Posted on 15th Jun 2020
I came across this post on Instagram posted by @theniftythrifter_, highlighting the exploitation of black people and people of colour in the garment industry. In 2018, it was reported that garment workers in Leicester, UK were being paid below minimum wage. The article explained that Leicester’s garment industry is detached from the UK’s employment law. You can read the full report here.
At the time of publication, the UK minimum wage was £7.83 per hour for people 25 and over (as of April 2020 it’s £8.72). Workers in Leicester were being paid as little as £3.50 per hour. The report revealed that as well as low pay, workers were not granted holiday or sick pay, had to work with old machinery, and blocked fire escapes.
Executive Director of ETI, Peter McAllister said that ‘brands hold a lot of power over their suppliers and need to recognise that unreasonable demands are likely to drive poor working conditions for garment workers.’ At the same time ‘suppliers exploit their workers.’
The supply chain in fast fashion is unequal at every stage; however, garment workers suffer the most as retail’s low prices mean that suppliers can’t improve working conditions or provide fair pay. Manufacturers are even starting to sell directly to consumers to create a decent profit and pay their workers fairly.
Brands ‘chase the cheap needle around the planet,’ with lots of brands having factories abroad because it’s cheaper. But, despite UK employment laws, Leicester seems to have its own rules. Rules that the government is fully aware of. Mick Cheema, Ethical Clothing Manufacturer in Leicester, proposes two solutions: retailers sourcing a percentage from ethical factories and government’s enforcing law.
Boohoo’s Code of Conduct documents states that they have a number of regulations in place to ensure fair treatment of workers. But, the evidence ends there. There is no transparency that they carry out these regulations in their international factories.
When Boohoo and other fast fashion retailers sell dresses for as little as £4, you have to question how they are able to do this. Somewhere along the supply chain, someone is suffering because of the low prices.
Today, there have been queues outside fast fashion retailer, Primark, as UK government gave permission to open retail stores on 15th June. I have previously written about Primark’s amorality, but we mustn’t shame those that are queuing outside. They may have children who have outgrown their clothes during lockdown. People have been made redundant/furloughed because of the pandemic. Charity shops are still closed due to the pandemic, and those that are opening are under a lot of pressure to sort through donations and quarantine them for at least 72 hours before selling. These are not the people we should be calling out when it comes to boycotting the fast fashion industry. We shouldn’t be shaming low income families for providing. I am lucky to be able to shop from ethical and sustainable brands and find my size easily in charity shops and on sites like Depop. Let’s start questioning the industry and ‘throwaway’ culture rather than shaming those that have no choice.
Posted on 6th Jun 2020
The past fortnight, social media has erupted in the response to George Floyd’s murder. There have been protests in all 50 states in America and 18 countries across the world, making this the largest civil rights movement in world history.
Systemic racism is real. It affects every aspect of life: school, university, jobs, housing, and more. The fashion industry is no different. Across fashion history, the industry has profited from black culture, often with no recognition or credit. It’s time for the industry and its consumers to step up.
It’s time for change. It’s time to learn, listen, and support. It’s time to elevate black voices and recognise that this industry, as well as others, continues to exploit black culture.
I’m going to be sharing some black owned sustainable fashion brands that I’ve found over the past few days. But this doesn’t stop after people stop posting on Instagram. To all my non-black readers, we need to use our privilege for good. There are countless resources on all platforms on what you should do to support BLM. This is just one thing you can do:
Mindfulness is at the centre of LE. They use deadstock fabric (unused fabric destined for landfill) and create classic, neutral, and stylish pieces. Once its sold out, its sold out for good. Not only does their manufacturing process reduce waste, but it lowers their carbon footprint by a huge amount.
Selling timeless vintage pieces, Elia Vintage drops her new looks every couple of weeks. The iconic pieces would make a gorgeous addition to your wardrobe, from sleek oversized blazers, to sparkly NYE vibe dresses.
Made entirely in Africa, Lemlem prides itself on artisanship and preserving art. Handwoven and natural cotton made by traditional weavers not only provides job across Africa, but it expands the production process. Its founder, Liya Kedebe, named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2010, also founded the Lemlem Foundation. The Lemlem Foundation is a non-profit that allows artisans in Africa to access healthcare, education, and jobs.
