Why I Founded The Fashion Debates

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A few months ago, a friend of mine was raving about a new feminist book she’d just read, “You’ll love it!… But maybe don’t read the chapter on fashion, it’s pretty damning.” I looked at her curiously. As a fashion journalist, and a feminist, why would I not want to listen to these arguments?

Perhaps it’s the assumption that the people who work in fashion are too busy drinking champagne and arguing over hemlines to consider the problems they create. To some extent that’s true, it is the job of the designers to design, the retailers to sell, the marketers to market it and the investors to make money; so whose responsibility is it to make fashion fair?

Well, that comes down to all of us and, for me, not taking an interest in these issues is like being a chef without an interest in food hygiene.

I adore fashion; it has given me a vibrant and exciting career and I believe in the importance of it to making our culture sand economies thrive, but there’s also a lot I can’t stand about fashion.

It’s not ‘chic’ to wear clothes made by a slave, it’s not ‘directional’ to create tonnes of waste that pollute our planet, it’s not ‘glamorous’ to run your business on unpaid interns, and it’s not ‘stylish’ to bully young models into losing weight.

I don’t believe that working in the industry necessarily means you support these things and, in fact, we need people who are inside the industry and understand how it works to make a difference. We also need people who wear clothes (yep, that’s everyone) to demand more from the people they buy them off.

These are things that I have cared about for a long time, that I have tried to educate myself on, that I have talked about with my colleagues and friends, but that I have often felt quite overwhelmed and powerless about. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

I would go to talks or read articles about the injustices that go on in the fashion industry and be left feeling enraged, disgruntled and ready to do something about it… but I didn’t know what.

This is what I hope will be different about The Fashion Debates.

The Fashion Debates is a series of panel talks in Central London that don’t just focus on one area of ethical fashion, but approaches it as a whole and aims to inspire people to do something about it. From sweatshop labour to racism, body image, pollution, animal welfare, and everything in between.

Each debate ends with the question “What practical things can everyone here do to make a difference?” And, in time, I hope to launch an online directory for fashion activism.

These are big, complicated problems, but there are small things that are accessible for all of us to do.

You don’t have to found a charity, but there are fashion-based charities out there who desperately need your donation. You don’t have to start a campaign but you can lend your signature to a petition that speaks up about the things you care about. You don’t have to found an ethically-produced fashion label, but you can research alternative ways to shop more sustainably. You don’t have to host an evening of ethical fashion talks but you can come to The Fashion Debates and invite your friends.

This isn’t about trash talking the fashion industry, it’s about educating ourselves on the shameful facts and empowering the public and the industry to work towards an industry that’s worthy of the love we give it.

The first edition of The Fashion Debates, ‘Can We Put An End to Sweatshop Labour?’ takes place on 19th May, 7pm — 9pm, at the Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design, 16–17 Greek Street, London, W1D 4DR. Tickets cost £10 and are available at www.thefashiondebates.com.

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