about age. Chloë Moretz, still only 17, was given the Future Icon Award at last year’s ELLE fashion awards for effortlessly incorporating some of the more challenging designers into her style, proving that style has no age limit. At the other end of the age spectrum, 87-year-old June Brown recently bonded with Lady Gaga on the Graham Norton Show about their fashion choices, whilst sporting a trademark blonde streak in her fringe. Two very different people in terms of backgrounds and influences, yet both have a clear sense of style unique to their individual personalities.
Style is therefore not about age, being fashionable or buying the most expensive clothes. It is a form of expression that allows us to use the creations of others to define our own identity. As our ideas about ourselves and the world around us develop, so does our style, meaning that while it is influenced by the trends of our times, it stays loyal to our own interpretation of them. Style is experimenting with clothes and finding your own distinct way to express yourself through them.
[caption id="attachment_51133" align="alignright" width="200"] Lady GaGa and June Brown proving style is ageless[/caption]
Style is about age
First of all, anyone can look chic. From your five-year-old cousin to your imposing great-aunt, the use of clothes to express ourselves and look great is a universal activity. But just think what would happen if that cousin and aunt were to swap clothes. Suddenly the child is weighed under by layers of silk and wool, a string of pearls dragging her comically to the ground. Meanwhile the aunt finds herself the unlikely model of dungarees and a T-shirt featuring The Tweenies. Even with sizing considerations put to one side, it doesn’t work. Style is about age; it’s about locating who you are at this particular time and reflecting that in your apparel.
This isn’t to say that individuality should be restricted by age; life would be rather boring if everyone born in the same year wore the exact same thing. But the truth is that we do dress to reflect our generation. There are many stylish older ladies who have maintained a rather 1950s aesthetic in their wardrobes, partially because it’s an elegant look, and partially because this was the time when they were young women encountering and enjoying fashion fully for the first time. Similarly, there’s a lot to be said for the aged hippy who still wears the kaftan they bought during the Summer of Love. I’m not saying that I’m going to continue wearing my tartan miniskirt well into my 90s, but I imagine that many of the style sensibilities which I form now, during some of the most exciting and eye-opening years of my life, will stay with me for a long time.
Besides, surely sticking to fashion which is vaguely age-appropriate and reflective of your own generation has greater integrity than constantly trying to keep up with the latest fads and trends? There comes a point when one stops looking like an ‘It’ girl and more like Edie from Ab-Fab.
Style should by no means have proscriptive criteria, but it is important to maintain an idea of who you are – something which is inevitably affected by age – if you are going to be comfortable and confident in your outfit. By staying true to yourself, you can stay eternally chic.
The first thing about Catz ball is that it is very, very far from home. Many girls braved the walk tottering in heels and shielded themselves against the wind in as much faux fur as their uni wardrobes could muster, but for most of us, this meant pre-booked taxis, leggings under the maxi dresses and even, oh the horror, flats. But once the white marquee walls have accepted you into their warm embrace, you realise that none of these details matter, because unlike other college balls, Catz holds no pretence to grandeur; they just want you to have a good time and don’t care much about the glass of wine you just spilled down your bejewelled front.
In fact the predominating feature of the outfit landscape of the ball was that no one was afraid to experiment, and that really anything goes, (as long as it comes somewhat under the vague ‘black tie’ title obvs). I saw lots of multi-coloured hair, some avant-garde facial decorations (lip transfers are a must-try girls), and a surprising inclination to eschew the traditional glittery fluffy princess look for jumpsuits, co-ords and more minimalism. Talking to a few people it also became apparent that the high-street is in, and the designer dress that costs more than your termly battels is most definitely out. Dresses from ASOS and boohoo in particular abounded, and the insane variety that online-shopping affords meant that there were hardly any awkward situations where you realise that the girl next to you in line for the pizza stand was clearly browsing from the same Topshop sale rail as you last month.
But what was most exciting about the fashion at the Ball was actually the guys. I was expecting to have to write maybe a small side-note on whether it was shirt sleeves hidden or slightly peeking out from beneath the jacket as the predominating debate, but oh how I have underestimated the sartorial consciousness of Oxford’s boys. Of particular note is the floor-length fur adorning one guest; under that excellent coat he could have been wearing his pyjamas and still would have got a mention purely on the basis of panache-points. I was feeling somewhat outdone in my understated accessories by the myriad of paisley bow ties and jazzy cravats on display.