In 2016, Rosette Ale was in her final year at University, studying modules about textile waste and sustainability. This sparked an interest within her, and Revival was born. Their aim? ‘Giving old clothes a new lease of life.’ Made from reclaimed textiles, the creativity shines through each piece of clothing.
We Are Kin
During the pandemic, We Are Kin are taking this time to make masks for their local community, and designing their next collection. Full of wardrobe staples, We Are Kin work to create pieces that are timeless rather than temporary. They also use their platform to raise awareness, most recently breast cancer awareness.
Using sustainable fabrics like Tencel™ and Repreve®, Proclaim creates inclusive lingerie. They use recycled packaging to ensure that from start to finish their production line is as sustainable as can be. The recycled polyester used to create their soft lingerie is made from plastic bottles that were destined for landfill – ‘It’s the little things that add up to make a big difference.’
Handmade in Kenya, Adele Dejak ensures that her brand feeds back into the local communities. The incredible craftsmanship that goes into each piece is shown by their stunning collections. Adele talks of her inspiration from ‘rich African culture,’ but ‘you can easily tell that my stay in Europe also influences my style of jewellery.’
Omi Woods celebrates the connection to Africa and her diaspora. Fair trade is at the centre of Omi Woods, using small-scale artisanal gold mines that pay miners a fair wage. The fair-trade African gold is then handmade into jewellery that is simply gorgeous.
We Are We Wear
Fishing nets, industrial plastics, and fabric scraps are what We Are We Wear use to create their eco-friendly swimwear. They champion sustainability and inclusivity because everyone should feel comfortable in their swimwear. They recognise that swimwear isn’t only worn on holiday or to the beach, so their stylish pieces are suitable for festivals and nights out.
Again, these are just some of the black owned businesses producing beautiful ethical fashion and jewellery. Depop now have a ‘Shop Black Sellers’ section, highlighting the need for the fashion industry to elevate black voices and talent.
Don’t stop here. Sign petitions, donate if you can, read, watch, and most importantly, listen. Talk to family and friends, and actively change to fight for what is right. I’m going to leave some resources below, and there are more accessible on all social media platforms.
‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race,’ Reni Eddo-Lodge
‘Me and White Supremacy,’ Layla F. Saad
‘How to be an anti-racist,’ Ibram X. Kendi
13th (available on Netflix)
Dear White People (available on Netflix)
Jane Elliot’s Anti-Racism exercise:
Posted on 4th Jun 2020
Embroidery is a craft that has been linked back to the 5th-3rd century BC. In recent years, there has been a resurgence of hand embroidery, and during lockdown its popularity has increased. Sites like Instagram and Pinterest have allowed people to share their work, inspiring more people to learn this craft. Embroidery artists have said that its become popular because it’s a digitally disconnecting and relaxing practice.
The Hannah Sisters, Liberty and Isabella, started embroidering during lockdown. I had a little chat with them about why they started embroidering and why it’s such a great way to upcycle your clothes!
What made you start embroidery?
At the beginning of lockdown, I was struggling a lot with not having anything to do but sit around and watch TV or scroll endlessly on my phone, which left me feeling unproductive and frustrated. So, I decided it was time to take up a new hobby. I wanted a hobby that I could do whilst watching TV or listening to an audio book, a hobby that I wouldn’t have to engage my brain fully in, one that would allow me to multitask when doing it.
So, I decided to try crochet. I really enjoyed it, for a while, although my excitement in it began to dwindle because it is a craft that is less about the thing you’re making, but the process of making it. When my mum suggested that we learn to embroider our clothes, I was eager to try. There is a large element of design to embroidering your own clothes, and a larger focus on the product that you are producing.
Why do you love embroidery?
I love embroidery because it’s so exciting to realise that you can customise your own clothes and completely revamp a piece of clothing. I love it because there is always a new stitch or technique to learn that requires a lot of concentration and time. When you finish embroidering a piece of clothing, you feel like you’ve really accomplished something, whilst constantly finessing your craft.
Why is embroidery a great way to upcycle clothes?
Embroidery allows you to completely transform a piece of clothing that you were previously disinterested in, to a staple in your wardrobe. It’s also taught me to have a greater appreciation for clothes and has encouraged me to spend slightly more time on clothing that has obviously taken love and care to make.
