Fashion is Fundamental, Not Frivolous
Last week, I was invited to join a group of extremely special people for an extremely special event. ALICAS, the for-profit-for-good company which gifts bespoke capsule wardrobes to survivors of domestic abuse so they can begin on the journey to restart their life away from their perpetrator, has launched a new campaign called #TAGSTO10K. This campaign aims to encourage retailers and individuals everywhere to donate a total of 10,000 high quality, tags-on clothing items, and the night celebrated this new initiative with talks, panel discussions, and an exclusive unboxing of the first ever ALICAS capsule wardrobe.
Innumerable important messages were taken away from the night, like why we all need to be shopping less but shopping smarter, how we should be taking, the journeys of those in difficult domestic situations and how to support these women to regain their control and self-esteem. The overiding message in my mind, though, was the importance of fashion as a whole, and how I fundamentally believe that both as an industry and an art form, fashion needs to be taken more seriously in so many ways.
In a recent article for Not Just A Label, Jess Montgomery explores public perceptions of the fashion world:
“Like any antiquated prejudice happily thriving beneath a veneer of political correctness, ridicule of fashion is insidious. This is not a hotly debated topic, but rather a cultural through line that must be read between the lines. In movies and televisions shows—which both shape and reflect popular culture—the fashion industry is usually presented as frivolous and deeply narcissistic”
Anyone who has watched The Devil Wears Prada, Ab Fab or Ugly Betty knows this to be true, and anyone working in the fashion industry knows how skewed those interpretations can be. But this is about more than just our pride in our careers, this is about the historic, social, economic and environmental significance of fashion.
"Fashion holds power. From mainstream fashion to anti-fashion and subculture styles, the way we dress communicates how we see ourselves, and how we want to be seen by others… Rather than framing fashion as superficial and superfluous, it is time to embrace the significant role that clothing plays in shaping our lives.”
The piece goes on to explain why now is a time more important than ever to re-examine our relationship with clothes and with fashion as a whole- ultimately, our planet is in crisis mode, and its not only the clothing and textiles industry which needs to take the blame, it's us as consumers of clothing and textiles too. It also eloquently addresses the problem we currently face as an industry; we have always existed in an elitist, unrelateable bubble, and if we want the masses to change their ways, we need to open up; the converstaion flows both ways.
“For the ethical fashion conversation to spread beyond a niche issue of concern within the fashion industry to a broad-audience topic of general concern, fashion must be seen as a topic that is relevant to the general public. Sure, there is currently a growing tendency to regularly cover "sustainable fashion" topics in various forms of publications, but that's even scratching the surface… this content is reaching a very specific audience, namely a demographic that is interested enough in fashion to seek out fashion news and other fashion-focused writing.”
This is precisely why, in a recent outing with the Fashion Revolution Scotland team to a local Green Party meeting, we were met with comments from one member that, well, ‘isn’t fashion just for rich skinny people in Paris?’. After that, we discussed the idea of referring to fashion in this context as simply ‘apparel’, or even as just ‘clothes’, in order to make the ethical fashion message more relateable for non ‘fashion people’ and therefore more likely to help shift mass consumer behaviour.
As Nadine Farag, my favourite fashion writer, says: “Fashion is the exploration of self”. Nadine’s work is based around this idea, we should be more thoughtful with fashion, endeavouring to understand why and how it matters to us as individuals, to the societies we shape, and to the world we inhabit. Currently, she is sharing a fascinating series of images depicting her daily outfits, with captions that go way beyond the surface of your average selfie, called ‘Fashion and the unfolding self’. To follow up on a piece she wrote for Man Repeller, ‘Finding Myself Through 30 Days of Mirror Selfies’, Nadine has been embarking on a month-long exploration of self through dress, and tells the layered stories behind her material possessions. Some snippets from my favourite captions include:
“Dress can be a radical and rebellious act if done for oneself. We learn to dress for men, to dress for women, but do we know, deep within, that it’s perfectly valid to dress for self? For our enjoyment, our pleasure, for the sole purpose of our own delight? Today, I thought: wouldn’t sequins be fun? So here I am, bedazzled, alight.”
