As More Women Lead Equitable and Fair Fashion Production, Could Compassion Be This Year’s Biggest Trend?
Stella McCartney Resort 2023
A new year opens with so much at stake and I feel like we are going round in circles. From a fashion perspective, 2022 closed on a bitter note, with ultra-fast fashion brand Shein named the most popular brand in the world, and more greenwashing initiatives than we could wish for. The sustainable fashion conversation is getting more divided, entrapped in incorrectly used environmental data, avoidance of the reliance on oil and gas, and constant dismissal of the fact that this is a human industry.
We need to come up with a better plan. What is the thing that could flip the switch and change everything? Perhaps 2023 could be the year we subvert everything through what Annie Lennox calls global feminism, and we finally embrace feminist fashion. Women are the biggest consumers of clothes and accessories, and women are most of the workforce who produce them (80% of garment workers are female). In the Global North we keep marching for women’s rights and equality, while we are happy to wear clothes sewn by enslaved and abused women in the Global South. It doesn’t make sense, does it? Rather than talking about “sustainable fashion” (a term I can’t even hear anymore), what about refocusing and making our clothes a real force of feminists’ action?
Vivienne Westwood RTW Fall 2022
The beginning of the “eco-friendly” fashion movement has seen plenty of amazing female designers in the driving seat – from Katharine Hamnett to Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney. Yet we never included the garment workers, the cotton pickers, the millions of women working across the supply chain along with it. Why? How did that happen? And what if we operated in a different way – considering them, respecting them, and fighting for them, both at brand and consumer level? What if brands ensured their workers are paid a living wage and have their human rights respected while we, in turn, see the face of the woman who made our new dress? Would that change everything? I hope so.
Native American fashion designer Bethany Yellowtail says it beautifully, “Everything is connected. What we create and how we do business ripples into the world. The industry needs to urgently lean into uplifting vulnerable populations, cultivate community, and create a vision forward with future generations in mind. There needs to be a real shift into equitable collaboration. With my B.Yellowtail brand, we have helped create a culture shift for Native American artists and entrepreneurs. For generations we’ve only seen the fashion industry exploit and profit without any repercussions or benefit to our people. It’s a beautiful thing to see more Native people and communities benefit from our creativity and ancestral rights.”
Fashion Revolution’s Who Made my Clothes campaign ensures greater transparency for the talented people behind the clothes
Her message is loud and clear, and we have seen the success of campaigns like Fashion Revolution’s Who Made my Clothes. Yet we still don’t notice or care enough to make it a priority, as women, to support other women in fashion’s global supply chains. So how can we start a new chapter? According to Aurora James, founder of Brother Vellies and the Fifteen Percent Pledge, “Fashion designers, along with leaders in all other production-based industries, must be intentional about what they are putting into the world.” She continues, “What are these products made of, and by who? The industry must evolve into a more inclusive space and give opportunity to those who have been historically repressed. I am constantly inspired by the artisans we work with at Brother Vellies. We partner with carefully selected, talented artisans who are leaders in their respective fields. Sustainability means building products that are meant to last, treating one another with respect, and thinking about the impact we are leaving on the world.”
Ahead of Christmas, nonprofit organization Fashion Revolution brought focus on the amount of unwanted clothing and textiles being sent to landfills
The same is true for American designer Angel Chang. “We partner with a local non-profit, the Tang’an Dong Ethnic Eco-Museum, in the village in China where our collection is crafted. They built a workshop, dye facility, and library for the community’s use and we worked together with the artisans to create a framework for production costs and timing. During the pandemic, when I was unable to travel there, the artisans began training each other. So now our workshop is completely artisan-run! They take care of each other and manage the production timing based on their farming schedule and weather. Our relationship has turned into a true collaboration. It was important to me to live with the local communities to see how they work and what they care about. To have a more just fashion industry, we need a bottom-up approach, where factory workers are asked what they need and value first – and then build the factory and production from that foundation.” The same, I can add, is true for us – what do we want to value first? What will make us rise and protest, shout and defend, and be proud not of the clothes we wear but the stories of the women who made them? Hopefully it won’t take us another year to figure this out.
Originally published in the January 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia
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