What pieces have you embroidered & what do you want to embroider next?
I embroider lots of different things, like dresses, shirts, t-shirts, and jackets. I’ve been thinking about embroidering some shoes, potentially my old white converse that I haven’t worn in years!
Any top tips for embroidering?
If you’re trying to learn embroidery, YouTube is the place to start! There are so many amazing videos on there, I would particularly recommend ‘HandiWorks.’ Start with learning different stitches before you focus on your own designs.
Check out their Instagram @sisters_who_sew to see some of their gorgeous designs!
Posted on 11th May 2020
I believe that we, and the waves of the new generation, will look back on the
practices of today’s fashion industry in the same way we now look back at
Victorian Workhouses, with utter incredulous horror.
– Phoebe English, Designer
The House of Commons’ 2019 ‘Fixing Fashion: clothing consumption and sustainability’ report highlights the issues within the fashion industry, and what the government needs to do to tackle the second biggest polluting industry in the world.
The UN says that if the population should reach 9.6 billion by 2050 as its predicted, then we would need the equivalent of 3 planets to provide the natural resources required to sustain our current lifestyle. Consumption levels have increased in all industries, with the fashion industry playing a big part in the challenges we face on a global scale.
Professor Tim Cooper discusses the ‘throwaway culture.’ This term criticises the overconsumption within our society – we purchase items that we want (but don’t need) and then dispose of them when we no longer want them. These items have a longer life, but our attitude towards consumption is that items are short-lived and disposable. Clothes need to be produced with longevity in mind, but this will make no difference if consumer attitudes don’t change. Therefore, there needs to be a cultural change.
In order to tackle the issue of overconsumption, we need to look at our shopping habits and review them. How can we be smarter with our shopping? It isn’t only about shopping sustainable brands, but also looking at your budget and savings.
Before you purchase something, question whether you need it. Is there something in your current wardrobe that you could upcycle or repair? Is there a friend that has something in their wardrobe that is the same/similar? Sharing, repairing, and reusing clothes not only saves you money, but you make the most out of your current wardrobe.
If you do need to purchase something, look at how transparent the brand is. What’s their delivery/packaging like? Do they tell consumers where their clothes are produced? Who is making their clothes? Are they a fast or slow fashion brand? This may seem like a lot but if a brand is transparent, then all of their information about delivery/production can be found on their website. Taking this extra step to be conscious of where you are purchasing clothes means that the ecological, economic, cultural, and social impact is as minimal as can be.
We can shop in vintage and second-hand shops. We can learn how to repair our clothes. We can share our wardrobes with our friends and family. We can recycle and donate garments that we no longer want. Taking these steps and continuing to do them means that it will soon become a habit.
My own journey
I used to shop A LOT. But, after learning about fast fashion, I decided to alter my habits. I began by deleting all shopping apps from my phone and unfollowing fast fashion brands on social media. When I went shopping, I went into charity shops and vintage shops instead of big retail stores. I also started going through my own wardrobe, making piles of what I wanted to keep, donate, and recycle. Charity shops are becoming overrun with clothes, so before donating, it may be worth asking friends and family if they want any of the clothes.
I still LOVE shopping, but now I shop with sustainable fashion brands, use sites like Depop, and only purchase clothes when I need them. These small steps have completely changed my consumer habits for the better. From spending ridiculous amounts of money on clothes I wore a handful of times, I’ve become creative with my wardrobe, re-imagining outfits from clothes I already have.
I’ve recently been learning how to upcycle my clothes. I’m not the best sewer, but I was so proud when I made a t-shirt into a crop top for the first time. This is another step to altering my consumer habits, and making sure that my footprint on the fashion industry isn’t one that is detrimental to the environment.
Start with small changes. Delete those apps and unfollow those accounts. Studies have said that it takes about 2 months to form a new habit. Once you’ve made small changes and formed that habit, it will become easier to take bigger steps to changing your consumer habits. Trust me when I say, it is completely worth it.
Posted on 7th May 2020
The fallacy of clean luxury (Davies et al.) occurs when consumers believe that luxury products have few significant negative social or environmental impacts due to the label and price tag. This is based on the assumption that luxury fashion symbolises prestige and value, and therefore is sustainable. However, this is not the case.
