Can Fashion Change the World?

“It’s quite incredible that we might save the world through fashion .” -Vivienne Westwood

In my recent post on New York Fashion week, I focused on the disconnect between the glamor and fantasy of the fashion industry with the exploitation that often hides beneath the glossy surface. I wanted to emphasize in this post, a few key players that are trying to work for more sustainable, ethical practices in the industry.

OK so first of all, what is ethical fashion girlfriends?? While I will no doubt touch on this subject many more times in my future blog posts, I really loved this definition from the ultimate in sustainable fashion information, the Ethical Fashion Forum.

” The meaning of ethical goes beyond doing no harm, representing an approach which strives to take an active role in poverty reduction, sustainable livelihood creation, minimizing and counteracting environmental concerns.”

Artisans at the Nairobi hub with Lisa Barratt, left, Jane Kabura, center, and Jeremy Brown, right, standing behind bags for Stella McCartney, Vivienne Westwood and Sass & Bide. Credit: Chloé Mukai/ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative

Obvi, that’s kind of amazing, but can it be done?  While the coverage of labor issues during fashion week was pretty paltry, The New York Times did run an incredible story on Simone Cipriani, head of the Ethical Fashion Initiative. Cipriani is connecting designers like Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney with Ghanian artisans,  who are working to the fair labor standards of $5 to $11 a day, making luxury items for the couture designers. Besides achieving a living wage, the work also gives many of these women employable skills that can empower them and help raise their families out of poverty.

Sustainability is still not widely understood though, and many associate the word with hippie-trippy, unattractive clothing, and well … Birkenstocks. Perhaps that’s why the awareness created by luxury brands could prove to be influential for changing the consumption patterns of the mainstream.  When Vivienne Westwood of her Ethical Fashion Collective line and Ilaria Venturini Fendi of her Carmina Campus line ask questions at New York Fashion week like ‘Was this made ethically?’ ‘Are the fabrics green?’ and ‘Were the workers treated fairly?’, this can have an incredible impact by encouraging ethical consumption but also proving that being stylish doesn’t come at a cost to others.

Martin Luther King Jr. said 45 years ago that “True revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.” What exactly is it going to take to shift our values, to create a shared paradigm of ethical labor practices and more sustainable consumption? If it seems to be impossible, consider the resistance towards smoking reform in the mid-century, to the current situation where almost 50% of the U.S. population lives with smoking regulations in all workplaces, restaurants and bars. Yup, change can happen girlfriends, we just need to believe in it!

And a revolution seems to be happening,  and it’s not just within haute couture. Just this month activists staged flash ‘faint-ins’ at fast-fashion retailers H&M and the Gap to protest sweatshop conditions in countries like Cambodia, and workers in Cambodia are in turn striking for better pay. Check out this website, Fashioning Change, a self-described ‘do-gooder’ website that offers cute, eco-friendly alternatives to popular designer name brands. Their ‘Wear This, Not That’ feature is an easy way to compare some of your favorite clothes with more eco-conscious lines that have transparency in their supply chain. What’s more, these lines usually come at a cheaper price-tag then their brand-name comparison! Aaaand, it’s time to go shopping. :)

We need to fix the bloated nature of a fashion industry that creates a lot of waste with too many products that end up in landfills on one end, and too little pay for those who labor on the other. Vivienne Westwood, who is using her fashion line to promote environmentalism, has argued that fashion and anti-consumerism don’t necessarily contradict each other if people buy less, and in a more sustainable way. Check out her show from the London Paralympics in late August, where she ends her somewhat haphazard collection with a pointed cry for environmental advocacy, rolling out of a banner that reads “Climate Revolution.” A nod to her punk roots, it had me thinking, “Where is Pussy Riot??”

Have any thoughts on how we can shift our fast consumption to sustainability? Do you have any links to share, or know any peeps who are working on this cause? Please share with me, either in the comments below or via email! :)

About these ads

10 Comments

Filed under Critical Fashion

10 responses to “Can Fashion Change the World?

  1. I am not so convinced by these luxury brands going to Africa to do these campaigns, because it doesn’t change the fact that they will still turn around and charge someone an arm and a leg for a product they got so cheaply. And it is still a ploy to attract the ‘ethical’ consumer. I mean it is a step but hmmmm still a long way to go. I would prefer that they support the African fashion industry (for e.g) to stand on its own two feet, it doesn’t have to be ‘yeah I understand that you need more pay so I will fight for you to get $5 extra and then we are good. I pay you $30 a week instead of $20 for a collection I will charge people $300 a piece for.’

  2. Hey there!
    Thanks for your comment! I totally understand and agree with your concern, and I will be writing about that in a future post. I indeed have a big issue with companies like Prada sticking Angelina Jolie in their ads in Cambodia to say one or two things in passing about mines there, thinking that this counts as ‘social responsibility.’ And also, I am a big proponent of Fair Trade (articles coming soon), and I absolutely agree that we need to address this issue from the ground up-ie, supporting independent artisans who are paid a living wage instead of JUST focusing on designers. However, since the fashion industry does take cues from Haute couture, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that designers like Westwood are working with African artisans who are paid fair labor standards. I also like her message of buying fewer things that are a bit pricier that are made more sustainably. Her company isn’t perfect, but I think that could help set a standard in an industry that is renowned for its rampant exploitation.

  3. Pingback: Ethical Fashion: Introduction to a Three-Week Series | Listen Girlfriends!

  4. I have a campaign Changing How The World Shops. The 4 ‘s Where was it made by Whom out of What &What were they paid ?http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4z33hOcxOYs

  5. Pingback: The Academic Activist | Ethical Fashion: Introduction to an Ongoing Series

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s