By Arwa Lodhi
20 minutes. That’s the exact time it took for Kylie Jenner’s $29 orange hued, vegan friendly lip kits to sell out. We’d like to think it’s because people are simply super keen to buy cruelty-free makeup, but let’s face it – these flew off the shelves thanks to Kardashian power. That the lipsticks were vegan friendly is practically an afterthought. But is that a bad thing?
Celebrities have influence over what we buy and even how we think. Whatever Instagram stars like Alexis Ren or actresses like Selena Gomez wear in their social media feed pics sells out in hours. Meryl Streep’s video condemning Donald Trump for ‘bullying’ a handicapped man went completely viral. But imagine – rather than wearing mainstream fashion labels like Ren and Gomez do, or instead of focusing on on man’s bullying tendencies, what if celebs banded together to draw attention to the serious issues addressed by the Ethical Fashion movement: namely, environmental degradation and modern slavery?
You may not think of it as such, but the people who make our fast and cheap clothing are just that – modern slaves. The wages they’re paid are barely enough to keep them alive, and their working conditions are abhorrent. In 2011, workers in a Cambodian garment factory suffered a mass fainting after the grounds were sprayed with insecticide, for example. This was just one of several incidents of its kind in the garment industry in just a few months, but not a single big mainstream news outlet reported it.
If you care about whether your lipstick is tested on animals, wouldn’t you also like to know if your clothing contains harmful chemicals which seriously hurt those who made those garments for you, too? If you’re concerned about animals, surely you’re concerned about human welfare, too?
Ok, we admit, these subjects are a bit of a downer. But we needn’t get into the grim details to make a difference. I mean, what if a Kardashian were hired to wear some ethically made, eco friendly clothing, with a little hashtag about how it feels good to #makeadifference or something? That would certainly work, making ethical fashion seriously du moment. But the problem is that most truly sustainable labels are really small – and the ones you find in malls and on the high street almost always put profits before people. Oh, and most celebrities’ egos are big. Given the Kardashians charge a fortune for even a fleeting Instagram promo, having them tout a small clothing label for a reasonable fee is highly unlikely. So what to do?
Remake, a company founded by Ayesha Barenblat, is one ethical fashion label that’s trying to use the power of social media to make fast, unethical fashion uncool. They know that behind the $1.2 trillion dollar industry, there are horrendous human rights and environmental issues that few want to discuss – and indeed, the Kardashians are guilty of using sweatshop labour in their products, but this barely makes headlines.
Remake challenges celebrities with their own labels to source their fabrics from sustainable fibres and to pay the people who put their ranges together with Fair Trade wages. Since it seems every celeb worth their salt, from Beyonce to the Weekend, is launching a collection of some kind, we need to ensure those influencers are leading by example and make their eponymous lines more ethical. Because generally, they are so not – for example, Beyonce’s Ivy Park label has not only been accused of using sweatshop labour, but she’s also in cahoots with Topshop to sell the line. If you’ve been following Eluxe’s articles, you may know that Topshop boss Philip Green not only avoids paying taxes by residing in Monaco, stole over £500m worth of pension funds from employees of his BhS store, but has also been accused of using sweatshop labour to make clothing for his Arcadia group.
Clearly, we here at Eluxe are very happy to name and shame companies that pretend to be ethical but aren’t, but Barenblat aims to keep it light: “we want the next generation of designers to see that they’re part of something bigger than seasonal collections, that their designs have the power to positively impact consumers and makers’ lives. The aim is based on the understanding that when we come face to face with the makers, empathy and a sense of responsibility grows. And when we bring these stories back home, positive change begins.”
These stories need to be told to Millennials, mainly. There are 80 million of them in America alone, with $200 billion in yearly spending power. And the best part? 75% of them say they’d rather shop brands that make a difference by giving back to society or being gentle on the earth. Personally, I think that’s one reason Kylie’s vegan lippies sold out so fast, as opposed to, say, the (apparently also sweatshop made) Kardashian fashion line. Ethics do matter.
Whilst Kim seems to care only about Kim and Kendall has drunk deeply of the fashion Kool Aid, Kourtney seems to at least try to eat vegan and organic food, and Kylie Jenner is off to a good start with her vegan and cruelty free lipstick line. So why not shift that caring into a line of fashion that’s cruelty-free, too? If Yeezy can successfully move an Adidas collection of boring $300 hoodies that look like they come from Walmart, think of what Kylie could do for a gorgeous, Fair Trade organic fashion brand in just one selfie.
We do have hope. We know millennials are scared of a future full of conflict over resources and increased pollution. We know they want to make kinder decisions when they shop, but need better information. This info may not come from a Kardashian, unless they’re paid. Or care. Soft spoken Kylie has been named the most influential of the Kardashians, because apparently she’s ‘the most relevant’. So come on Kylie, educate yourself on retail ethics, and get out there and spread the word – you’ll make more of an impact than you can imagine!
Images: Instagram, Kylie Jenner Lipstick Main image: E online