Luxury fashion isn’t always sustainable. Higher prices do not necessarily mean higher quality and sustainability. The issues of sustainability within textile industries is recognised, but is immediately disassociated once a luxury label is added (Davies et al.)
Harris and Freeman (2008) theorised ‘separation fallacy,’ suggesting that consumers wrongly perceive ethics and business as 2 different aspects. Therefore, the assumption that ethical products means higher costs is made. So in turn, luxury fashion’s high prices means that consumers believe that it is sustainable. But, we’ve already established that this assumption is wrong.
Davies et al. suggested that ‘luxury brands are less scrutinised because of their established reputations and they face little pressure to invest in sustainable practices.’ However, this may be changing. In recent years, the pressure to transition to sustainability has been big on businesses and corporations. This is due to the demand for sustainable fashion by consumers. In 2019, a survey revealed that 52% of UK and US consumers wanted the industry to become more sustainable, but 45% struggled to know which brands were committed to sustainable practices. This brings us back around to the need for transparency from brands – we need to see proof of your sustainable practices.
Kering strives for a sustainable luxury fashion industry. Their 3 pillars – care, collaborate, create – shape their strategy in achieving this. Using innovation and creativity, they work with their Houses to develop their sustainability practices. These Houses include Gucci, Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga, Alexander McQueen, Brioni, Boucheron, Pomellato, Dodo, Qeelin, Ulysse Nardin, Girard-Perregaux, as well as Kering Eyewear.
In 2019, Kering was named as the second most sustainable company across all industries, and the most sustainable company in Luxury Apparel and Accessories for the second year running. With Kering at the forefront, we will see milestones being met in coming years due to their innovation and tenacity.
Posted on 30th Apr 2020
I’ve always struggled to get my head around economics and finance. But, when I was completing FutureLearn’s Fashion and Sustainability course, I was able to hear from industry experts about economic sustainability. Connecting economics to a topic I’m so involved in made it easier to understand.
Currently, economics isn’t focusing on sustainability. Businesses focus on financial growth each year, which is vital for businesses to survive. The luxury fashion industry thrives when it comes to financial growth, of course. But, it severely lacks in aspects like planetary boundaries and human equality. Dr Simon Mair spoke about something that Kering CEO, François-Henri Pinault said:
“When a young brand joins Kering, it gains access to a worldwide real estate team:
We have people who know the stand-alone store locations as well as the malls of
every big city in the world. We have relationships with landlords. We know the fair
price for rent. If you’re a small brand in London, opening a store in Berlin or Hong
Kong can be daunting. Once your brand is part of Kering, our experts will help you get
In other words, he is saying that ‘being bigger means you have more control over you environment.’ This is advantageous as the market is extremely competitive. But, the need to continuously grow and expand comes at the detriment of the environment. We used to see brands make 2 collections per year, but due to the rapid expansion of consumerism, this has risen to 6+ collections per year.
Businesses are affected by macroeconomic variables. This means large-scale/general economic factors such as interest rates and taxes. There are also microeconomic variables which is connected to the individual. For example, when it comes to fashion collections, a brand can’t predict consumer emotion or response. Mair connected this to productivity gains, explaining that brands ultimately want to sell the same amount of product but produce it cheaply. This creates an unsustainable supply chain in which profit is prioritised over people or nature. In the fashion industry, productivity gains may mean using machines to produce clothes rather than people. It may also involve breaking down a production process so that skill is not needed. The process no longer involves highly skilled workers or creativity and the skill that was once passed down through generations is lost.
Mair proposes that economy needs to be re-imagined so that people and nature are dominant. The value of people and sustainability needs to be incorporated into the economy and thought about in financial terms. Economics and ecology are intertwined, and there are many issues that stem from it. These issues include: diminishing resources, land use, biodiversity loss, climate change, slavery, consumption, and waste.
One way the industry could shift its economics is by turning to a circular economy – this is already happening within some businesses. I wrote a post about circular economy and why brands are promoting it.
For the individual, shopping vintage is a great way to support circular economics. Taking small steps such as only buying when you need something, shopping second-hand, or up cycling what you already have in your wardrobe, is a great way to start your own personal sustainable journey.
With the demand for sustainable fashion increasing, businesses are being forced to look at sustainability in their economic agendas. Forbes’ economic sustainability article gives an insight how sustainability is and economic benefit.
