Gun shots, humanitarian crisis, environmental disasters. Sometimes the world is not a pretty place. But in the midst of the fire and the dust, we can count on fashion’s to hand to help rebuilt it, brick by brick.
“We expect fashion to change over the course of a decade. What was once fresh and exciting is often, ten years later, stale and slightly embarrassing (or, if our current obsession with the early 2000s is anything to go by, already classed as solid gold vintage). But throughout the decade we’re about to leave behind, more has shifted than just silhouettes; we’re waving goodbye to the 2010s with a completely overhauled perception of the industry. Sustainability is no longer a fringe issue within fashion but the most defining challenge – and opportunity – of our time.” The words were written by Sophie Benson in an article published in AnOther, back in December 2019, that began with a violent reminder of one of the most devastating disasters that the fashion industry has memory of – the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, that killed more than 1,100 people and left more than 2,500 injured. From the wrecks of the fourth largest industrial disaster in history, Fashion Revolution – a global movement comprised of players and citizens of the world who share a goal of transforming the fashion industry into a clean, safe, fair, transparent and accountable space – was born.
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It’s Fashion Week season, and that means reflecting on the scale and urgency of action needed to overhaul a system that exploits too many and overproduces. Simone Cipriani, founder of @EthicalFashion writes on our blog, “As long as the business model remains this way, real sustainability will always remain a mission impossible. Check the sustainability efforts of all major fashion players. How many brands disclose their whole supply chain, and their working conditions inside? How many offer a truly clear environmental impact assessment for their operations?” For the full blog post, swipe up at the link in our story. It’s time to overhaul the entire system. #FashionRevolution #WhoMadeMyClothes?
“The issues in the fashion industry never fall on any single person, brand, or company. That’s why we focus on using our voices to uproot the entire system. With systemic and structural change, the fashion industry can lift millions of people out of poverty and provide them with decent and dignified livelihoods. It can conserve and restore our living planet. It can bring people together and be a great source of joy, creativity and expression for individuals and communities,” Fashion Revolution says in their website. “We believe in a global fashion industry that conserves and restores the environment and values people over growth and profit.” Even though this reconstruction is an ongoing process, the movement from which Fashion Revolution Week (celebrated every year on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse) and the campaign #WhoMadeMyClothes were born has been able to awaken a will to do better, not only for this industry, but also for the world. “Since Fashion Revolution started, people from all over the world have used their voice and their power to tell brands that things must change. And it’s working. The industry is starting to change. More brands are being open about where their clothes are made. More manufacturers are making their factories safer. More producers are being seen and heard.” From The Fashion Pact signed by more than 100 brands in 2019 to the collective efforts of designers and consumers alike to avoid waste, make conscious and responsible decisions in ethical and environmental ways, and find innovative, creative and efficient solutions to turn the fashion cycle into a more sustainable one, the industry has taken a number of steps to do better – and when fashion does and is better, the world follows.
With the Second World War, fashion was forced to reinvent all its codes – a need that Audrey Withers, the editor of British Vogue, recognized from the very beginning. In a time when the challenges of producing a fashion magazine grew by the minute – from the Blitz, that forced the staff to hide in a basement every time the alarm went off and that, eventually, ended up destroying the building that fostered the editorial team, to the rationing of paper and clothes, as well as the limited options of transportation – Withers realized that the magazine had an important role to play, not just for women and their lives, but also for the aftermath of the conflict. As soon as the bombing stopped, in a page full of photographs of the wrecks it left behind, Audrey Withers declared: “There is Vogue in spite of it all!” The outcome? Pages that encouraged women, often referenced as “soldiers without guns”, to do their part in supporting the cause, praises to the women that were on the front line, advice on how to take the best advantage of the clothes available, following “make do and mend” and transforming old styles into new pieces, and a number of recounts about the war, written and photographed by the ferocious correspondent Lee Miller. A month after the armed conflict came to an end, Audrey Withers dedicated the October 1945 issue of British Vogue to “peace and reconstruction”, in a powerful statement that fashion, hand in hand with a political and feminist conscious, would also be a pillar for this new world.
If doubts remained that fashion could be a powerful force for change, Christian Dior set the record straight on the 12th of February 1947, the day when he showed his “New Look” to the world. A new style that, James McAuley wrote in The Washington Post, was not only fit for a new woman, but mostly for a new France. “The designs he presented in that inaugural show were significant in and of themselves: after years of war and occupation — when, to say the least, utility had supplanted beauty as the metric that mattered — here, enfin, were whimsical designs that celebrated decadence and sensuality, harking back to the glory days of the Belle Époque and the Russian ballet,” the journalist says. “Regardless of the clothes, however, what happened then was a crucial moment in the reimagination and reconstruction of French culture after the utter devastation of World War II. Christian Dior was a fashion designer, but he was also among the principal architects of France’s postwar ascendancy, who guided its transition from misery to majesty.” With his sowing kit in one hand and his dreams in the other, Christian Dior was essential in helping Paris lift itself from the ashes left by one of the most destructive wars in History – and, while at it, the designer left us with a powerful statement about the power that fashion can have in the reconstruction of a more blissful, united and peaceful world.