“Sometimes I think if fashion exists for no other reason than to bring us joy, isn't that utility enough? And yet, we act like clothes are something frivolous, a facet of our lives to be trifled with, trivialized.”
“Consumerism is damaging, conformity is hurting us, consumption is not fulfillment, but clothes, at their essence, are a profoundly powerful gateway to self-expression, self-understanding, and over time, self-love. “
“My clothes make me visible. With them, I ask you to see me. Maybe even, I ask you to know me.”
In addition to fashion’s significance to our most intimate selves, fashion has a hugely significant economic impact. Unfortunately, the powers that be, aka our politicians and policymakers, often underestimate or even totally breeze over these facts. In fact, just last week, The Business of Fashion published a news story all about Theresa May’s denial and total misunderstanding of the importance of diversity in the fashion industry during her Brexit negotiations:
"My ask to you today is that we deepen our partnership and work together to leverage the fantastic asset that is the fashion industry for UK plc. These are challenging times and we ask that you listen to us and our very particular needs, because we cannot take for granted the position we now hold. This global message about our country has never been more important. Of all the industries, fashion excels at powerful communications and storytelling — let the fashion industry help you and the government to tell that story. For years, London Fashion Week has showcased the best-known names in British fashion as well as the industry’s emerging talent and this year has been no exception,” she said. “British fashion is a serious business. The industry as a whole contributes £32 billion to our economy, employs over 890,000 people, and totals billions of pounds worth of exports. Our designers sit at the helm of global brands and we lead the world in design and digital innovation with names such as Net-a-Porter, ASOS and Farfetch all launching in the UK. I want to see us continue this success as we build a new future for a global Britain where our fashion industry can thrive.”" - Caroline Rush,
Imran Ahmed, the Business of Fashion’s founder and CEO, argues that the only way the industry can thrive as Caroline Rush desires is if Theresa May ensures we will have access to the talent we need to keep London a thriving global centre of creativity, technology and business.
Of course, fashion is also an unimaginable environmental and social force- now more than ever before in our era of overconsumption and greed for speed. The fashion industry is second only to oil in its contribution to pollution levels, and landfill waste is at irrevrsable heights, and its employees suffer arguably the worst labour conditions of any workforce, with full time, back-breaking work reducing garment workers- most of whom young women- to living well below the poverty lines.
How can we even begin to address this?
During the #TAGSTO10K event, I hosted a panel discussion with some industry experts, including Dr Sue Thomas, the leader of the Fashion Ethics masters degree at Heriot Watt University, Vivienne Low, the co-cordinator of Fashion Revolution Scotland, Brenna Jessie from Scottish Women’s Aid and wardrobe consultant and stylist Elaine Machray. The questions I asked danced between issues surrounding sustainability and fashion’s impact on retaining women’s dignity, identity and confidence. For Rachael Bews, the founder and CEO of ALICAS, to solve the problems facing our industry at present, we need a multi-pronged approach. According to ALICAS, we can help reduce waste from fast fashion retailers going to landfill or being incinerated, plus help those in clothing crisis having fleed from unsafe and abusive homes, with one ingenious solution. Overall, the consensus was that fashion needs to be taken more seriously, for the sake of all of us. After all, there is no Planet B.
Want to find out more about what ALICAS does and get involved in this fantastic project?
Read my interview with Rachael Bews: https://ruthmacgilp.com/blog/alicas
Donate tags-on clothing in person or by post to 5-7 Montgomery Street Lane, Edinburgh, Scotland EH7 5JT
If you are a fashion brand or designer, get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org to see how you can become a retail partner
Shop from the ALICAS pay-it-forward merchandise range, including ethical and sustainable t-shirts, now available online