It is predicted that the next decade will be the sustainability decade, particularly for the luxury fashion industry. With nearly 70% of consumers willing to pay premium for sustainable products, it looks as though we are headed for a sustainable fashion economy.
Posted on 15th Apr 2020
South Korea has advanced economically and technologically in a short amount of time. I recently wrote a piece for Luxiders sustainable magazine titled ‘Top 10 Most Sustainable Cities.’ I included South Korea on this list because of its advanced public transport and its new smart city ‘Songdo.’ But, it got me thinking – what’s their fashion industry like?
The Korean Wave
South Korean culture has spread worldwide with the popularity of K-pop and films like Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite. This Korean wave is affecting the fashion industry, with Harper’s Bazaar saying ‘Korean style is a mixture of street wear and luxury.’ The combination of western influence and wealth has created a new branch of fashion that brings together European and street wear brands.
The market in Dongdaemun is often referred to as the ‘fashion mecca’ of Seoul. There are countless stalls in the market where you can haggle for prices. But, the multi-story malls that open at 10AM and close at 5AM have fixed prices. The hustle and bustle never stops, and with lower prices than international fashion brands, Dongdaemun is the centre of fast-fashion production.
Is the industry becoming more sustainable?
Dongdaemun design plaza hosted a Sustainable Fashion Summit, bringing together designers that are changing the fashion game. With debates and exhibitions, the event showcased the changing industry and showed the endless possibilities sustainable fashion can bring. It wasn’t just ecological sustainability being discussed but social; the importance of fair trade and the significance of collaborating with impoverished communities.
It seems that sustainable fashion is becoming more popular in Korea due to the influence of K-pop stars and influencers. Their collaborations with luxury fashion houses and red carpet appearances makes them the fashion ambassadors for Korea.
SwatchOn is an organisation dedicated to transforming the fast fashion culture in Dongdaemun. Their suppliers create high-quality fashion with minimal environmental impact – they only work with suppliers that source sustainable and organic materials and do not work with suppliers producing fur or leather. Their transparency will revitalise the Korean fashion market, bringing quality and sustainable clothing to Dongdaemun:
‘Our ultimate mission is to bring positive changes to the Korean fabric market, especially towards sustainability. Since sustainability should be culturally embedded, we are constantly communicating with Korean authorities, suppliers, and buyers to spread our philosophy. The progress we can make could be small or big and it may take a long time. However, we believe that even small changes matter, and will work hard so that every aspect of our business can have an element of sustainability.’
It seems that South Korea, like they have with their cities, is transforming their fashion industry into one that is sustainable. With the work SwatchOn is carrying out, Seoul and South Korea’s other major cities may begin to see a shift towards ‘slow’ fashion. K-pop’s influence is international, and so is their fashion – watch this space.
*패션 (paesyeon) – fashion
Posted on 6th Apr 2020
My Uni dissertation was titled ‘Women’s Fashion in 19th-Century Literature.’ My research taught me a lot about fashion during that era. The Industrial Revolution was the turning point for fashion, and the industry began to produce clothing quickly and cheaply. Industrialisation also brought with it easier transportation, meaning clothing could be shipped easily.
The Victorian era was a big one for fashion. The more scientific and technological advances made, the more extravagant the industry could be. The expanse of the British Empire meant that they had access to an array of animals and fauna. As the Empire expanded, the range of animals at the industry’s disposal increased. However, the detrimental effects on the environment were still not understood, and the industry continued to destroy eco-systems as it does today.
This period of history was interesting for its scientific advances. Darwin’s theory of evolution created waves through society and the idea that humans evolved from animals created a sense of discomfort. ‘If the human race was not inherently distinct from other species but had evolved from animals, what guaranteed it could not evolve backwards and regress into its previous animal form?’ Fur is the oldest form of clothing and is still used today by indigenous people. However, the fur trend during 19th-Century Britain led to vast over-hunting, meaning some animals became almost extinct.
Exotic animals & plume hunting
By 1900, 5 million exotic birds a year were killed in the Florida everglades for their feathers. Hats with exotic feathers and birds were extremely popular during the late 1800s. Some hats had entire birds on them, often surrounded by flowers and silks. Plume hunting continued throughout the late 19th-century and into the 20th, but activists like Etta Lemon and Adelaide Knapp led the movement that eventually founded The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Again, indigenous people wore feathers on their clothes, but the birds were caught and released, rather than hunting them.
