By Chere Di Boscio
A colleague of mine who has been behind a pioneering ethical fashion blog for years recently lamented that the Business of Fashion is now making videos about what she (and Eluxe) have been banging on about for years – that fashion is one of the world’s most polluting industries; that its workers are poorly paid; that the more we buy, the more polluted the planet becomes.
She expressed her confusion with the situation: on the one hand, it was great that a huge publication was shedding light on these important subjects she’d been concerned about for years. On the other hand, it was a fuck you moment: she had been there first, posting excellent content, touting excellent eco friendly fashion labels. She had dedicated years and years to seriously investigating and researching the roots of the fashion industry, and blowing the whistle on bad practices. Why was BoF getting more shares and likes and all the credit for the insights she and others like her had spent years uncovering?
Buried By Giants
John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, once said of Vivienne Westwood that she’d jump on any trend if it ‘smelled of money’ – he claimed she did that with punk (by copying the torn and fetish-influenced clothes he would make after she noted they were growing popular) and that she’s now doing the same by co-opting the environmental movement.
The same kind of argument could be made for fashion magazines.
For many years, they played it safe, sticking to their major advertisers (invariably the Kering Group, LVMH, L’Oreal and Estee Lauder, to name a few). But once those beauty and clothing conglomerates became aware of the consumer demand for ethical garments and organic cosmetics, they started snapping up companies like Edun and Aveda. That allowed the large publishers who relied on ads from the megacorps to finally mention a few ‘green’ companies without threatening their main income base.
Thanks to Google’s algorhithms favouring big publishing groups with big SEO budgets, searches for ‘ethical clothing brands’ or ‘organic beauty brands’ are likely to pull up Glamour, Elle or Vogue’s picks of the best brands – rather than the websites of the brands themselves.
Which is fine if your label is mentioned by one of the big publications. But unless it’s been snapped up by L’Oreal (who own Sanoflore and the Body Shop, for example) or Estee Lauder (who own Origins, Aveda and many other ‘green’ brands), you basically don’t exist on the web.
To illustrate, another friend of mine owns a clean beauty brand – again, a pioneer in the field. She relies on online sales for much of her business, but has been struggling to get past page 6 in Google for searches under the exact keywords ‘clean beauty brand USA’.
On a personal note, it really gets my goat that Vogue even comes up at all on page 1 in searches for ‘sustainable fashion magazines’ whilst a lot of great publications I follow that are actually 100% dedicated to sustainable fashion barely appear on the first 5 pages of a search.
So what can we do, and where are we going from here?
The Future of Ethical Fashion
Let’s go back to the punk analogy. It started out as a radical youth movement, something rebellious, kicking against the status quo. It was a rejection of mainstream style and ethics – just like sustainable fashion is today. Then it got co-opted by those who ‘smelled money’, like Dame Westwood. Once it was fully commercialised and exploited, it became crap – posh boys with nothing much to complain about posed as punks, fashion designers sold pre-ripped ‘punk’ clothes for hundreds of dollars , and eventually the whole movement lost its relevance, turning into a watered down version of itself in the form ‘New Wave’ (hello, Duran Duran!).
The same could well happen to ethical fashion. Whilst the movement began at the grassroots level with the intention of improving the lives of garment workers and cleaning up the environment, now that there’s money to be made, its meaning and definition are becoming distorted.
Millions of dollars have been injected into what’s labelled as ‘sustainable fashion,’ but further inspection proves it’s not. Case in point? Fashion maven Miroslava Duma was just given $50 million to build a ‘sustainable’ fashion company that’s focused not on improving factory conditions or finding better ways to recycle clothing – but rather superfluous things like creating diamonds in a lab (instead of mining them), and structuring real fur coats out of stem cells (instead of killing animals). Of course, this was widely heralded in the Business of Fashion and Vogue as a ‘victory for sustainable fashion’.
There are other examples of the message being hijacked by the powerful who can profit from it, too:
- A top sustainable luxury site often written about in the likes of the New York Times recently awarded Louis Vuitton (who is one of their best clients) with a seal of ‘green’ approval for reducing its energy output, despite the fact the company uses loads of leather and fur and has been embroiled in several labour and racial discrimination scandals.
- The spurious term ‘slow fashion’ has been applied by loads of magazines to various non-transparent, non-sustainable labels simply because they’re expensive (therefore, the logic goes, we buy them less often).
- Judging panels for ‘sustainability summits’ frequently include well connected figures like Stefan Siegel and Suzy Bubble – really nice people, yes, but their work doesn’t actually focus on sustainable fashion.
- Influencers like Livia Firth prefer to praise non-ethical brands for coming up with a few green items in a collection, rather than putting the spotlight on smaller brands that are always green (that’s kind of like rewarding a bully for not hitting a kid, rather than rewarding the kids who are always good!)
For me, all of this misses the original point of ethical fashion entirely. It should be about setting a fresh paradigm; out with the old (no matter what baby steps they take towards sustainability), and in with the new.
It seems that unless we, the ethical consumers, let BoF, Vogue and other mainstream media know that they’re just not getting it, the ethical fashion movement will enter its ‘New Wave’ phase sooner than we think.
Eco Fashion Talk – Sass Brown finds all the most gorgeous ethical fashion brands before anyone else!
The Curious Button – A great resource for budding eco fashionistas
Healing Lifestyles – Includes some ethical fashion but is mainly focused on natural health and beauty
Kristen Leo – The vegan YouTuber who often shares her love of thrifting and vintage shopping hauls
Beauty By Britanie – Not just about organic beauty – she writes on eco fashion, too!
Coco Eco – One of the first ever eco fashion magazines. A true inspiration, beautifully done!
Peppermint Magazine – A lovely paper publication coming out of Australia
Sustainable in Stilettos – A sustainable living blog by the talented Tracey Martin
MelaninASS – A sustainable fashion site aimed at women of colour
Sasstainable – Great info on eco fashion with a special focus on kids and the family