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High street horrors

Today I did something I felt deeply ashamed about.

I bought a pair of leggings from Top Shop. Philip Green’s Topshop. The Philip Green who’s registered the company in his wife’s name so he can avoid paying tax – his wife lives in Monaco. UKUncut, the tax justice pressure group, explains it very clearly.

This put me off going into Topshop – as did the fact that their security guards gave me and my friend a hard time when we tried to look at the Christmas lights back in 2010. But I’m afraid I cracked today – actually I gave in a few weeks ago, when I bought a top in Miss Selfridge, also owned by Green.

I love my new leggings. My teenage self would have loved them too – they are totally age inappropriate. I know I shall get lots of pleasure out of them.

You’ll be pleased to know that I reconsidered buying a pair of very short shorts in Topshop yesterday – only to go online and buy a pair from George at Asda instead. I buy a lot from George – especially for the boys. It’s cheap – why it’s so cheap is a matter I choose not to dwell on. Asda may not be owned by Green – unlike Miss Selfridge or Dorothy Perkins – but it is owned by Wal Mart, another liberal bugbear, who you can see are not very nice.

Asda has also been criticized in the UK for not paying farmers enough money for their milk – although the store recently capitulated and offered a slightly better deal. Asda now pays farmers more than Morrisons, Aldi and Lidl, but not as much as Tesco, M&S and Sainsburys. Again, pretty shoddy behaviour from a company worth an absolute packet.

Ah, yes, the snobs among you may chorus, these shops are either the purveyors of trashy, disposable fashion (Topshop) or aimed at a lower class market (Asda). They deserve our criticism – not like M&S. Now M&S is a NICE shop.

Again, debatable. Reams could be written on M&S’s relationship with Israel, while in 2011 there was a mass protest against the store – pro Palestine activists accused it of labelling goods produced in the occupied territories as ‘Israeli’.

If this doesn’t get you going, then there is always the former chairman, Sir Stuart Rose’s cosy relationship with the Tories. In the days before the last election, Rose made a point of bigging up George Osborne’s ‘economic vision’ (oh the irony of it all), while earlier this year he spoke up in favour of the government’s odious workfare scheme.

What a lovely guy!

Makes me ashamed of buying all those delicious meal deals – if you’re clever with the special offers, you can shop in M&S without having to sell your children to medical science. Or for coveting a rather fabulous fake fur coat.

Whatever your thoughts on my taste (or lack of it), you hopefully can see the point I’m driving at. Fashion is fun. Fashion is frivolous. But the fashions – and the retailers that sell them to us are owned and produced by some very ethically dubious characters.

A right minded person would give this stuff a very wide berth indeed. The fact I can’t resist Topshop, or M&S, or Asda, or Primark, or Tesco makes me very weak and useless. I should be ashamed of myself. I should only shop at ethical, politically correct retailers and ideally should grow my own food and make my own clothes. The results would be pretty catastrophic. Does anyone remember the suit that Tom made for himself in the 70s sitcom The Good Life… Exactly.

Most of us lack the skills (or if we’re honest, the inclination to make our own clothes). Yes we can buy second hand, but are we really escaping the machine?

It all reminds me of reading Naomi Klein’s critique of our obsession with big brands – No Logo, the book was called.

I loved the book and enjoyed the way it exposed the reliance of our big brands on sweatshop labour in the Far East. But ultimately it left me feeling quite powerless.

What was I supposed to do? Go naked. Please dear God no! And I’m too much of a fashion victim to buy all my clothes from charity shops (although the clothes on sale are still from the same dodgy sources unless they were made in about 1958). In other words, reading No Logo – brilliant as it is – made me feel rubbish.

The sad fact is that just saying no to the bad guys as an individual is not enough. Sir Philip Green is not going to mend his ways if a handful of lefties go BAH to Topshop. But if we all get together and make a noise – like the brilliant UK Uncut actions – or lobby government, or hassle journalists or join political parties and press for policies that are better for both workers and and consumers, then maybe things will improve. But it takes real collective action, which in turn takes organization and vision.

Maybe I am just excusing my meretricious love of fads, fashions and shiny things.

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