The Cultural Agenda for Sustainability

This week I started an online course called Fashion & Sustainability: Understanding Luxury Fashion in a Changing World. It’s available on FutureLearn and it’s FREE! So far it has been super interesting and I’m looking forward to learning more over the next few weeks. Once I’ve completed the course, I’ll be writing an overview of what I’ve learnt and what I think of the course itself. But, I wanted to jump on and write about something that has really intrigued me.

The Centre for Sustainable Fashion have created a framework for how the luxury fashion industry can champion sustainability. This framework is made up of the Context we live in. Within this you have 4 agendas:

Social, Economic, Ecological, and Cultural.

Within these agendas, there are 8 Issues:

Modern day slavery, Wellbeing (Human & Animal), Climate Change, Hazardous Chemicals & Pollution, Diminishing Resources (Natural & Human), Consumption & Waste, Land Use & Biodiversity Loss, and Water Stress.

CSF framework

I’m going to be focusing on one agenda which particularly interested me: the Cultural Agenda. This agenda is about consumers and brands changing habits and culturally accepted practices. This course looks at Luxury Fashion’s role in culture, specifically its responsibility in creating a culture of sustainability. Alex McIntosh, Course Leader for MA Future Fashions at London College of Fashion says this starts with changing the definition of ‘luxury.’ He states that the current overriding definition of luxury is the ‘inessential desirable item which is expensive or difficult to obtain.’ This is connected to consumer culture and our view that success is made up of wealth and power.

‘Luxury Fashion convinces us that without it, life isn’t worthwhile…the dopamine that accompanies the purchase is short lived.’

The consumer culture of ‘retail therapy’ is something embedded in society, but this culture along with the obsession of increasing GDP, comes with a myriad of Issues surrounding sustainability. These Issues include Consumption & Waste, Wellbeing, Climate Change, and Diminishing Resources. All of the above renders Luxury Fashion’s Cultural Agenda unauthentic and highly constructed.

McIntosh questions whether Luxury Fashion’s products and experience can be truly authentic when it requires a constructed and ‘ruthlessly effective’ propaganda machine. The selling point of brands is no longer the clothes itself, but the name – that is what you’re paying for. But, strip away all of this and what are you left with? McIntosh says we should instead be celebrating the people along the supply chain rather than the artifice. Think of the farmers, the manufacturers, the seamstresses, the designers, the weavers. The fashion industry employs 60 million people, yet there is huge inequality throughout the supply chain and consequently, modern day slavery is an endemic within the industry.

Branding is at the forefront of the industry, with marketing and selling outweighing the costs of designing and development of the products. We are exposed to advertising every day, in real life and on social media. From celebrity endorsements to paid Instagram posts, marketing is the priority for luxury and fast fashion alike.

McIntosh closes with what we need to consider going forward. We need to look at our cultural values and when looking at Luxury Fashion ask ourselves these questions: ‘Are the right things being celebrated? Are structures in place to change? Are investments being made in things that matter? And are the right people in power?’

How the Cultural Agenda relates to my Geographic and Personal Experience:

I can notice major differences connected to the Cultural Agenda from when I was at University to now living back home. Consumer Culture at University is huge for a number of reasons. Firstly, student loans can be a lovely surprise in your bank account, so shopping is usually the go-to. This paired with the countless social events throughout the year mean that ‘outfit repeating’ is a cardinal sin. Since moving back home, I have naturally consumed less fashion because of the lack of student loan and no regular social events (I do have friends, I swear). Educating myself on sustainability and being constantly exposed to information about Fashion and Sustainability has also made me an active consumer, so I now only shop from sustainable brands when I need something.

This leads me onto my personal experience with the Cultural Agenda. I now gravitate towards ethical and sustainable brands and I believe I am more conscious in absorbing brands’ advertisements. James Wallman’s Stuffocation: Living More with Less inspires people to live better and happier with less. He talks about a solution to this that he calls ‘experientialism.’ This means focusing on nice experiences instead of acquiring more stuff. Experiences are more likely to make you happy rather than stuff – this can be connected back to McIntosh’s dopamine comment. I like to think I now take an ‘experientialist’ approach to life, and I certainly feel happier being with family and friends, creating memories and experiences rather than shopping every day on ASOS.

As the consumer attitude shifts to more sustainable consumption, systemic changes need to be made within the luxury fashion industry. As consumers, we need to realise that companies spending more on marketing rather than the production process are creating a mythical illusion that will only keep us happy short-term. These also have detrimental effects on the environment, as brands produce more for less money. In this uncertain time, it may seem hard to have nice, memorable experiences. But, cherish this time with loved ones and pick up new hobbies. Delve into writing, reading, painting, or start a new TV series! Memories can be made in the comfort of your own home, you just have to be creative.

S x



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