Here at CSF HQ, there has been a lot of chat over the past few days about what we plan to wear to the London Climate March this coming Sunday. How can we use what we wear to visualise and emphasise what we want to say to our leaders and to the world? Not surprisingly, our conversations keep coming back to one particular garment – the t-shirt. It’s likely we will each own hundreds of these throughout our lifetime and perhaps it’s now the world’s most ubiquitous garment, with sales reaching over 2 billion per year. Either way, whether it’s a £2.50 Primark t-shirt or this season’s £1500 Givenchy t-shirt, there is no doubt that this core fashion product is big business. But with big sales comes big impact – the average t-shirt emits around 6.5kg of CO2 (and if buy over 2 billion of them each year, that is 13 billion kg of CO2) and yet if we make the same t-shirt using organic cotton, in a factory that runs on renewable energy, the emissions are cut by 90%.
So, whether you think about it or not, your t-shirt matters.
I think what we love about the t-shirt is that it’s not just about fashion, it’s a way to support your favourite band or sports team, a way to raise money for charity or show the achievement of an impossible goal, and it’s even a way to display something about our personality like our sense of humour or nerdiness in some cases. There are many good reasons to wear a t-shirt be it comfort or style, but sometimes we wear them just because we have something to say.
It didn’t take long for marketeers to spot the advertising potential of the t-shirt’s blank canvas – millions (now billions) of small human billboards pushing all kinds of corporate agendas up and down the streets, and so the printed tee was born. The music industry was quick off the mark in driving this fashion innovation forward with album and tour t-shirts, thus cementing a long lasting relationship between the two worlds. This grew rapidly through the 60s, at a time when the world was highly politicised and so t-shirts became like wearable placards, capturing anti-Vietnam war and anti-establishment proclamations, using imagery of Cesar Chavez, polluted lungs and other pop art iconography.
The t-shirt’s political expression only grew stronger through the 80s when designer activist Katherine Hamnett introduced the slogan t-shirt to the world (and to Margaret Thatcher), and now we regularly see designers (Vivienne Westwood, Kenzo, Giles Deacon and the Rodnik Band to name a few) collaborating with organisations like the Environmental Justice Foundation to create t-shirts for a specific political cause. It’s clear, fashion can allow us to wear our individual values, but given the opportunity it can also represent our collective values – just think of the powerful red shirts/yellow shirts protests from Thailand and Malaysia (pictured above).
Once again we find ourselves in a highly politicised world, or at least it should be a time in which we are highly politicised, and this Sunday, we have the opportunity to bring our voices together and stand up to violence against nature. If you want to use what you wear to strengthen our voice, we have prepared a simple set of instructions of how to create and apply your very own transfer print to any t-shirt or sweatshirt (or anything that doesn’t melt under an iron!) – download here. We have also created a sample transfer print ready to go, which us CSFers will be using come Sunday – download here. You can pick up transfer paper at art and design shops like London Graphic Centre, or even stationary shops like Rymans.
Whatever you decide to wear this coming Sunday, we would love you to share your Climate March experience with us – Please tweet us any pictures of you and your comrades at the march to @sustfash/ #csfCOP21.