Amelia’s Magazine | Dirty White Gold: new documentary-in-the-making unpicks cotton

Life Is Precious sign from Dirty White Gold
Roadside sign in India, from the film’s trailer

Dirty White Gold is Leah Borromeo‘s film about cotton. It exposes a whole crop of problems with our clothes by unspooling high street supply chains right back to cotton seeds. Even what you think is a sweatshop-free t-shirt unravels to reveal a thread supplier using child labour, or a farmer in such heavy debt he’s killed himself. These cotton-to-coffin suicides are destroying Indian farming families.

Dirty White Gold
Blood on the maps: film poster design by Peter Kennard @at_earth

Dirty White Gold “goes right the way back to seeds,” says Leah. “It’s a Saturday night date film.” Ha ha.

We’re here on a sunny Sunday afternoon as part of the Stoke Newington Literary Festival, and Leah‘s been invited by new magazine Stir to talk about her film. It’s not unusual now to promote and campaign around a film while you’re still making it, and after a successful round of crowdfunding, filming in India is complete and Dirty White Gold is now on its London leg.

Until a few years ago, Leah was deputy foreign editor at Sky News. That job ended when she made the news herself while protesting in her bra at the G20 summit. She was arrested for impersonating a police officer (there was also a truncheon and a tank involved).

Leah Borromeo, Dirty White Gold
Leah Borromeo filming Dirty White Gold

Leah comes across as both fun and formidable. On second hand clothing, she says. “No, it doesn’t smell of death. New clothes smell of death. You know that ‘new clothes’ smell you get when you walk into a shopping centre? That’s formaldehyde. On clothes marked 100% cotton, often they’re only 73% cotton. The rest is chemicals.”

I knew that ‘new clothes’ smell was too good to be true.

Who's Behind The Rotten Cotton - Dirty White Gold
Dot questions where her cardigan was made: poster by Dr.D

It all comes back down to our old friend, capitalism. As the trailer says, “what you are witnessing is the death throes of smallholder agriculture, under the onslaught of corporations”. Farmers are tempted away from subsistence farming by cash crops, produced for their commercial value rather than for use by the farmer. So the farmer buys a box of cotton seeds, plus licenses, pesticides and insecticides (the Indian government has a 15% holding in one of the largest insecticide companies). He pays for labour to spray all those chemicals, and the money he gets back isn’t enough to make up what was spent. Plus, he’s competing on unlevel fields against US and EU farmers who get subsidies.

Trailer: watch the cotton industry unravel

So what can be done about rotten cotton?

“You can’t wander in with a colonial attitude,” says Leah. “It has to be organic. There are resistances in India, there needs to be education. There are collectives which support farmers switching to organic, and then make sure they get a fair price. But the market has to be there. At the moment farmers aren’t going for it because they’re scared.”

There are stats and facts, and then we’re onto actions we can take when we’re shopping.

“Ask yourself: do I need to buy it?” says Leah. “It’s not so much what you buy, as whether you should be buying in the first place.”

Secondly, “pick up a needle. There are lots of people who can repair clothes for you. The Denim Doctor is a guy in Salford who repairs jeans like new.”

Lastly, “think about where you buy.” Leah recommends shopping second hand or from Traid, and Claire from Traid who is in the audience explains that Traid supports the Pesticide Action Network and other projects to help improve the global textile supply chain. This makes me like their TRAIDremade label (available online) even more.

The clothing supply chain was an issue I thought I had all sewn up, especially with articles after the Savar building collapse about which high street stores are supposedly okay to shop from. But this film looks set to unpick the way we shop, and hopefully the way our clothes are made. Right back to the seed.

Follow the progress of the film: @dirtywhitegold and Dirty White Gold on Facebook

Categories ,cotton, ,Denim Doctor, ,Dirty White Gold, ,Dr. D, ,g20, ,India, ,Leah Borromeo, ,Pesticide Action Network, ,peter kennard, ,Savar, ,Sky News, ,STIR, ,Stir Magazine, ,Stoke Newington Literary Festival, ,traid, ,Traid Remade

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Amelia’s Magazine | My Big Fat Royal Wedding with East End Prints at Maiden

Maiden Big Fat Royal Wedding

You know an exhibition is a success when you come away having bought something that you absolutely didn’t need and didn’t plan to buy…. as I’ve just done at the Maiden shop in Shoreditch High Street, find run by Noah, cheapest here seen sitting on his Union Jack bedecked staircase.

Noah of Maiden and his Big Fat Royal Wedding
Noah of Maiden and his Big Fat Royal Wedding.

Maybe it’s the lover of kitsch in me, but there’s something about Royal Wedding memorabilia, both faux and real… that is just too too tempting. Thanks to Noah you no longer have to scour ebay for exciting royal themed gifts… because he’s gathered them all in one spot for your deletion, including mugs, decorated mirrors, annuals, teatowels, badges, plates…

Maiden Big Fat Royal Wedding
Maiden Big Fat Royal Wedding

Oh, and he’s also scavenged across the land to find exciting new artworks to celebrate this ridiculous event. I don’t think he’s really appealing to the blue-blooded royalists amongst us, featuring as his shop does, a selection of printed paper plates – limited edition, £5 a pop for Will with his alternative bride, Kate Moss, by Bark Design Ltd.

Maiden Big Fat Royal Wedding-BARK DESIGN LTD
Maiden Big Fat Royal Wedding-BARK DESIGN LTD
Maiden Big Fat Royal Wedding by Bark Design Ltd

Or by former Amelia’s Magazine illustrator Jess Wilson… a lady of wonderment creating delightful objects as always. Queen Kaffy. Love it.

Maiden Big Fat Royal Wedding-Jess Wilson
Maiden Big Fat Royal Wedding-Jess Wilson
Maiden Big Fat Royal Wedding. Commemorative plate by Jess Wilson

East End Prints are installed downstairs in an area where the Cakes for Japan sale was held, and which Noel tells me is open to anyone (for free) if they have a cool project they want to promote, providing he likes your idea of course.

Maiden Big Fat Royal Wedding. East End Bloc by Dr. D. £35 unframed.
One for the anarchists. East End Bloc by Dr. D. £35 unframed.

Maiden Big Fat Royal Wedding. High Tea by Arthouse. £80 for original artwork
High Tea by Arthouse. £80 for original artwork.

Maiden Big Fat Royal Wedding-Oh for fuck's sake! by Helen Lang
Oh for fuck’s sake! by Helen Lang.

I tell you, artists everywhere are having a field day over the wedding. And it’s not because they’ve suddenly become raving Royal fans, it’s because the kitsch potential is so bloomin’ huge. I’ve just been on the phone to Tatty Devine and discovered that they’re currently decking out their shop too. Look at these fab cameo brooches!

My dissertation was on kitsch. What can I say? I make no apologies and I will be popping new Royal Wedding stuff on here as I find it. Get in quick I say, before all the best stuff goes….

Full listing here.

Categories ,Arthouse, ,Bark Design, ,Bark Design LTD, ,Cakes for Japan, ,Dr. D, ,East End Prints, ,Helen Lang, ,Jess Wilson, ,Kate & Wills, ,Kate Moss, ,kitsch, ,Maiden, ,Memorabilia, ,Noah, ,Plates, ,Royal Wedding, ,Tatty Devine, ,Union Jack

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