...changing the world, one t-shirt at a time

by Camilla Sampson
I believe fashion has a power, to partially dictate what we wear, how we talk and walk, what we look like and learn, and even in some ways how we think. Or at least this is what I hope. Because as global issues are on the increase, from conflicts to climate change, I believe fashion truly has the power to help – if the industry chooses to. It is a multi-billion-dollar industry after all, so it must have some force – I just hope it extends beyond the economy, consumerism and our own vanity.

Global turmoil has landed, and will most likely never leave again. Whether it is the economy crisis, freak weather leaving people homeless or worse, or the conflict raging away in Afghanistan, you cannot escape it. The determination, international voice and huge force of the fashion world can no doubt influence the way we act in these worsening times. Although it may be a saddening topic it is one which needs to be addressed before it gets worse, and as those at the forefront of fashion know fashion can be loud, colourful and full of excitement. So really, what better way than to grab our attention and propel us into making a change, for the positive future of the world we live in?

So the real question is – can fashion be linked with these major issues? Can it make a change? Can, in actual fact, fashion itself have a conscience?

My own experience, although not advanced, has begun to show me a different side to the stereotypical world of feisty fashion; a kinder, more ethical approach to the designs, processes, and production of the industry. Campaigns appear to be springing up all over the place, and vintage is definitely on the rise. Most of you fashion friendly people will know about the ‘Dior Not War’ campaign of 2004 where models wore anti-war slogan tees and John Lennon’s song of peace, ‘Imagine,’ filled the catwalk. The message was a powerful one, especially coming from one of the major fashion houses. However, some controversy sprang about when Galliano was wearing a real fur coat to one of the campaign’s press conferences. Then again you could say that at least this major company is doing anything at all, everyone has to start somewhere and due to the stereotypical extravagance of the industry it may be a little harder for them than for the rest of us.

One campaign that truly interests me is Katharine Hamnett’s ‘Free Burma’ campaign. The aim is to help the citizens living there to overcome the military power that rules the country, in favour of a fairly, and legally, elected government. She sells graphic t-shirts with various slogans on them, and the £45 price tag, with £15 of each sale going to charity, I believe is a small price to pay to help push forward a huge change.

Even major brands like Vivienne Westwood are working towards a brighter future. Vivienne’s passion for the environment is working its way into her production as she presents clothing based on her ‘Active Resistance’ campaign. The campaign, which tries to tackle environmental and humanitarian issues, has attracted thousands of people, compared with some other campaigns that get no recognition at all. Would her own campaign be quite as well-known if she wasn’t such a respected character in the multi-billion-dollar industry? Is it in actual fact the fashion world that is helping to expand the knowledge behind these campaigns, promoting them through an industry that is recognised by almost everyone? I believe it is which suggests fashion can have a conscience in the way it is the industry itself helping to make the change, without the promotional effects and worldly recognition I do not believe these campaigns would be as well-known as they are.

These campaigns do seem to be attempting to overcome global issues, but how far they are actually succeeding is a different matter. I believe due to the huge international influence of fashion that we truly can make a change. Perhaps we should work on a slightly more eco-fashion basis, re-using older pieces in our wardrobe by transforming them through creative D.I.Y processes like fraying and manipulating fabrics. Brick Lane and Camden Market appear to be rising in popularity as more and more fashion bloggers style and present their vintage finds to avid readers. This could be a step in the right direction away from mass production and wasted clothing.

Did you know that our clothes purchases create about 1,000kg of CO2 a year – almost half that produced by a small diesel car! Did you know about 900 thousand tonnes of clothing fill landfill sites each year? Is this really necessary? Those high riders in the industry may not merit the items good enough for themselves, but what about the people suffering from homelessness and poverty – there’s a lot of charities willing to take your clothes. And to be honest, how much effort does it really take to make a trip or two to your local recycling point or charity shop to allow your clothes a new lease of life or help to benefit those not as privileged as yourself? You could even use it as an excuse to throw a bit of a party, as the clothes swap or ‘swishing’ trend sweeps the country. Grab a glass of wine, some food, and your favourite girly mates and swap, customise and style your way to some new, and free, clothes! There are even dedicated websites for swishing in the UK, which try to feature as many local events as possible, and you can even add your own clothes swap event to attract other would-be swappers.

Through these initiatives I see no reason why fashion doesn’t have a conscience. If you really research your designers and brands well enough you can find all sorts of eco and ethical clothing. They’re trying to think of their global negative impact, and find a way to change. Whether it be working on a Fair-trade basis or trying to stop exploitation of child workers, the fashion world appears to be having a major revolution, for the better. Because I believe that with the promotion of these designers, who hold such inspirational manifestos, fashion is proving to other industries that it can have a conscience

At this time I believe the fashion world is making more of an effort than those companies who refuse to lower emissions or work on ethical factors. Therefore, in my opinion, if we focus on the campaigns and schemes featured above, the fashion industry is more than able to have a conscience all of its own.