In 2011, JCPenney’s “I’m Too Pretty to Do Homework…” shirt employed some good old-fashioned, traditional sexist drivel to drive home the important lesson that women are mindless objects. Irate moms blew up the Internet in a furious flurry of e-complaints, and JCPenney discontinued the shirts shortly thereafter The online marketing blurb read: “Who has time for homework when there’s a new Justin Bieber album out?” Fair question, I guess.
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The good news and bad news is that socially conscious fashion is no longer news. It’s undeniably wonderful that so many designers are paying closer attention to how, where, and by whom things are made.
"Buy less, choose well, make it last," urges legendary fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. Join her campaign to combat climate change by following simple steps for a climate revolution. Getting involved means taking individual and collective action; engaging in art and culture (Get off the consumer treadmill); cutting down on consumption; supporting an NGO; and signing up to receive updates from the campaign on more ways to be engaged in the future.
In our latest look at what’s ethical in fashion, lifestyle editor Amanda Hess talks about Vogue's recent policy on not showing models 16 and under any longer, and why that might not be quite good enough:
Condé Nast’s pledge fails to distinguish between the real work of a fashion shoot and the fantasy images that result from it. Which model “appears to have an eating disorder”? The one who must actually starve herself to fit into a sample size 0? Or the naturally thin one whose body type—replicated over and over and over again in Vogue's advertisements, runway coverage, and editorials—is nevertheless dangerous to the young women who will starve themselves to get as small as she is? Voguedoesn’t say.
Ethical Style: How Ethical Is ‘Artisanal’ Production?
Like the watered-down ethical buzzwords “green” and “sustainable” and “organic” before it, the term “artisanal” no longer necessarily signifies hand-made, skilled craftsmanship. It means whatever a company says it does.That’s bad for conscious consumers, because truly artisanal products present several ethical upshots.
Subpar working conditions in garment factories around the world have long been the subject of stateside media attention, but conditions in American factories largely slip under the radar. In fact, most consumers spy a label like “Made in the USA” and assume the workers who made their T-shirt are paid and treated better than most. As the Wang suit shows, even an expensive garment—an Alexander Wang tee can cost upwards of $200—doesn’t guarantee better working conditions for its producers.
Ethical Style: Don’t Donate Clothes, Repurpose Them
Quality clothing means better fabric, and good fabric can be reworked again and again to make sure it never goes out of style. Today, we want an ever-changing array of cheap clothes, and we rarely think about sustainability or quality. In order to consume clothes more ethically, we must change the way we think about them.
Ethical fashion requires making new styles out of metaphorical rags (even if they’re just last season’s jeggings), whether from your closet, thrift stores, consignment shops, or online outlets.
Today, we only hang on to about 21 percent of the clothing we buy every year. What happens to the pieces that don’t make the cut? Most of them end up in landfills—only about 15 percent of discarded clothing is recycled or reused, whether by individual or industry. Perhaps it’s time to start asking a new question: Why do we have so much junk that we are in the position to inundate the world with our reject piles?
As the ethical fashion world has grown to tackle more problems and reach more markets—and socially conscious fashion becomes imperceptible from other clothing on the rack—the movement’s political underpinnings have decentralized. Discussion of ethical fashion has exploded in recent years, but without the clarity of a “Save the Whales” tee, we’re not totally sure what we’re aware of anymore. Fashion needs a rebirth of the political spirit—a serious consumer-focused movement to help us navigate the trends.
A futuristic collaboration between a nanotechnologist and fashion designer is raising the bar for environmentally friendly fashion with concept line Catalytic Clothing. Chemist Tony Ryan at the University of Sheffield in England and professor Helen Storey of London College of Fashion premiered their project last summer with installations of air-purifying textiles, including a “field of jeans” that used photocatalysts to fight air pollution.