John-Paul Flintoff is a journalist for the Sunday Times (of London) and author of How to Change the World and Sew Your Own. In this week’s My Style interview, Flintoff tells us what his clothes say about him.
John-Paul Flintoff arrives for our interview on his Brompton bike on a breezy day in north London. We’re here to talk clothes. It’s not immediately apparent that Flintoff spends a lot of time contemplating matters sartorial. He’s dressed like you’d expect a journalist might be – in jeans, a men’s shirt and a simple jumper.
But Flintoff is no ordinary journalist. Here’s a man who’s as handy with a notepad and pen as he is with a needle and thread.
In 2005, as part of an assignment he was working on, Flintoff started thinking about the environmental impact of how we feed and dress ourselves.
‘I was worried about climate change and started thinking about growing my own food, which I did. I also started thinking about clothing, where and how garments are made. It was inherently funny that someone like me, not in the fashion industry, would consider making my own clothes.’
Flintoff enjoys making things, as much as he likes an intellectual puzzle. The first target of his creative affection was a men’s shirt (made from scratch, and with a pattern copied from an old shirt). ‘Look at this,’ he says, pointing at his collar, ‘it’s a three-dimensional jigsaw – where does this bit go? How does it all fit together? It was so exciting once I figured it out.’
Enthused, he challenged himself to make an entire outfit, including jeans, a hat and scarf, and even a pair of Y-fronts (‘made from an old felted woollen jumper’). A second attempt on the underpants, crocheted this time, proved ‘a bit less itchy than the woollen pants,’ he adds, ‘but they were a bit on the see-through side.’
So what do Flintoff’s clothes say about him? ‘Well, what matters is that they suit me,’ he says, adding that his wife guides him on matters of style.
But being bothered to learn knitting and sewing when fashion fast food is readily available? Flintoff’s DIY wardrobe is almost certainly imbued with some deeper meaning.
With this in mind, I purposely dress in secondhand clothes for our interview. Flintoff admires the weave of my “previously enjoyed” Missoni cardigan. We talk about the 500,000 tonnes of clothes that go to landfill every year in the UK – that’s £90m of clothes per year, many chucked out after a single wear, says research from retailer, Marks & Spencer.
Yet Flintoff is non-judgmental about what others wear. There’s no drum banging about sweatshops or eco-fashion. He cares, of course. But his journey, by way of example, is one man saying, ‘I think about this stuff, the conditions people work in, recycling, buying second hand, and simply knowing how to make things yourself.’
Not everyone will crochet their own pants, but it does make you think: do my clothes say something bigger, something more universal, than “does my bum look pert in this?”
Can stylish and ethical co-exist? ‘Definitely,’ he says. ‘Fast fashion has a short life span. Really good stuff takes a lot of work, and though it costs money, you hope the people who made it are being paid. And good clothes last. I have a Harris tweed coat that’s 45 years old, and I know it’ll endure.’
For a moment Flintoff slips into journalist mode, and suddenly I’m the interviewee. He asks if our clothes can affect how we approach and interact with the world. As I see it, our clothing choices matter, partly because they can have profound behavioural consequences on the wearer. Put on something edgy – say a studded leather jacket – and you might behave more boldly. Ditto for wearing something sexy. Clothes are supremely interesting, even if you don’t care about fashion. But then, I would say that.
‘I thought I had thought all there was to be thought about my clothes,’ Flintoff says. ‘But you definitely got me thinking, particularly about the inverted snobbery of whether clothes matter.”
As we wrap up, I ask if his outfit today is entirely J-P designed and made (it’s so good that I can’t tell). ‘The jeans and the shirt are,’ he says. ‘The jumper was chosen by my wife. It’s Jigsaw. I got in a bit of a pickle last year, feeling that I couldn’t wear anything I hadn’t made. That’s ridiculous, of course, and isn’t the point at all.’
As Flintoff rides off on his Brompton, I can’t help but think about a whole new dimension of style that transcends one’s colouring and body shape. Aside from looking stylish, clothes can also say, I’m mindful. I care about the world I live in.
For me, Flintoff’s clothes say he’s one man being the change.
In the previous interview, Pia Brune gives us 3 reasons why Danish style rocks.