The Notebook

'Imagination will take you everywhere'

Can Fashion Change The World?

vogue festival 2013

Can fashion change the world? That was the question asked to four panellists during the Vogue Festival 2013. Yes, I know the question sounds quite pretentious, however the four panellists attacked the issue with aplomb, thus making the audience believe that fashion really does have the ability and power to alter global issues regarding politics, the environment and most importantly, people.


The panellists were fashionistas with a twist: advocates of sustainability – something which seems almost impossible within the age of greedy consumerism, particularly with the fashion industry’s ‘throw away’ culture. Different seasons fly past; all of them dictating different trends which people should buy into – no sooner does a trend appear, then it suddenly fades into oblivion; the sad trends of yester-year. Livia Firth, the green carpet goddess and creative director of Eco Age (an eco consultancy company), argued against this ‘fast fashion’, citing the poor working conditions and diabolical health standards of clothing factories in third world countries, such as the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh which killed 1,000 workers when it collapsed in April 2013. Katherine Hamnet, the ethical fashion designer, agreed with Firth, saying that ‘The price of clothes may be low, but they are paid for with human lives.’ This is particularly pertinent as two months after the fatal collapse of the Bangladeshi factory, new building inspections have revealed that six out of every ten factories in Bangladesh are unsafe. Despite this, these unsafe factories are still full of workers, as it is their only source of income.

Can fashion save the world

The feisty fashion designer, Vivienne Westwood, who has created her own ethical fashion project, blamed climate change on the ‘rotten financial system’, she went on to promote ethical fashion by saying ‘What’s good for the planet, is good for the economy. What’s good for the planet is good for us.’ Tom Craig, used his experiences as both a humanitarian photographer and a fashion photographer to talk about the boundaries between the two and to express how fashion gives lots of people a voice. Craig goes on to eloquently compare fashion to a beast; he imagines fashion as ‘the twister at the start of The Wizard Of Oz‘. He says the twister travels around the world picking up different people – photographers, artists, writers, intellectuals – and it gives them an energy. Craig answers the main question, by saying ‘If you want an example of how fashion can change the world, then I’m sitting right in the middle of it here’; thus proving how people can make a difference. I urge you to watch the video of the debate; it’s long but worth it.

The issue of sustainability and the price we pay for ‘fast fashion’ is a big issue. Rosalind Jana addresses this issue within her article for the Guardian, which condemns how ‘consumerism comes above basics like safe working conditions’, as seen in the devastating collapse of the factory in Dhaka. She asks the question; should we as the consumers of today and tomorrow ignore the disaster and carry on buying from the brands that had people working in these conditions, or should we do something about it? Whether that’s boycotting those clothing brands who do not give their workers fair working conditions, or simply investing in sustainable fashion, Jana promotes the ‘delights of charity shops, vintage markets and the occasional scrum of a jumble sale’. I’ve only just discovered the joys of vintage markets after a trip to Portobello market, although you do have to really throw yourself into the hunt; editing out the holey jumpers and weird trousers to find something utterly unique. I’m no newcomer to boycotting; after finding out that Nestle used child slaves I decided that I would no longer eat any of their products (goodbye Kit Kat!), I also try not to buy any items from Primark, however I don’t think I could go as far as boycotting the Arcadia group (due to Phillip Green’s offshore tax arrangements) as I couldn’t survive without Topshop!

Bangladesh factory collapse


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