By the end of the night though, the paisley, the glitter, the velvet and the satin were indistinguishable from one another, as one too many lychee-vodka concoctions meant everything was a bit of a kaleidoscope of colour for me.
All images by JRDunbar Photography
A hard-working, reliable high-achiever, consistently at the top of the Norrington table, Merton is the archetypal Oxford college and so in shoes would be the classic Oxford lace-up brogue. Traditional well-made English high performer with a dash of fancy decoration, elegant and good-looking with a timeless touch of class, the staying power of both Merton and the brogue maintains their peerless reputations as top players in their field.
The indie monarch of Oxford, Wadham would be a pair of Doc Marten boots. Unisex, extremely popular and now universally acknowledged as the right-on footwear of choice for the cool kids, Wadham and Docs are possibly now in danger of looking so self-consciously trendy they could be verging on passé.
Popular, casual vans in monochrome chequerboard reflect the distinctive brickwork of Keble and its sporty, fun-loving nature, yet are still attractive and adaptable enough to match the glamour of formal in the splendid dining hall, the resident artworks in the chapel or the rigours of a night in the space-age college bar.
A little bit preppy yet endearingly straightforward, eclectic and welcoming, St Hugh’s would be a pair of loafers. Down-to-earth and practical, everyone feels at home here but patent leather in navy, bottle-green or maroon and pony-skin uppers topped with tassels give these stylish classics a quirky twist to match the off-beat and definitely over-the-top nature of this college.
Out on a limb, slightly odd, a bit of a pastiche and they shouldn’t work but actually they do, cork wedges epitomise Worcester which has a modest frontage belying a sunken quad and its own lake for goodness’ sake. Objectively they sound wrong and they might be a bit impractical on some occasions but they do look great, and it’s all about the visual at Worcester.
Final bastion of male privilege and supremacy as the last college to admit women, Oriel’s reputation for stern masculinity could only be matched by a thigh-high dominatrix or military riding boot in shiny black with metal-tipped heels for that irresistible reproachful click-clacking sound.
Free and easy, open and airy, St Hilda’s coveted position by the river, its generous lawns and its reputation for relaxed inclusiveness evoke the light touch of the flip-flop, and in turn reflect the open nature and sunshine connotations of everyone’s favourite summer slip-on.
The Scandinavians love their clogs. Versatile and hard-wearing, they appear at the beach, in the garden, to and from the sauna. Eco-friendly credentials and their quirky organic design endear them to wearers, not least for the ease in which they slip on and off. Quietly cheeky but secure in their own identify and confident of their ability, Scandi clogs are surely the podiatric embodiment of St Catz and its iconic Danish design.
The Christ Church shoe would reflect its fundamentally conservative nature, but also the stunning glamour of its architecture and setting; so it would be a high-heeled court, but with the racy undercurrent of a distinctive Louboutin red sole and maybe a peep-toe or sparkling embellishments to add even more panache.
Genuinely egalitarian, relaxed and a little bit earnest, Balliol is well-known for accommodating and encouraging serious political high-flyers. The desert boot equally appeals to a broad spectrum of personalities and views, and serves them well for most eventualities with its no-nonsense flat sole, neutral colours, and versatility from army wear through casual weekend staple with jeans to a smarter look with chinos and a jacket.
As I flicked through the latest issue of Glamour, I fell upon a photo of Jessica Biel wearing a suit matching her husband Justin Timberlake’s, at the premiere of his new film, Runner Runner last September. At this point my friend looked over my shoulder and laughed as he asked me in astonishment, “Why isn’t she wearing a dress?!” Then I couldn’t help but wonder myself, why did she decide to wear a tuxedo? And why do girls, as we get ready for balls and proms, automatically decide to wear a dress? Is it because society expects us to wear this? Because that is what we have always done?
