Fashion is no stranger to being a catalyst for change. In the past, certain clothes were related to particular social movements. During the Hippie movement, jeans were used to convey rebellion against the Vietnam War and moral codes of the 1960s. In the 1990s, fashion was used as a vehicle for the anti-fur movement as runway models Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford declared that they would never wear fur. The use of fashion for activism is not only limited to social change.
In recent times, people are moving away from simply using clothes for social expression to using clothes for environmental causes. Environmentally-focused fashion activism focuses on raising awareness about environmental issues and providing knowledge on sustainable consumption practices. The goal is self-explanatory: using fashion as a starting point to effect change. Exposés have shed light on the social and environmental problems exacerbated by the fashion industry. For example, the documentary The True Cost by Andrew Morgan sheds light on the social and environmental impact of fast fashion. Pratt Institute’s Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator has even recently launched an exhibition exploring the relationship between socio-political and environmental activism and fashion called Fashion+Activism.
As the uglier side of the fashion industry is exposed, brands have to adapt and change their brand strategy to cope with the bad press. This is particularly important now as consumers are getting increasingly conscious about the social and environmental impacts of their purchases. Sustainability has now become a part of many brands’ corporate social responsibility agenda. Collectively, consumers can focus their energies into making a positive difference by vocalising their disapproval and objections to this exploitative industry. Simply put, demand for more environmentally friendly products would influence retailers to supply these products. With the large diversity of brands in the market, consumers can easily find other options that satisfy their needs.
“Our man-made constructed environments are disconnected and unaware of other life and the planet which is why there is waste.” -Stella McCartney
The fast fashion business model has even been met with scorn by designers themselves. Designers are beginning to see the negative impacts that the fast fashion production and manufacturing cycle have on the planet. Many have started speaking out against the fast fashion model and have also started looking into more sustainable manufacturing and production practice. Stella McCartney, one of the most prominent designers of the 21st century, made waves by shooting a campaign video in a landfill. This was done to juxtapose her own luxury clothes against man-made wastage, highlighting the problems with the fast fashion industry while underscoring her commitment to provide sustainably produced apparel.
The change doesn’t stop there. Popular fast fashion brand H&M is taking a stand against the environmental degradation that fast fashion brings. Sustainability has long been part of H&M’s core brand strategy. Good-quality and sustainable clothes may not be accessible to everyone, and H&M is trying to change that by providing affordable eco-friendly clothes through the Conscious Exclusive collection. The Conscious Exclusive collection not only focuses on basic tees. H&M aspires to produce a wide range of eco-friendly accessories and clothes, from basic pieces to high-end formalwear. The Conscious Exclusive collection has even been endorsed by celebrities, such as American model Chrissy Teigen. H&M has also started the “Recycle your Clothes” movement, which helps minimise the clothes going into landfills while contributing to textile recycling research.
Many iconic brands have also started to hop onto the band wagon. Zara has launched an eco-friendly line that is made from organic cotton, recycled wool or polyester, and Tencel, a wood fibre from sustainably managed forests.
All these show that the sustainable fashion movement can driven by consumers. Speaking up against fast fashion will help the industry move away from the fast fashion business model to something eco-friendly and sustainable.