Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Farewell fast fashion

It will come as no surprise to many of you that I have, once again, made the decision to quit my job. As Facebook and LinkedIn have both kindly reminded me my career seems to be cyclical. I sub consciously work on a 6 month tolerance cycle between March and August- I start new jobs in march and quit them in August. Maybe 6 months is my standard length of time to figure out whether I enjoy a position and the company and, if not, whether I can tolerate them regardless. This was the case with my most recent company. I worked the probation period(3 months), hated it, decided I could tolerate it, lasted 3 more months and then decided I couldn't...Once again I will be leaving my job at the end of November, exactly the same as last year.

2017 World Happiness chart.

So why? Why am I quitting my position as Senior Graphic designer for a 'trend led fast fashion brand' in Switzerland "the 4th happiest country in the world" (according to the World Happiness report of 2017: As I am spending 5 out of 7 days of the week at work I don't want my job to cause any job, no matter how well paid, is worth sacrificing your happiness and health for. So when I start feeling miserable 2 out of the 5 working days a red flag goes up in my mind...when I get to 3 out of 5 days a week then I start working on my exit plan. Once I have affixed my mind on something I am quite fast at actioning it, this is exactly how I approach job happiness. To me there is no sense in staying in the same position if you know it is making you unhappy, if you don't like something in your life- change it. So thats what I've decided to do....again. 

When drafting this post it was getting a little lengthy so I've split it into two parts:the rant and the plan! This post is the rant.

As with all fast fashion jobs a certain amount of stress is to be expected- we are working with fast productions speeds and short lead times, but when that stress is exasperated by a disorganised system and egotistical, indecisive colleagues the design process becomes extremely difficult and unenjoyable. Being creative on demand in an environment like this becomes borderline impossible. Once a company causes me to loath the thing I love the most(the thing that enables me to express myself properly) I know thats another indication for me to leave.

In order to achieve the fast production speeds we are encouraged to opt for quantity over quality, this goes against everything I believe and everything I have ever been taught. I produce designs architected by someone else, I am only required to carry out someone else vision, therefore I can take no pride in my work and have no accountability for it. After months of doing this I begin to become creatively brain dead, incapable of coming up with my own ideas as I'm so accustomed to not having to. A further reason to leave. 

One of the biggest problems I have concerning my current(soon to be recent) position is the ethical side of fast fashion, not just in this company but in the industry as a whole. There are printed tops on the website for 6.99 euros, I can't see how it is ethically possible to produce a garment like this without someone somewhere being drastically screwed over to achieve the necessary profit margins. The manufacturing line isn't very transparent and I have no knowledge of who the suppliers are, which factories they are working with, whether they are subcontracting work to get the lowest price or what the health and safety regulations are in each factory. 

 I also have a huge issue with the copyright infringements I am expected to make on a daily basis. People higher up in the company go on shopping 'research' trips to Seoul and Tokyo, visit suppliers and factories, take photos of garments and come back requesting that we copy the graphics or the slogans "exactly as it is". With all fast fashion competitors doing this exact same thing the retail industry becomes saturated with imitations of the same thing in every store. Not only is copying designs illegal, it also makes the high street dull with no new innovative, creative long can we sustain this for!?

At the interview the job I am currently doing was sold to me as being 'trend led, young, exciting, fast fashion where I could create fun placement prints for a growing brand'...or something along those reality I spend most of my time stealing photos of tumblr girls from google images/pinterest/tumblr/instagram...mixing their faces together to make a new, unrecognisable girl(for copyright evasion) and then re-touching the photos to make a more 'beautiful' girl for a photoprint t-shirt. These are the images we are selling to young girls, these are the girls we are inadvertently telling them they should look like. We are fabricating faces, slimming thighs, stretching proportions and spoon feeding these images them to impressionable teens. After 6 months of scrolling through images trying to find young girls "attractive enough" to meet the company beauty standards, I was left feeling self conscious and dejected. 

To give you a further understanding of why I can't align myself with the ethos of this company, here are some of the absurd and offensive statements I have over heard:
- Upon suggestion of having a mixed ethnicity model in the branding someone high up in the company claimed she looked "dirty" and couldn't be used. Models used in company branding and on photoprints are all caucasian, I have tried on countless occasions to use a variety of models and all have been rejected.