It’s impossible to talk about the helping hand that fashion has given in the name of a greater good without mentioning the moment we’re going through – a moment when, maybe more than ever, the industry came together to fight a truly common enemy. From the negative impact in the luxury sector to the uncertain survival of independent brands, from shows being cancelled to shops being closed, the future of fashion is certainly unclear. But there’s one thing we know for sure: this moment will go down in History as the moment when the industry did not hold back and used all its resources to help reconstruct a world that, day by day, was struggling more and more. From donations given by Donatella Versace and Miuccia Prada to the campaign kickstarted by Chiara Ferragni, who not only reinforced intensive care units in Milan but also donated 250 thousand euros to several hospital in Italy, the world of fashion didn’t cross its arms when the new coronavirus hit the world. Instead, it thanked those who are in the front line with initiatives that confirm that kindness exists, even in the worst of times – more than that, it reinvented itself to that those who are in the front line. While LVMH made its cosmetic factories available to produce hand sanitizers to aid health authorities in France, Louis Vuitton started producing masks and hospital gowns in its ready-to-wear atelier, in Paris. Burberry followed, turning its trench coat factory in the UK into a production site for protective equipment, while Chanel produced chirurgical masks for French hospitals. In a moment when we’re one for all and all for one, in a moment when we are looking to our communities, to our teams, to our partners, in a moment when the needs of others are met with an avalanche of solidarity and empathy, it’s almost impossible to keep track of all the things that the fashion industry is doing to help. From independent brand that repurposed their fabrics to create reusable masks to the efforts of the likes of H&M, Tommy Hilfiger, Bottega Veneta, Loewe, Michael Kors, Gucci, Giorgio Armani, Bulgari, Vestiaire Collective, Net-a-Porter, and not forgetting A Common Thread, a joint initiative of the CFDA and Vogue to raise funds and awareness for the American fashion community impacted by the Covid-19 crisis, the present moment is reinforcing (even if with a little twist) what Audrey Withers declares in the 40s. There is fashion in spite of it all. There is us in spite of it all. Here, united, ready to build. And ready to rebuild, too.
Some say that crisis spark the best in humanity, and the fashion industry seems to confirm this popular belief. In the last few years, a number of brands, organizations and groups have associated their names with causes such as the fight against AIDS and breast cancer, as well as battling for women’s’, children’s and marginalized communities’ rights around the world. And if philanthropy is already evident in normal situations, it becomes even more so when the planet needs a helping hand, either to reconstruct one of its landmarks or preserve the nature that, each day, fill our lungs with air. When the world stopped everything to stare at its phones, computers and screens to cry the devastating fire that happened in the Notre-Dame cathedral in the 15th of April 2019, fashion was quick to offer all the help it could give. One of the first to do so was the Pinault family, owner of Kering – a group that fathers giants such as Gucci, Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga and Alexander McQueen -, who made out a donation of 100 million euros to aid the reconstruction of the Parisian cathedral. “The Notre-Dame tragedy strikes all French people, as well as all those with spiritual values. Faced with this tragedy, everyone wishes to bring this jewel of our heritage back to life as soon as possible,” said François-Henri Pinault, Kering’s CEO. “The Arnault family and the LVMH Group, in solidarity with its national tragedy, are committed to assist with the reconstruction of its extraordinary cathedral, symbol of France, its heritage and its unity,” announced the group headed by Bernard Arnault, who contributed with 200 million euros. “The LVMH Group puts at the disposal of the state and the relevant authorities all of its teams – including creative, architectural and financial specialists – to help with the long work of reconstruction and fund-raising, which is already in progress,” they said. Help was not forgotten when Brazil and Australia were also devastated by the striking damage of flames. Stella McCartney, LVMH, H&M and VF Corporation (the group who fathers brands like The North Face, Timberland and Vans) all contributed to the fight against the fire in the Amazon forest, either with monetary aid or a set of measures to reduce their impact on the “lungs of the Earth”. And during the worst period of wildfires in Australia, brands such as Christopher Esber, Zimmermann, She Made Me, Réalisation Par and Alex Perry gave their support to firefighters, communities and organizations focuses on protecting the countries wildlife. Because that’s what reconstructing the world is all about: showing empathy and solidarity, helping other people help, having hope in a tomorrow that is better because we all come together to make a difference.