Fashion faces a tough choice: stop flogging cheap clothes or go out of fashion | Jess Cartner-Morley

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Fashion has become a dirty word – and trust me, it hurts. Not so long ago, fashion was the VIP lounge for popular culture, and movie stars and politicians flocked to the front row. Now, it symbolizes everything that’s wrong with the modern world – from carbon emissions to global inequalities and crude materialism to unrealistic beauty standards. Fashion is not the only polluting industry, nor the only morally questionable. But even if you love fashion, like me, it’s hard to deny that it sits in the 99th percentile on just about all of today’s most problematic issues.

Everyone in fashion knows you have to get back on the right side of history, and fast. Sustainability is a core responsibility that every self-respecting brand must commit to. New York-based brand Collina Strada last week hosted one of the first live shows of the first season of return-to-life parades on the rooftop of Brooklyn Grange, an organic urban farm that donates 30% of its products to community members with a limited number of means. Much of the collection was made from “dead stock” – fabrics and products that already exist, rather than being newly produced. Clothing made in 2020, which had been stranded and never shipped or sold, was cut up and reused into something new. The “old birthday presents” were taken apart and reassembled in pearl bags and rhinestone jewelry, designer Hillary Taymour said. Taymour was rewarded with a blessing in the form of Ella Emhoff, Vice President’s daughter-in-law, Kamala Harris, applauding in the front row.

Billie Eilish wore an Oscar de la Renta dress to the Met Gala on condition that the fashion house got rid of the fur. Photograph: MediaPunch / REX / Shutterstock

There is a powerful business argument for fashion to find its consciousness: consumers are demanding it more and more. Responsible production has become the hallmark of a respectable brand. For the people of Idaho, Washington and Oregon, who have recently endured intense heat waves, the fact that it takes 2,700 liters of water to produce a single cotton t-shirt in a A world where droughts are more and more common probably seems more urgent. . LVMH, the world’s largest luxury group, faces the prospect of carbon emissions from the fashion industry affecting its lucrative alcohol business. “If the climate increases by a few degrees over the next 25 years, we simply will no longer be able to make champagne in Champagne … our economic future depends on reducing climate change,” wrote Antoine Arnault of LVMH in Womenswear Daily l ‘ last year. .

Sustainability is not a new issue. What looks very different this time around, as the industry comes together for the first shows and cocktails since ancient times, is the psychological state of fashion. Establishment figures realize that for the first time in their careers what they are doing is seen as a little, well, not cool. This year has seen a constant exodus of fashion magazine editors to tech. Netflix recently hired the editors of Allure and Them, while TikTok hired Vanessa Craft from the Canadian edition of Elle. Silicon Valley doesn’t just have deep pockets – it’s also seen as the place to be.

For years, fashion has dismissed criticism by shouting that we all need an escape, a defense that rings increasingly hollow in the face of the gravity of the charges. “Covid and the climate emergency both show that money and luxury cannot protect you from the real world,” British designer Roland Mouret told me this week. “This fashion fantasy of a beautiful woman in a dress on an exotic beach – I don’t think it resonates now, because that kind of perfection just doesn’t exist anymore.” Willful escape seems strange and old-fashioned in an age when it is cool to get involved. Billie Eilish performed a Marilyn Monroe fantasy on the Met Gala red carpet this week, wearing an Oscar de la Renta fairytale blush silk ball gown – but in return the brand accepted a request from Eilish, a vegan animal rights activist, that he would stop using fur in all collections with immediate effect. This is where young girls’ dreams are made – today.

The Met Gala was a glitzy showcase of the new progressive penchant in fashion. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “Tax the Rich” dress made headlines. Versha Sharma, editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, wore a sleeve engraved with the words “Protect Roe / Kill the Filibuster” in response to the Texas abortion ban. Jonathan Anderson, British designer from Spanish luxury house Loewe, collaborated with actor and writer Dan Levy to dress him as a “gay superhero” in a polo shirt embroidered with an illustration of two men kissing, which Levy described as a celebration of “queer love and visibility.” In support of the message, Loewe donated to an organization promoting AIDS awareness and education.

But while the emotional commitment to social justice and the climate emergency is real, the action is not moving at the required speed. (As so often fashion mirrors the rest of the world in this – just in a more exaggerated and infuriating form.) Is the equivalent of liking photos of stable doors on Instagram after the horse has bolted. A new report on greenwashing, released this week by Eco-Age and the Geneva Center for Business and Human Rights, reports that while “all major fashion brands claim to be engaged in sustainability efforts … a mistaken definition of sustainability , non-scientific methods and selective implementation ”. The report also identifies “environmentalism” – believing itself to be less harmful to the environment than it actually is – as a fashion issue.

By producing too much clothing, the fashion industry has not only damaged the climate, it has also undermined its own status. A dress in the silhouette of the new season or a pair of boots in the new warm shade of autumn were once ambitious objects. But a deluge of two decades of cheap items has left the clothing world dismissive – and, therefore, fashion-weary. Fashion is faced with a difficult choice: to continue flogging cheap clothes or come back into fashion.


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