Instagram has been working magic for me lately, as I have been finding great brands and events more easily than using google search. My latest find was an event being held by co-founder Olivia Pinnock at the Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design called The Fashion Debates. It is an organization that holds a series of debates on critical topics in the fashion industry with an aim to encourage all stakeholders to question how to do business better for people and the planet. Their first topic was ‘Can we put an end to sweatshop labor?”The event started 7 pm and it was a great feeling to join a line at the entrance filled with people buzzing with excitement for a challenging topic. Its been a few days now since the event, but let me tell you we were not disappointed.
The night had people in attendance sharing their experiences and candid opinion about the state of the fashion industry. The encouraging ambiance was created by the amazing panellists Olivia fantastically brought together who didn’t hold back with the stark reality of the fashion industry but shared ways it which each was changing their own way of doing business better. Here are the golden nuggets I got from the night.
There was Clare Lissamen who really brought a lot of light hearted energy to a topic that can be very depressing (especially on a late Thursday night). She wears many hats from being the Co-founder of an ethical menswear brand called Arthur and Henry to being the Director of My Source. A great golden nugget that spoke to my constructivist theory background, was her focus on Norms. It’s so critical, and refreshing to discuss the patterns of human behaviour, taking a step back to see the lens of change throughout history to fully understand the problems we face today. The debate then pointed out how certain things such as mitigated labour rights were largely okay in the UK, and now are seen as morally repugnant, therefore highlighting its definitely within all of our power to end sweatshop labor globally. This was uplifting as sometimes it feels like injustices will never end, but starting little by little to create a new acceptable reality is important. We just have to remain optimistic, no matter what.
The next impressive panellist was Stella Heng (Co-founder and Creative Director of Sports Philosophy) who shared an important aspect of her company’s focus, which was supporting consultants to travel to do field research in the countries Sports Philosophy wants to make an impact on child labor. It’s brilliant they send consultants who have dedicated their lives to understand the nuances of the challenges within child labor to do research and they use that data to guide them with what initiatives the company’s charity offers to communities. Also I think it gives agency to the communities to be part of their own solution, because that’s when you can ensure the development is sustainable. This totally spoke to me as I had done my master’s degree on policies involving temporary foreign labour being heralded as the solution but not truly being the productive nexus between businesses and international development.
The third panellist was the founder of the brilliant Fashion Revolution and founder of fair trade hat shop Pachacuti, Carry Somers. She discussed with us how dangerous it is for the labourers to strenuous working conditions to unionise , and shared facts of the number of people being murdered in their struggle for better working conditions. She further mentioned a connection between terrorism and the sourcing of cotton in areas within the Middle East that are under ISIS control, to highlight how crucial it is to us all that companies should be with ensuring supply chains are transparent. One of the reasons I attended this event is because as I learn more I feel overwhelmed with what is ethical enough. Can you be ethical if you only wear pre-loved items, and what if it has fur? Is it okay for Pamela Anderson (PETA Activist) to advertise with Misguided, an online store with no transparency or CSR information on their website? Afterwards, I had the opportunity to share my concerns with Carry and I asked her for her opinion and she said you have to prioritize, then start by observing how much you buy and how much you use. Simple sustainable change in my consumer behaviour is what I have to keep in mind.
In short, I left the night fired up, as I had spent the evening with fashionistas sharing their stories and best practices. I literally can’t wait for the next debate. The Fashion Debates announced the next topic Is The Fashion Industry Racist? Will I see you there? Get tickets here. If you cant make it follow them on Facebook, or Instagram for updates! Really looking forward to what Olivia Pinnock has started with her team to create space for ideas to be conversed, challenged with the intent to make fashion create and work better.