The weekly magazine, Punch, often published cartoons mocking women for their fashion choices. The picture below is from 1892 and criticises plume hunting – ‘the harpy Fashion appears still, and even increasingly, to make endless holocausts of small fowl for the furnishing forth of “feather trimmings” for the fair sex…their dying cries are described as “heart-wrenching.’ But they evidently do not rend the hearts of our fashionable ladies.’
The 19th-century sparked a new age of consumerism and it has only increased since then. Activism surrounding the use of fur and exotic animals in fashion has led many companies to go fur-free. But, the effects on the environment, habitats, and the ecosystem itself is still leading to animal suffering. Changes to the sourcing and manufacturing process need to be made in order to protect animals and their habitats. These changes are beginning to be discussed but the industry needs to shift as a whole. Looking at the history of fashion offers an interesting insight into how the industry has developed over time. The shifts we see today also allow us to infer where the industry is headed, and hopefully that is in a sustainable direction.
Posted on 28th Mar 2020
When it comes to fashion sustainability, the main talking point is ecological. But, sustainability is more than how fashion affects the environment, it’s about how it affects people across the supply chain.
Garment production is full of inequality, and the lack of transparency from brands makes me question what actually goes on. I listened to a lecture by Liz Parker, Sustainable Researcher and Facilitator. She spoke about the people subjected to sexual harassment, violence, long hours, and awful working conditions. The majority of people working in the garment industry are women of colour and European men, women, and children. Those that profit from the industry are mainly white, European, and American men. Social sustainability ‘isn’t about charity, it’s about changing business practices and being authentic.’
Rana Plaza Collapse
On the 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh collapsed. Garment workers begged to not be sent inside as cracks had appeared in the building the day before. In less than 90 seconds 1,134 people were killed, and 2,500 were injured. Multiple clothing brands sourced their clothes from this building, including Bonmarche, Matalan, and Primark. There was worldwide criticism of the fashion industry and their treatment of workers. There are now safety initiatives in place, but wages are still the lowest in the world and there is still inequality across the supply chain. Despite what happened in 2013, not much has happened to protect workers.
The Fallacy of Clean Luxury
Ian Davies’ ‘Fallacy of Clean Luxury’ means that consumers often connect luxury fashion with sustainability, thinking that sustainability is evident throughout the supply chain; however, this isn’t necessarily the case. There is still inequality in luxury fashion, so don’t be fooled by the ‘Made in Italy’ label. These labels often mean finished in Italy, but made elsewhere by garment workers suffering from inequality every day.
How is Covid-19 affecting garment workers?
It’s still possible to place online orders from most fashion brands during this pandemic. But, what does this mean for the garment workers that are making and packing your orders? I came across a live blog of how the virus is actually affecting garment workers worldwide – click this link to see for yourself. Some factories have closed, but many remain open and have provided PPE for its workers; however, there is still justifiable worry from workers about their safety.
In Albania, it’s been reported that due to the decrease in orders, factories have voluntarily closed. But, workers are not getting paid and when safety measures were put in place and they returned to work, they were still not paid for the time spent not working. Factories in Central America are beginning to close, but with no clarity on how much or if workers will get paid. In India, workers are having to walk long distances home as public transport is suspended – their employers are not offering any type of transport that would ensure they got home safely.
This kind of narrative is being reported from multiple countries across the globe, and some factories are not even providing PPE for workers, with some being dismissed due to school closures.
This virus has affected businesses on a great scale as it’s such an uncertain time. But, the lack of clarity and frankly the lack of care for garment workers is putting them and their families at risk. When buying clothes, especially in the current climate, it’s important to question where your clothes are coming from. Who is making your clothes and what condition are they working in? It’s the responsibility of the industry to change its practices; we need to have equality at every step of the supply chain, because without garment workers, there would be no industry.
Please check out the Clean Clothes Campaign’s live blog, they provide daily updates on what’s happening globally. My thoughts are with these workers who are having their rights violated and are going through economic challenges made even greater by this pandemic. My thoughts are also with everyone affected by this pandemic, stay safe and stay inside!
Posted on 21st Mar 2020
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.
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.