The history of women in trouser suits dates back to 1933, when Marlene Dietrich appeared in the film Morocco by Joseph von Steinberg wearing a tuxedo. Although, at this time, women were liberated from their corsets by a snip of Coco Chanel’s scissors and started to embrace ready-to-wear fashion, this included higher hemlines and exaggerated shoulder pads, but did not extended to trousers. Dietrich shocked the audience, not least because she also kissed a woman in this scene. This type of behaviour on the part of women was seen as a social taboo, but as Dietrich continued to wear trousers in her personal life, she inspired other actresses to do the same. While Chanel and Schiaparelli introduced dinner jackets, it was not until Yves Saint Laurent designed “Le Smoking” in 1966 that women were given the opportunity to wear smart trouser suits. This alternative to the Little Black Dress was a tuxedo suit of velvet or wool accompanied by frilly white shirts, cummerbunds and satin lapels. At first Saint Laurent’s couture collection was met with some resistance: the Côte Basque restaurant in Manhattan turned her away for wearing trousers as this was deemed as inappropriate as women turning up for lunch in swimsuits. However, when Kempner stripped her trousers off and wore her long tuxedo jacket as a micro mini, she was seated right away. It is clear that at the time, women wearing trousers outside of the home was considered gauche, if not scandalous. However, this new look soon hit the runway, the designer opened his Rive Gauche boutique in Paris, selling affordable smoking suits. Young women were falling over themselves trying to get hold of one of these “pantsuits”. Le Smoking ran parallel to the women’s movement and encouraged the power and beauty of the youth revolution. In creating a smart, chic and elegant trouser suit, Saint Laurent liberated the woman from the rigid sartorial constraints and gave her “an indispensable garment with which she finds herself continually in fashion because it is about style not fashion. Fashions come and go, but style is forever,” the designer explained in the catalogue of his 2005 exhibit “Smoking Forever”.
It was not long before everyone was hooked. Bianca Perez Morena de Macias wore a Saint Laurent cream jacket when she married Rolling Stones front man Mick Jagger, in 1971. Other designers such as Chanel and Bill Blass created their own versions of the smoking to create a suit with effortless style. As women were more and more prominent in the workforce, the suit soon became a synonym of power. Women would wear an oversized jacket, often double-breasted and wide at the shoulders, matching a skirt or trousers in dark colours such as black, grey, blue or beige. The power suit not only made a woman look rich and influential, but also made her look like she was somebody. Renate Gunthert, designer of the German Rena Lange collection said, “A suit is a power suit when you arrive at a board meeting or a hotel and everybody takes note. You are nicely greeted, they know who you are.” The suit gave women a new confidence and helped them assert their power and influence in the work environment, which was male-dominated in most places.
With this in mind I think there is a strong tendency for society nowadays to label women in suits as grumpy lesbians. Many men, and women for that matter, believe that in order to be sexy, a woman should be in high heels, wearing a dress with a spectacularly plunging neckline. This is quite frankly pathetic and out-of-date. Marlene Dietrich also seduced two men in her tuxedo and her cool and detached look, gazing off into the distance was discreetly admired by many. Dietrich teased her audience by wearing a man’s costume, but also by concealing her legs. The tuxedo acts as a layer guarding women from others, while simultaneously planting a desire to know, and see, more. Perhaps she was met with such shock because men suddenly felt threatened by a woman in their clothes. The power suit is a similar concept. Therefore men and society place women in a category and try to undermine them because of their overwhelming rise to power.
However, the idea that women need trouser suits to assert their power and influence is now obsolete. Women no longer believe their career trajectory has to be predicated on the appropriation of masculine gestures. Power, after all, should come as naturally to talented women as it does to talented men. Trouser suits have stopped becoming a statement of the liberated and powerful woman, and have become a choice. Now women are free to rock the androgynous look without being frowned upon by society. From Hedi Slimane to Raf Simons and Tom Ford, more and more designers are embracing le smoking. Fashion A-listers such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Alex Chung and Anne Hathaway have been spotted in trouser suits and tuxedos, showing that attitudes to androgynous fashion have certainly evolved. Fashion does not have to be gender normative: so boys, get those skirts on!
So picture the scene: you’re walking along a busy city street in the morning, commuters and shoppers bustling everywhere as you pass all the large and enticing windows of flagship stores. In amongst the glossy tanned bodies on billboards and the shop mannequins which are so small the clothes have to be bulldog-clipped at the back, you spy something unfamiliar: a group of three mannequins modelling sheer underwear. Not such an unusual sight, except for the fact that all three have a significant amount of pubic hair on show.
