This month's ‘Woman of Influence’ is Lauren Bravo - a freelance journalist, copywriter and author focusing on a number of topics including fashion, food, pop culture, feminist issues, TV, travel and social trends. To date, Bravo has written two books; What Would the Spice Girls Do (2018) and soon to be published How To Break Up With Fast Fashion - a guilt-free guide to changing the way you shop - for good. While becoming an author was somewhat of a childhood dream for Bravo, her path to actually becoming one was not necessarily at the top of her priorities. Nor did it happen in the most conventional of ways. Nevertheless, she has managed to successfully carve out her career. From writing online profiles about public sector ICT tenders for minimum wage to a freelance position that turned into a full-time job on the Channel 4 Food website, Bravo’s drive and success is visibly evident in her rich history of experience. Ahead of her speaking at our event focussing on Sustainability & Circularity in Fashion which will take place on Saturday 19 October at Paper Mill Studios, Bravo imparts some advice on how to be more sustainable with one’s fashion, whether she believes we can stop fast fashion all together and why she likes to have a clear-cut routine.
You have written two books, ‘What Would the Spice Girls Do’ in 2018 and ‘How To Break Up With Fast Fashion - a guilt-free guide to changing the way you shop - for good’ which will be released in January 2020 - can you tell me about both of these works?
Sure! What Would The Spice Girls Do? is a kind of deep-dive into the influence that the Spice Girls and their particular brand of girl power had on my generation; both at the time, when we were kids in the 90s and feminism went about as far as kick-boxing a boy’s ego in your Buffalo boots, and now, as fully-grown adults, trying to work out who we think we are (ha) in the modern world. Like so much culture that is predominantly loved by young women (and the LBGT community), the Spice Girls were routinely dismissed, ridiculed and trivialised – but when I started to look back on that era and speak to other grown-up fans, I quickly discovered that their influence and significance went so much deeper. Plus, and I stand by this, those first two albums were genuinely great.
How To Break Up With Fast Fashion is a book about unpicking our (well, my) knotty relationship with my wardrobe, quitting fast fashion and finding new ways to shop and dress sustainably. It looks at the toxic impact of fast fashion, on the planet, on the workers and communities who make it, and also on our own happiness, self-esteem and bank balance – but I wanted it to be more a companion than a critic, so the bulk of the book is about finding solutions rather than hand-wringing over how terrible everything is. I’ve always loved fashion, I still do, and I wanted to write a book that celebrated the sheer self-expressive joy of clothes, while figuring out better ways to enjoy them. At no point do I say we all need to wear one white organic cotton shirt and a pair of hemp slacks every day. I promise.
Have you always thought that you would be an author?
It’s funny, ‘author’ was always my dream job as a kid, the thing you’d tell grown-ups when other children wanted to be a doctor or an astronaut or whatever – but as an adult I didn’t really think much about writing books until the last couple of years. My preoccupation was getting enough freelance work to make rent. I worked for a year on a proposal that nobody wanted before What Would The Spice Girls Do? came along, so it felt like a pretty uncertain path. I love the completion and satisfaction you get from working on a book, although I’m still not sure I feel like a proper ‘author’… to me my books feel more like very, very long articles, which made them less intimidating to tackle.
Do you think it will be possible to stop fast fashion all together?
It’s a toughie. I think we have to believe it is, or at least that it’s possible to slow down the mass-production of fashion to a pace that is much more sustainable for the planet and the people producing those clothes. Our need for speed and volume are at the root of almost every problem in the industry. But instead of passing the blame buck back and forth between different groups, I think we need a whole lot of change all at once. We need governments to legislate, we need designers to innovate, we need the fashion media to cooperate, and we need consumers to collectively shift our mindset away from rampant capitalism to something slower, more considered and less wasteful. We need to get comfortable re-wearing the clothes we already own, for a start.
Can you name some of your favourite sustainable fashion brands?
So I’m only shopping secondhand this year (it was my new year’s resolution) and sadly I still feel as though a lot of sustainable fashion is not ‘for me’, in size, budget or personal style – it tends to be very plaaain, so much crisp androgynous tailoring and so many minimalist conceptual smocks… But that said there are some wonderful brands coming through that are really exciting. Justine Tabak’s gorgeous dresses are top of my wishlist for as soon as my shopping ban lifts. I’ve loved Birdsong London for years; their clothes are great and their whole ethos, providing living wage jobs for migrant women and never using Photoshop on their models, is exactly what ‘sustainable’ fashion should mean. I love Deakin & Blue swimsuits, which are made from ECONYL (recycled plastic waste found in oceans), Lowie do great dresses prints and knitwear, and The Acey makes very chic pieces to order, so there’s no waste.