- When designing a photoprint of a young girl I was told that her hair was "the wrong sort of blonde"

- When designing a photoprint of 2 young girls(around16) I refused to make one the image was taken from my file and distorted to change her body proportions.

- When suggesting we use words like "ambition" and "positivity" I was told that this isn't the message we want to give our customers. Instead slogans and words like "cute", "rebel", "sorry if I look interested, I'm not". Aspirational messages and those promoting body positivity are a no go.

Those are just a few snippets from everyday conversations.

Aside from this Switzerland is UBER expensive. I knew this before I moved here but had thought that my salary increase would cover the increase in cost of does not. Basel is so expensive that the majority of citizens travel to Germany to get their groceries...I have to go to a different country to buy food- laughable. Add this to the multitude of fees and fines that the country like to throw at you: for putting paper in your trash, for engineering work being done on a road near your house, for a mandatory metal label for your doorbell, for the release of small items from Swiss customs. I don't mean to put anyone off visiting Switzerland in this post, as a country Switzerland is an amazing and beautiful place to visit. When I went for a weekend in St. Moritz last year I completely loved a holiday...but, as is to be expected, a holiday is not representational of everyday life.
I would definitely visit Switzerland again for a weekend- the alps are astonishing, the architecture is beautiful and quaint and the transport is efficient, but I would not choose to live here. Of the 3 countries I have lived in outside of the UK I have found Switzerland the most difficult and the most isolating. Maybe visiting Ghana before relocating here contributed to my growing dislike for la vie en Suisse, the wealth disparity and the difference in value of money in these two countries is astonishing and something I really struggle to get my head around. 

 To be completely truthful I should never have taken this job. I accepted the offer due to a lethal concoction of fear, financial insecurity and future uncertainty. If I could offer any advice to a graphic designer/designer just starting out in the fashion industry it would be to never take a job for these reasons. I had quit my previous position to start up my own business but, after realising I had no idea how to do this, I got scared and fled back to the safety of a full time job with a monthly salary. 

After moving back home to the UK last November I had planned a few freelance projects/illustration commissions and my 2 month volunteer trip to Ghana(the best decision of my life for many reasons) but I had not planned further than that and the uncertainty of having no fixed income, the future being completely unknown and out of my control really scared me. So, just before leaving for Ghana, I decided to accept the job offer because then at least I had a plan. 
I pushed my intuition to one side, and moved to Switzerland anyway because I was scared of starting something on my own. Bad decision Becky- I had never even visited Basel before and now I was moving my entire life there. 1 month into my probation period was enough to know that I did not fit in well within the company. I was in shared accommodation for the first 3 months with people I didn't know- I felt extremely isolated and with slow internet was unable to easily contact my family and friends back home.  However, I decided to stick it out until the end of the probation period hoping that when I moved out of the shared accommodation and had all of my belongings in one place in my own home all would be fine. I gave it 3 more months after moving out and then made the decision that I would hand my 3 months notice into my apartment in August and my 2 months for my job in September. So here I am.....finally listening to what my soul is telling me to do and I am so very happy with the decision.

My mum likes to remind me that I feel like this at some point in all of my fashion based jobs. In truth, the company and the position make very little difference if there are fundamental problems within the industry and fast fashion is flawed to its core. I have often questioned whether I have chronic job dissatisfaction but have come to the conclusion that until I am working for myself, executing my own dreams instead of helping someone else achieve theirs I will not be happy.

So what will I be doing next? Well one thing is for certain- I will NOT be taking another job in fast fashion, no matter what the financial benefits are and no matter what exciting country an opportunity might be in. When I accepted this job I promised myself that it would be the last job I had before starting up my own business and daring to try my hand at freelancing.... I guess I'm calling my own bluff. I have secured a freelance job that, hopefully, will provide me with enough money to live off and I will be opening an Etsy store in early November as my first step into starting my own business.

You might recall that last time I quit my job I had a very obscure plan of buying an old van and converting it into a mobile boutique(I am still so very keen on this idea) what ambitious plan do I have this time? What will I be flogging on my new Etsy store?That will be revealed in the next post :)

NB: The txt based images were all taken from pinterest, if you created them/know the creator please let me know so that I can properly credit them.

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