What is your reaction? Shock? Delight? Disgust? All of these, it seems, were expressed when American Apparel exhibited this very window display, with the proclaimed motive of opening up discussions about female beauty. Even disregarding those who found the concept revolting, the reaction to this stunt was mixed, especially amongst feminist commentators. Though many were pleased to see a confrontation of beauty standards in a mainstream context, others argued that if American Apparel were going to fully engage with this debate it would take more than an unkempt bikini line. Why, for example, were all the models white? And why did they all have a typically ‘desirable’ slim figure? It was felt, in some cases, that the retailer was merely jumping on a bandwagon of resurging feminism in an attempt to appear ‘cool’ and sell more underwear. The fact that American Apparel, of all shops, should choose to do this, also raised a few eyebrows. With a CEO who has been accused of sexual harassment, and a hiring policy which is allegedly based on prospective applicants’ attractiveness, could this supposedly feminist statement be merely a bid to cleanse their image?
This kind of clash between fashion and feminism is always going to make some people uneasy. At a recent Isis event, Joy Lo Dico, a journalist on the Evening Standard, presented the rest of the panel with a conundrum: if Vogue were to do a feminism issue, would that mean feminism has won? While it was conceded that bringing feminism to the masses could have its benefits, the general response was concern; if feminism becomes a cover story on a fashion magazine, it would be seen as a trend, and as with any other trend – like chiffon or cupcakes – would become passé a few months later. If feminism is turned into a passing fad, this undermines its importance, and could result in the ideology being dismissed as something people are only invested in because it’s “trendy”.
So can the fashion industry interact with feminist issues at all? It’s a tricky question, perhaps mainly because, though many areas of the industry appear to be female-dominated, it is largely owned by men, most of them more concerned with making a profit than making a political statement. Furthermore, it is a concern for many feminists that mainstream fashion commodifies and fetishizes women’s bodies in order to sell a product. Then there are all of the well-trodden issues surrounding body image which are often blamed on the fashion world. All of these present a conflict of interest for the feminist who is also interested in fashion. Even when brands like American Apparel question what the industry perpetuates as “beauty”, it is important to remember that they are still capitalist structures, whose very existence depends on selling you products. This makes it very difficult to distinguish between an advertising ploy and a genuine campaign.
However, it is impossible to deny that the fashion industry can be an important agent of change. Some trends fade in and out faster than you can catch them, but others become a generally accepted part of culture. Consider how what we wear has changed over the past century and the impact it has had. For many, the loose dresses of the 20s, masculine shoulders of the 40s and miniskirts of the 60s have all formed important parts of women’s liberation, and for these to be popularised they all had to work their way into mainstream fashion. Who’s to say that the work of today’s fashion world is any less important?
Because when you begin to look around, American Apparel is not the only brand challenging gender norms and constraints. Transsexual and transgender models are now more accepted, with big names like Andrej Pejic and Lea T leading very successful careers. Several designers, including Miuccia Prada, Rick Owens, and jeweller Eddie Borgo, draw their inspiration from the image of empowered women for their latest collections. Elle Magazine is running an equal-pay campaign as part of its feminism project. There are even more women in the very top jobs, such as Stacey Cartwright who is now Chief executive of Harvey Nichols. There is undoubtedly a mood around fashion right now which is questioning traditional gender roles, and the fact that these statements are visible in the mainstream is surely a good thing. The huge audience which they can garner is bound to help stimulate discussion and change.
So how can we, as average fashion consumers, think about all this? Should we be worried about appearing complicit with an industry which profits from creating unattainable ideals? It’s certainly a good idea to remain aware of the commercial nature of fashion, and how this can affect PR choices, being particularly alert to when brands might merely be using feminism as a marketing opportunity. Yet we can still applaud big brands and magazines when they confront what we think of as ‘beautiful’, because without their support we are unlikely to see any real change. As well as this, it is worth noting that the big names which form the mainstream of fashion are not the only people involved in the industry. If you’re bored of the limited way in which Vogue defines beauty, read Ladybeard, Rookie, or XXY. If you’re worried about feeding into a male-owned company, find independent female designers through Etsy and ASOS Marketplace. Above all, remain conscious of the flaws in how retailers, publications and designers interacts with feminism, but don’t let this stop you from enjoying fashion.