Do you have a particular process/routine when it comes to writing a book? Does this process differ from your journalism and how you approach a commission for a print or online publication?
I tend to go into hibernation a little bit when I write a book, although that might be because both of my books were written to intense deadlines – two months each – so there wasn’t really time to focus on anything else. I like to have a clear-cut routine, so I swim at the lido nearly every morning before sitting down to work. Typically, all my best ideas come while I’m in the pool, without a phone or pen to jot them down. I try to stick to normal working days as far as I possibly can, though inevitably I have a few doss afternoons and a few late nights to balance it out. Because both of my books have been non-fiction I think I approached them in a pretty similar way to writing an article; which is to say, all over the place! I don’t write in order. I write in chunks as ideas spark and things occur to me, often in Notes on my phone while I’m on the tube or walking about, and then later comes the laborious process of glueing everything together in a way that flows, and smoothing over the cracks. I’m interested to find out if I’d approach fiction-writing differently, but all signs point to ‘no’...
You started working at the age of 14 for The Worthing Herald and stayed for 11 years. Since then you have written and edited for a number of publications – can you give a brief overview of your career path?
Hahaha, yes that is true. I moved to London when I was 18 and every year I thought, “this will be the year they gently fire me…” but they never did, bless them. So I kept writing a weekly column for The Worthing Herald until I was 26. It was fantastic, having a portfolio of work like that to send out while I was job-hunting, although it still wasn’t easy to find work after uni. I started off writing online profiles about public sector ICT tenders, earning minimum wage and falling asleep at my desk on a regular basis. Then I took some freelance work at a digital content agency that luckily turned into a full-time job on the Channel 4 Food website, which was incredibly fun. I used to write episode recaps of Come Dine With Me, and organise the Easter Egg taste test. I stayed at the agency for four and half years, working on all kinds of food and lifestyle accounts, before going freelance – essentially because I was desperate to write ‘proper’ articles, but nobody in the ‘proper’ media would give me a job. It was the best decision I could have made. Since then I’ve gradually built up my features work for print and online (mostly online) while also taking on commercial copywriting, social media, and part-time commissioning and editing gigs. I’ve bounced around between fashion, food, pop culture, feminist issues, TV, travel, social trends and myriad other topics along the way. I’ve now been freelance for five years, which is longer than I ever had a full-time job. So I suppose I must be a ‘proper’ writer now.
As a freelance journalist and author, what would your advice be to aspiring writers starting out in their journalism career?
1. Success will rarely look the way you think it will, or feel the way you think in ought to. If you’re managing to pay the rent, you’re not stressed out of your mind and you feel pleased with the work you’re doing – that’s it, you’re successful. Forget the prestige, forget other people’s impressions of your work. Pretty much every impressive writer I know has a secret corporate copywriting gig that pays the bills, or even a part-time job doing something else entirely. And that’s good! It’s good to use your brain a little differently, to do a job that has metrics other than “does everybody love my piece on Twitter?” I volunteer in a charity shop once a week for the same reason.
2. Talent is important, but so is reliability, punctuality and knowing how to write a friendly, coherent email.
3. Never, ever read the comments.
Can you tell me about the event you will be participating in with Marguerite, The Future of Greener Dressing?
I can’t wait! The lineup for the day is basically Glastonbury for sustainable fashion fans. My panel is going to be hosted by the excellent Harriet Hall, discussing all the different ways in which shopping and getting dressed is going to (and has to) change for the better. One thing I believe quite strongly is that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for sustainable fashion – everyone will have an approach that works for them, whether it’s switching to secondhand hauls, buying a few high quality pieces that will last for years, making your own clothes, renting clothes, swapping and sharing with friends, or championing small ethical brands. And I think it’s important to get across that greener dressing can still be sexy, creative, flamboyant and fun if you want it to be.
Can you name an exhibition from 2019 that has had a lasting impression on you?
Room To Breathe at the Migration Museum Project was incredibly powerful. Personally I’ve always found domesticity is one of the easiest routes into understanding people, cultures and experiences – I always want to know about what people wore, what they ate, the music they danced to and the homes they created. So I really loved this immersive exhibition, which used rooms to tell the stories of different people’s journeys to Britain and the lives they’ve built here. The looming spectre of Brexit only made it all the more poignant.
If you could invite four artists to dinner, dead or alive, who would you chose and why?
Cindy Sherman, Elizabeth Siddall (think of the stories), Louise Bourgeois, and the illustrator, actor, writer and comedian Jessie Cave. I love her in every medium.
Want more? Check out Lauren Bravo' here!
For information and tickets to the Marguerite event focussing on sustainability & circularity in fashion at Paper Mill Studios on Saturday 19 October, click here.