The unsustainable practices of the fashion industry are on fire as never before. Over the last two years alone, mainstream players have asked for drastic changes: premium labels such as Gucci have scaled-down on the fashion show calendar, designers headed by Dries Van Noten have written open letters to the industry, and over 60 signatories—representing more than 200 multinational brands—have signed up to the G7 Fashion Pact.
But on the fringes of beauty, some scholars suggest this isn’t enough. They’re more interested in the romantic question: if we could reinvent the fashion industry from scratch, what would it look like?
Vogue Company talked to three progressive leaders based in the UK about their prosperous fashion industry’s manifestos. They are not step-by-step instructions to machine improvement, nor do they have static endpoints to be finished and archived. They are deliberately abstract and agile paths to transition, ready to be more established by the brands and the individuals working within them.
The Earth Logic Fashion Action Study Plan is a shared paper created by academics Kate Fletcher and Mathilda Tham, co-founders of the Fashion Researchers’ Union, which published its manifesto in 2018 and has more than 400 members. The strategy promotes an “earth-first” policy focused on the premise that “without a healthy planet, all activities will cease.”
Switching economic development rationale to earth logic involves taking actions based on environmental and ecological preservation rather than profitability. It envisages a framework built on six core values: numerous hubs, varied ways of knowing, co-creation, grounded creativity, world-care, and self-care. The aim is to change the business and our interaction with those principles in mind, based on six fields or learnings: fewer, local, plural, education, language, and governance.
After its publication in December 2019, the Earth Logic Plan has been adopted by several universities as a paradigm text for teaching, supported discussions with international corporations, and became the base of three PhDs. “People are keeping us in the loop, but we want people to make it their own,” Fletcher says.
The 2020 activities have brought the need for such a strategy into sharp relief. “The intersecting crises around Covid-19, racism and others like sexism are part of the same mega-crisis as climate change and biodiversity loss,” Fletcher says. “Covid-19 has exposed the structures and biases that have always been there but have been hidden from culture and normality.” She continues that the pandemic was simply a “dress rehearsal” for the climate crisis’s eventual consequences if the world would not respond during the decade assigned to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Fletcher and Tham are urging people to “stay in trouble,” not shy away from severe improvements. The strategy provides realistic advice and asks ideological issues to direct policy. For example, one recommendation is to create a “language ombudsperson” to help create and disseminate earth logic. This person will investigate how journalism, photography, and other networking methods such as marketing can be made more sustainable.
Fletcher envisions fashion markets that are more locally based, where mending is practiced in schools and designers work in the interest of their neighborhoods, exchanging talents, and experience instead of making endless disposable clothes. “Industry will remain a part of our lives, but it will not be the dominant part, and it will be much more diversified,” she says. “You can no longer sell more things to be successful.”
The Slow Grind
As multidisciplinary creative Georgina Johnson launched her Slow Fashion to Save Minds manifesto as an online document in 2018, debates around sustainability and mental illness were already on the sidelines of fashion. By the time she released an expanded edition of her novel in May 2020, we were in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, and those debates had turned into a rallying cry for a new structure.
The Long Grind: Finding Our Way Back to Artistic Equilibrium is an anthology with a wide variety of submissions. Stylist Ib Kamara is commenting on the effect of fame on innovation. Fashion Revolution co-founder Orsola de Castro encourages readers to see sentimental meaning in their clothes. Fashion historian Kimberly Jenkins addresses the significance of schooling in reducing inequality.
Johnson promotes a more compassionate approach to fashion, focusing on mental health and well-being rather than competitiveness. She aims to bring the manifesto into effect through seminars, lectures, and artistic ventures. “You’re implementing something like this through ongoing intent and practice,” she says. “This year, in particular, we’ve had a strong applaud for people saying they want to change something better, but we’ve also seen people default back to the status quo as it causes tension. Doing it differently often leaves a difference between what’s possible and what we can see has been achieved before.
To build a workplace climate where workers feel motivated to criticize processes, companies need to reconsider their success targets. “The job has been mechanised to a ridiculous point where it’s impossible to do anything the organisation wants you to do in a day or a job,” says Johnson.
It is essential to have outside voices. Brands should support progressive thinking leaders and exchange tools to help them develop better structures, Johnson says. “Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t have the experience or education you need. Brands should recognise grassroots individuals who change things on a micro level and scale up those innovations,” she says. “It’s not supposed to be the responsibility of people pouring out an empty cup.”
As one of these attempts that provide a diversity of viewpoints, Johnson argues for broader agencies running mentoring services with financial and realistic assistance. “If you’re giving a scholarship, show people how to spend it wisely and how to balance books, how to build relationships with suppliers and producers,” she says. “If you hire in your image, you’re going to perpetuate the same problems over and over.”
The co-founders Amy Foster-Taylor and Will Bull identify And Beyond as a “participatory system design lab.” Via intimate seminars, where CEOs sit alongside interns and garment workers, they enable individuals and organizations to imagine and build more expansive futures and understand their position within them.
According to Beyond, fashion is the playground of multiple patriarchal regimes, making it the ideal garden for transformation. “Colonialism is apparent in the linear paradigm of taking, making, using, and disposing. It’s the belief that garment workers in the Global South are fortunate enough to have fashion careers, considering the miserable circumstances they sometimes have to suffer. And the way design outsources issues like fabric waste to other nations,” says Foster-Taylor, a student at London College Fashion MA Fashion Futures. She points to a study by the Sustainable Fashion Initiative that ties unpaid internships to sexism, stigma, and trauma. “It’s about healing internalised oppression so you don’t oppress others.”
Established responses to bigotry are equally shallow, Bull continues. “Inclusion also requires someone who has the right to include someone else. Putting anti-discrimination policies in an intrinsically racist environment is a realistic yet short-term approach.”