Why is fashion justice important? And how can consumers, designers and big companies contribute to a better system? During the fashion justice event, organized by the JUSTRA Cities Network project of the Erasmus Initiative Vital Cities and Citizens, panelists and participants discussed these questions. A shift has been noticeable in fashion students and designers, where they consider and educate themselves increasingly on fashion issues in the context of climate change, biodiversity loss and social injustice.
Participants, consisting of students, researchers and activists, first watched the film ‘Fast Fashion: The Real Price of Low-Cost Fashion’. This film provided the participants with the story of origin of the fast fashion industry and its devastating environmental and humanitarian effects, as consumers continue to purchase fast fashion in vast amounts.
After the film, the participants joined in a multidisciplinary panel discussion. Dr. Mariangela Lavanga (ESSHC) associate professor of cultural economics and entrepreneurship at Erasmus University Rotterdam, moderated the panel discussion. The panelists were Prof. Dilys Williams, founder and director of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion in London, and Rowaiye Olanrewaju, founder of the LarryRowbs Foundation, who are both stakeholders and experts in the field of fashion justice. The panel discussion generated interesting insights on the workings of the fast fashion industry and the need for fashion justice across different areas.
This blog holds some of the key insights of the event.
1. Education and agency of designers
The Centre of Sustainable fashion in London is an example of how education, fashion and sustainability come together. A shift has been noticeable in fashion students and designers, where they consider and educate themselves increasingly on fashion issues in the context of climate change, biodiversity loss and social injustice. The role of a fashion designer is becoming a more versatile profession in which fashion issues need to be considered and agency needs to be taken when working with big fast fashion companies. Designers can present other ways of creating fashion that are not exploitative and extractive. However, legislation is still needed, and design teams still need to confront their CEO’s about alternatives materials and ways of working. There are good practices happening in the fashion industry, but a way needs to be found that the good work does not get drowned out, which means many different interventions in the fast fashion system.
2. Rules and Regulations in the Fashion Industry
Rigid rules and regulations on the behavior of consumers and fast fashion companies seem to be lacking. It could be beneficial for consumers to have certain guidelines on how to buy, use and dispose of clothing. When we compare the fashion industry to any other industry, there’s a big difference. The fashion industry is one of the few industries that can produce harmful and inferior products without any repercussions. An organization to construct and carry out stricter rules and regulations regarding fashion production and consumption could be a promising initiative.
3. The role of social media
During the panel discussion, the role of social media and influencers was also brought up several times. Social media and the rise of fashion influencers has contributed to the expansion of fast fashion industries, by promoting fast fashion consumption. Social media users see their favourite influencers wearing clothes that they might like, with attached links to buy those same clothes. They don’t see the processes that these clothes went through, the social injustice and pollution that was involved to see those clothes on their phone screen. Most people are oblivious to the dire situation and context in which fast fashion industries thrive. The easy infrastructure of the fashion side of social media is set up for consumers to be exploitative and extractive, the algorithm encourages consumers to buy more. However, social media also has the power to educate its users on better, more sustainable materials and brands, the social injustice and environmental harm that the fast fashion industry has caused. There’s more and more awareness on social media of the exploitation of individuals or the environmental damage of fast fashion.