The fashion industry isn't just a frivolous occupation. Despite family, friends and acquaintances asking me with more frequency than I care to admit, it's not The Devil Wears Prada or Ugly Betty. Yes, people do wear the latest designer bags and our wardrobes can seem excessive. I may have even seen an editor or three have a meltdown, but fashion is so much more than expensive clothes. Fashion is the place where history, culture and art meet. It is representative of people, places and important moments in time. It denotes seismic changes in society and gives a means of expression to people who feel marginalised.
This isn't hyperbole—fashion has often been a route for women to gain emancipation. In the '60s, hemlines became progressively shorter. While they had been rising for some time, it collided with an important time for women and the introduction of the birth control pill in 1961. Mary Quant even said it was the beginning of women's liberation movement.
Punk, grunge, emo and countless other trends that eventually went mainstream all started as counter-cultures helping to represent those who felt they didn't have a voice. More than ever it is looking inward and wondering how it can help others.
The past 15 years have seen the exponential rise of fast fashion and has cemented the fashion industry as one of the most polluting in the world. But if there is a silver lining to find during the pandemic, it's that this has encouraged more brands and organisations to come together and consider how we can all, as a united fashion industry, change things for the better. According to the Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company's Coronavirus Update to the State of Fashion 2020, "the pandemic will bring values around sustainability into sharp focus, intensifying discussions and further polarising views around materialism, over-consumption and irresponsible business practices."
Below are nine organisations—some of which are brand-new that have arisen as a result of the COVID-19 crisis—which are forging new ways to make it more sustainable, ethical and a way for it to gain new positive momentum.
Photo:Courtesy of Remake
Founded by Ayesha Barenblat, Remake audits fashion brands and urges them to consider their impact on the environment and the people who make its clothes. Creating a community of ambassadors of Millennial and Gen Z women, Barenblat encourages people to "wear their values" and hopes that if the crisis does anything it will help to establish better supply chains and workers' rights. In June, the organisation is launching its 90 Days of No New Clothes initiative.
Brought together by the Business of Fashion, Rewiring Fashion is potentially indicative of what's to come with the fashion schedule. Before COVID-19, there were up to six collections a year (spring/summer, autumn/winter, couture, cruise, pre-fall—phew), maybe even more per designer but that looks set to change. Rewiring Fashion has proposed a new schedule that puts less pressure on designers and more focus on quality. One suggestion is that men's and women's fashion weeks are combined to minimise travel requirements and de-gender fashion week. You can find out more about their propositions on its website.
Last season, Copenhagen Fashion Week became a pioneer when it comes to sustainability—with a goal of becoming zero waste by 2022. CEO of CPHW, Cecilie Thorsmark says that "Copenhagen Fashion Week is the cultural and commercial meeting place of the Scandinavian fashion industry. This gives us an enormous responsibility and the potential to create impactful change in the industry at large. By taking this direction we go from being a traditional event to being a platform for industry change." An early adopter, but perhaps a sign of what's the come.
At the heart of it all, the fashion industry is about clothes, so when the COVID-19 crisis hit and hospitals were lacking PPE and scrubs, three designers got together to create the Emergency Designer Network. Phoebe English, Bethany Williams and Holly Fulton created this volunteer-led enterprise to support hospital stocks of key garments. Currently, its working with a group of 10 small-scale UK manufacturers and designers, however, EDN is looking for donations to help fund raw materials needed to create these vital garments.
Donate to the Emergency Designer Network's GoFundMe here.
Founded by sustainable fashion designer Amy Powney of Mother of Pearl, Fashion Our Future is an organisation dedicated to changing people's perceptions of fashion and give people ideas on how to be more sustainable. Fashion Our Future asks people to upload a pledge on how they're going to be more sustainable with their wardrobes and post it to Instagram Stories. A smart way to harness social media to promote better fashion choices.
Due to the pandemic, many brands have cancelled their orders which means many workers are at risk of not being paid, which means families will starve. Lost Stock hopes to rectify this by offering a box of clothing from some of the world's biggest brands, with a massive 50% discount off RRP. Each box supports a worker and their family for a week. Its goal is to help support 50,000 workers by the end of 2020.
The Fashion School isn't a brand-new organisation, as it has been offering classes on sewing for quite some time. But it has been using its skills and its connections to help with the crisis by sewing PPE for the NHS. So far, it has distributed over 10,000 surgical gowns to those who need them. You can find out more here.
Another stalwart of the sustainable fashion industry is Eco-Age, which was set up by Livia Firth. As well as starting the Green Carpet Challenge, Eco-Age has created the #30Wears campaign as a way for people to buy "less often and with more purpose," says Firth. You can read more about its work here.
Not everyone making a change has to have a huge team or be on a global level. Made My Wardrobe consists of Lydia Higginson who does exactly what she says: She makes her own wardrobe. While there are plenty of other people who do similar, where Higginson is different in that she asks her followers to do the same, having created patterns for you to buy. Small but significant.