Featured image from Daisy’s Creations on Etsy
Holly Dutton is the buyer and business development manager of Exclusive Roots, a small independent shop which specializes in fairly traded African gifts. I spoke to her about her work and the role of ethical fashion and independent traders in Oxford.
Inside this elegant and bright shop, located on the Woodstock Road, is an abundance of beautiful items from handmade brass jewelry, to alpaca scarves. Exclusive Roots is the trading arm of the registered charity Tabeisa, which has its 20th birthday this year. The charitable objective of Tabeisa is to support economic and social development of poor communities in Africa and the main method used is to support people to create small businesses. Exclusive Roots has supported the development and creation of over 2800 small businesses in poor Sub-Saharan African communities with an estimated 5000 direct jobs created through its projects. What makes Exclusive Roots unique is that “all profits are re-invested into the charity and the work we do in Africa.”
In Holly’s opinion, Exclusive Root’s greatest success is “leading the way in what is seen as ‘fair trade’ and ‘ethical.’ We may be a little ahead of our time in this but it’s where the movement is going.” She suggests that it is important not to compromise on design and aesthetics but equally show that fair trade can be just as design led, innovative and beautiful as other fashion enterprises. And this is something that is clear to see for anyone who pops inside the shop.
Explaining her own attraction to working with Exclusive Roots, Holly describes her “passion for ethical fashion and fair trade” which was prominent in her approach to a degree in fashion studies. “I discovered a whole new area of design and sourced alternative, more sustainable fabrics for use in my final collection. As well as this, a trip to Africa inspired my dissertation subject on globalisation and its effects on the African garment and textile industry.”
She advises students who are seeking to get involved with ethical fashion and trading to “go out there and get to know the ethical fashion labels and businesses. Volunteer, read blogs, keep up to date with what is going on in the industry through medias such as the Ethical Fashion Forum.” As well as this, Holly recommends starting a fair trade group in your college, holding events or catwalk shows, “anything to get the message across to your peers!”
In this respect, Exclusive Roots plays a vital role in the city of Oxford for promoting and raising awareness for ethical fashion, encouraging others to get involved. “Exclusive Roots is here to support and promote both ethical, fair trade and local products within the city. We like to shout about other independents, collaborate on projects and make sure we do all we can to make a positive impression.”
Uniqueness and individuality is clearly amiss in the fashion world. Holly argues that “these days you’re more likely to find an exceptional and interesting piece in a charity or vintage shop than on the high street” (which is largely dominated by the big chains). “Oxford now has some fantastic independents and small businesses which offer a great alternative to the mainstream shops, but there needs to be more support for such ventures: places like The Covered Market need to be protected and supported by the local council, for example. Running a business with bricks and mortar is hard in these times, everyone loves a hidden boutique with interesting and quirky designs but these won’t survive if consumers, and the government, don’t support them. If we’re not careful the streets will be lined with cafes, coffee shops and convenience stores.”
This means that there isn’t a lot of competition for Exclusive Roots at the moment. “Ethical fashion is still a niche on the high street so there is not too much unhealthy competition! However, Exclusive Roots and other independent shops are “still up against the big brands who may offer a leather bag for less money.” The crucial difference between the two is “our approach, which is to be transparent in our sourcing and supply; showing the names and faces of the artisans on each product where possible, and paying a fair price and re-investing in the producers.”
The most important message Holly wants consumers in Oxford to take away from Exclusive Roots is their emphasis on supporting artisans: “not only present artisans, but the future ones too, keeping tradition, culture, and craft alive. It is also important to remember not to give over to mass production and consumerism.” At Exclusive Roots, every single purchase has a positive, direct impact on not only a community but also the person responsible for each product and their family as well. “The bottom line is that we, as consumers, are able to make a conscious decision to support the poorest in the world, so who can actually say it’s not their responsibility?”
Exclusive Roots is located at 8 Woodstock Rd, OX2 6HT.