As 2020 changes into nightclothes, deconstructing the whitewashed look of fashion just through the pandemic will give a faulty tale. The global lockdowns, the closing down of stores, the human expense of stopped production, the bleak warnings that apparel is a disposable buy have contributed to a spectacular upheaval. Yet, the metamorphic relationship between equality and exclusivity has eventually chosen a hand. It turned to fashion, as we knew it, into passionlessness.
Shoes, clothing, bags, styles, actors, OTT episodes, glamorous (virtual) events—nothing resonated until marked with anything significant. The Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) has launched a fund for artisans, celebrities have spoken for recyclable fashion, Meghan Markle has given up her duchess tiaras for free California skies and cropped trousers, Gita Gopinath, Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund, as Vogue India’s cover girl in November in fashion magazines. That was hardly any of it. Actor-singer Zendaya won the visionary fashion award at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards in Italy for being “a pioneer in diversity, equality, and sustainability.”
Designers Mia Morikawa and Shani Himanshu of the Indian brand 11.11/11 showed a film at the Lakmé Fashion Week season-fluid version in October without a single fashion model. Instead, they saw handcrafted hands at work, from hand-spinning to yarn-dying, demonstrating the “seed to stitch” journey in clothes. The NFC (near-field communication) button stood for clarity, identifying the particular destination of the spinner, dyer, weaver, and craftsman who made the garments.
What counts is the spirit of our days. Dignity and freedom for those who are slaves to fashion development. Circularity rather than the more-is-merry doctrine. Leadership and story-telling that is open to race and diversity. Design that doesn’t just benefit the genetically stunning, tall, or able-bodied. Clothes manufactured without synthetic dyes and polluting ingredients, their creation process has been re-imagined in a socially fair and environmentally sustainable manner.
Rise of dark stories
The pandemic has accelerated these transformations. Yet, the Black Lives Matter protest in the West has sobering insights from the emigrant migration from Indian cities. Among the vital questions that producers and designers must raise are those about the wretched everyday lives of refugees, some of whom are allied workers in the fashion industry.
In reality, what is the actual cost of glamorous clothes when those who work in the bottom row find themselves disowned and homeless in a situation as unimaginable as this? An October report, The Status of Circular Innovation In Indian Fashion and Garment Sectors, Fashion for Good, a forum for innovation, partnership, and culture, estimates that the Indian fashion industry employs about 300 million people across the supply chain, 80 percent of whom are women.
There’s been a spike in dark news. Last week, a study by the Washington-based Center for Global Policy found that more than 570,000 people from China’s minority groups are forced to work in cotton farms in the Xinjiang region, which supply one-fifth of the world’s cotton. It is said that some of the most popular fast-fashion, sportswear, and luxury brands are the origins of their cotton and Chinese goods.
In India, a variety of professional and unskilled employees (including underage workers) are part of unseen supply chains for Western companies, where orders are given to a distributor who outsources them to an unverified broker who “gets a job done.” Design brands hardly know their hands behind their handbags, so let alone monitor welfare, salaries, and working conditions.
Not all, though, can be put at the door of ignorance. Recently, The New York Times announced the failure of the top-ranking Indian designer Manish Arora, claiming that his firm had not resolved a section of staff duties, many of whom had continued to operate, even though the corporation had gone out of control. Salary delays started in 2017, and others are now waiting to be charged.
Migrants’ lives matter, women’s lives matter, Dalit’s lives matter, farmers’ rights matter. And they are all connected to the material, the produce, and the supply of what will inevitably become a trend.
Over the last few years, after a host of top luxury and fast-fashion labels—Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry, Gucci, H&M—were called upon to manufacture culturally unsuitable fashion, corrective steps have seen more brands understand that it makes sense to be “wake.”
H&M named its first diversity representative in 2018. The Italian luxury brand Prada founded the Prada Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council in 2019. Gucci has appointed a new Director of Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion.
Yet this year’s demonstrations following George Floyd’s death at the hands of a U.S. police officer, who brought steam to the Black Lives Matter campaign, demonstrated the disconnect between arguments and fact in the fashion media as well. In June, Anna Wintour, the Global Chief Content Officer and Artistic Director of Condé Nast, the world’s most influential fashion editor, called for “a woman of color for years to come.”
Wintour apologized for “publishing stories and images that were hurtful or intolerant.” Christene Barberich, editor-in-chief of the 15-year-old fashion media website Refinery29, resigned after staff claims of sexism.
In August, Nike’s black workers encouraged the brand to solve inclusion problems before unveiling its ad, and You Can’t Deter Us, starring top black athletes, including tennis player Serena Williams. The result is as significant. Diversity issues incorporated into unseen communities of catwalk models and, until recently, neglected workers in the workplace, opening up new possibilities. Small improvements, but they have started to shrink what used to be the modeling game’s frontrunners: elitism, exclusivity, and luxury.
According to the Diversity Survey on the fashionspot.com web website, the Spring 2020 season was historic for the fashion week in New York, London, Milan, and Paris. Of the 7,390 product castings shown at 215 big shows, 41.5 percent were color models. Indian couturier Gaurav Gupta’s Name, Is Love show, which opened FDCI’s India Couture Week in September, quarreled a catwalk—including height, gender, attractiveness, and age.
Travel and luxury brand Nicobar has selected a gray-haired and beautiful veterinarian, Gita Prakash, as the protagonist of her fashion editing in Diwali. Raw Mango’s 2020 fashion film and campaign Moomal, filmed in Rajasthan’s hometown of Sanjay Garg’s founder-designer, features 53-year-old actor Mita Vashisht.
Kochi-based designer Sreejith Jeevan, founder of the ROUKA label, has featured his mother, Sailaja Jeevan, in a sari campaign. Last week, the grand matriarch of beauty, Ritu Kumar, launched Equally Stunning, a campaign by photographer Bikramjit Bose, with actor Zoya Hussein portraying four faiths.