Anyone who has ever wrestled with wanting to do the right thing, ethically speaking, at the shops, but who has then been confronted with the very limited options that "doing the right thing" apparently entails, will be enamoured to find a friend in Clare Press and her second book, Wardrobe Crisis: How we went from Sunday best to fast fashion (Nero, $29.99).
A former features editor for Vogue Australia, one-time 'Chictionary' columnist and current fashion editor-at-large for Marie Claire Australia, Press is well versed in fashion speak, but also has the wonderful ability to convey her ideas with lucidity, humility and disarming candour. This is less a treatise, more an investigation to which we are all invited to take part.
Press admits to owning leather goods, designer handbags, "a surfeit of clothes", a drawer just for belts, and all manner of sartorial items that may seem at odds with living with a clear conscience, and we must thank her for doing so, for who of us can admit to having a wardrobe that is 100 per cent ethical?To buying one more item than is necessary because of minor differences in detail (it's grey marle tees for me) or owning several pairs of "favourite" jeans? To secretly coveting a luxury item that equals a month's rent? To shopping without thinking as if in a daze of endorphins that cloud your better judgement?
Indeed, one is left wondering: how can we possibly live a life completely free of animal and human cruelty in this post-consumer society in which everything is so freely available, and tantalisingly so?
"There's a sophisticated marketing machine behind the fast fashion boom," writes Press, "we didn't just wake up one morning in the '90s and think 'I wish four times as many clothes would be produced and sold."
But that is the sad reality into which Press delves, confessing to playing her own part in the designer collaboration hype and "democratisation of fashion" (which led to the fast fashion phenomenon) that sees impossible amounts of clothing disappear off shelves, as with the grotesquely display of human consumption and greed that is the Boxing Day sales.
And she calls us out for the dunces we all are: it's consumer gullibility that has seen us buy into "Cornflake chic" (courtesy of Anya Hindmarch), "logo mania" and the It-bags and silk scarves of Sex and the City, and certainly not need, though the media, marketing and fashion industries have a canny way of making things seem altogether necessary.
"When this happens, fashion becomes unmoored from reality: its beauty is diluted because it has no soul. It's just a quick fix of instant gratification - empty calories," says Press.
"We buy clothes on a whim, because they are so accessible and seemingly so affordable (though the true cost of the garment is rarely expressed by its retail price...). Sometimes we buy clothes with the express intention of wearing them just once or twice; we buy clothes to throw away."
Press paints the bleak picture: Australian national credit card debt of $51 billion in 2015; $500 million of clothing sent to the tip each year; the average woman wears just 40 per cent of her clothes; 92 per cent of clothing sold in Australia manufactured overseas; and 1,133 people killed and 800 children orphaned at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh.
This volume has considerable research behind it and is peppered with Press' highly palatable anecdotes, which make it altogether an interesting and endearing read. She comes by her penchant for clothing honestly: her grandmother, she says, was too busy shopping and having her nails done to cook dinner.
"She was what used to be known as 'clothesy' (a word used most effectively while raising one eyebrow). She grew up in a flat above a lolly shop with her mother and a cranky old aunt."
From the front row of Fendi's Spring 2015 show to a clandestine Fashion Revolution Day talk in a pub and uncovering the covert operations of fur production, Press peeps under every gilded rock in the fashion industry to see what she can find.
Press has done her homework and then some. Into the manufacturing maelstrom she goes, asking us to think about how and why and where we buy our clothes. "How is it possible that we can buy a brand new garment, even one bedazzled by hand with sequins, for less than the cost of a cooked breakfast?"
No one brand, from Hermes to H&M, Gap to Galliano, is unmentioned, while sustainability and slow fashion superheroes Livia Firth, Lucy Siegle, Liane Rossley and Stella McCartney rank highly in the new era of conscious consumption that now follows the conspicuous (for fashion is nothing if not extreme in its pursuit of polar opposites).
Some of the best insights come courtesy of interviews with those embedded in the fashion industry itself, such as Simone Cipriana, founder of the Ethical Clothing Initiative, who hints at "the notion that steady, fair work could change communities for the better".
Press is not a party pooper: she adores clothes and the fashion industry and through her enthusiasm encourages us to engage with it differently.
It did hit me as ironic that as soon as I heard of the launch of Press' book, I hot-footed it to a book store, toddler in tow, to purchase my copy of Wardrobe Crisis, like a crazed fashionista hearing the words "collection by Alexa Chung" (or Gigi, as Tommy Hilfiger would have it).
For those trying to abide in a more conscious approach to shopping, there will always be the occasional hiccup on the road to sartorial Utopia where everything is fair and fairly made. Buying less, choosing wisely and eschewing the rest is not an easy task when navigating the precariously frivolous rag trade.
"Shopping ethically" is often seen as the expensive, unattainable, pretentious habit of the educated and wealthy minority who also eat all organic foods. The key to fast fashion's success: accessibility. Press' writing is splendid but I wonder how relevant to 15-year-old girls who will lead the charge with their credit cards in years to come?