Fashion and Activism

2020

fashion rountable | fashion & activism | mi apparelFashion and Activism: Why we need to clean up now!

‘If you don’t hear what you know needs to be said, you have to make space for a new conversation’.

Power words from Fashion Roundtable CEO & Founder Tamara Cincik. 

Fashion has, and forever been its own entity. No rules, no regulation, just capital gain and shinny existence of being. We're all winners aren’t we? I mean, come on Fashion is such a huge player in the economy employing 1 in 6 people globally from agriculture to PR surely we're all winning within this industry? 

No. We’re not. The supply chain in Fashion is long, complicated and unregulated and along the line someone somewhere is going to get hurt. Who are they? Research shows the impact is felt the hardest not at the end of the chain, but at the beginning. The impacts upon the women and girls who make the clothes which are purchased from some of the fashion outlets who haven’t paid for the stock it has ordered to meet the demand of low cost, low quality garments for us in the western world. 

When COVID-19 hit, globally everything STOPPED. We stopped buying, so production stopped making. The garments weren’t needed, because the stores had shut, the warehouses had to close and no more product could be taken in. So what did these companies do? They cancelled orders. The ripple effect which this profound business model practice has taken is devastating and the ones that have been hit that hardest are those in the poorest countries on the planet. We’ve heard numerous stories in the media, however one which struck me the most on the Fashion Roundtable Webinar, was that these consequences have seen girls being trafficked out of these factories in exchange for payments as well as being sold into force marriages, with a devastating suicide by at least one girl we heard of. 

Who can be the voice for the voiceless? You and I. Our voice is the most powerful thing we own, and we have the chance through activism to change this. Bel Jacobs, Journalist, Climate Activist and Extinction Rebellion Campaigner finds the idea of suffering appalling and this then led to changing her way of thinking. In 2013 when the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, Jacobs was Fashion Editor of Metro and from then on she saw a shift in journalism taking more of an interest in showcasing ethical brands to raise citizen awareness that there are better choices we can make when it comes to purchasing our fashion. 

It simply wasn’t enough, which led Jacobs on to a journey into activism within the fashion industry advocating for change. Joining the XR Movement saw campaigns being pushed through from boycotting fashion to cancelling London Fashion Week. Both of which saw resistance from the outside to growing strong resilience from them all on the inside knowing what they were doing can lead to systemic change within the industry if they didn’t stand up for what they believed in. 

One point which resonated, was that your activism will inevitably push buttons, dealing with an array of opposite points of views and a lot of negativity. Standing up for a worthy cause can be physically, mentally, emotionally exhausting. Just to push these conversations forwards, to build momentum and eventually create the change you want to see, takes more resilience than we would ever know we had, when starting out feeling passionate about a cause. 

In the last few months we saw an emergency crisis when it came to our NHS basic need for PPE coming against shortages due to the sheer quality required and factories closed during the pandemic. From the other side of the planet. Yes our NHS Exports the PPE required for them to carry out their work. There isn’t one UK supplier, until today. 

The newly formed Emergency Designer Network (EDN) was created in a reaction to what was happening within the NHS and their PPE shortfall. It’s not a campaign which would come under any scrutiny or negativity however, they saw a ton of red tape and resistance from the UK Government when it came to the manufacturing process of PPE from within the UK. This then led them on a journey to raise funds on their own and set out to build relationships with trusts and hospitals directly. 

This campaign runs solely on voluntary work and donation contributions. Opening up the UK to manufacturing PPE, keeps the supply chain close, the carbon footprint to a minimum and reducing the textile waste from the beginning of the design stage to how the fabric is cut. 

Founders Holly Fulton and Bethany Williams,, who spoke on the webinar, are both British Designers who have already been pushing the boundaries and brought manufacturing for their own namesake collections to the UK. Knowing the challenges they would have to face, still persisting they did feel they weren’t being taken seriously by the UK Government. Navigating many negatives thrown at them from the time they were given to produce the stock to what they had to hand in lockdown conditions, it seemed impossible to overcome. They took on the challenge. They built their resilience. They did it. 

This does prove that our fashion industry should be taken more seriously. An island full of creative makers and talent, investment is urgently needed to embrace and support this wealth of artistry. 

With Brexit around the corner and free movement in the EU being taken away. It’s only right we need to step up with putting money into the creative industry to support this talent. Dr Francesco Mazzarella, Post Doctoral Research Fellow at the Centre of Sustainable Fashion in London has seen a drop of at least up to 70% across the board of intake for the University of the Arts London (UAL), the EU numbers haven’t been confirmed, however we already know this is going to be dramatically low, which is utterly devastating. 

Dr Francesco Mazzarella (who also spoken on the webinar)’s current research is exploring ways in which design can be used to create counter-narratives towards sustainability in fashion. Working with governments and communities he has found that different approaches to needs to be taken to each stakeholder and having that understanding of the different roles you will take within activism is vital to bring peoples engagement to the issue you are campaigning. 

This year I experienced a small slice of activism when it came to launching a Change.org Petition to get the #FixingFashion Inquiry back on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) Agenda. I dived straight in not truly having an understanding of the whole concept but knowing within my gut that this had to be done and we needed to be heard when it comes to our Fashion Industry having to change for the better. It was a team effort with the petition, The Centre of Sustainable Fashion and Tamara Cincik leading her political lobbying via Fashion Roundtable, victory was had when the EAC announced they would look into the Inquiry again at the end of the year. Though, it’s far from over. 

My key takeaway from the webinar is that whatever your issue, be it national, global or local, resistance will happen, however you’ll find your strength of resilience and it will be quite a ride.

If you’d like to watch the Webinar in full, please click HERE.

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