I’m sitting today in the college library, overlooking the heart of London’s prime fashion district, Oxford Street. I’m dressed mostly in secondhand clothes, many of which probably originated in the shops surrounding me. By this point through my education, jobs and general life, we can say that I have partaken in fashion, however haphazardly. Fashion is the siren that led me here. An interest that stemmed from deciding to ‘be a designer’ in youthful naïvety, and one that this MA has found me wrestling with more intently.
Growing up in the UK in the noughties, my experience ingratiating into teenage girlhood was shopping and a steadfast diet of magazines like Mizz and Ellegirl. Our gang flitted between the Bullring (high street paradise) and Oasis Market (alternative scene paradise) and never quite found home in either. In the later years, we diverted interests and I dived into fashion’s history, engaged in the then weird hobby of blogging and eventually became interested in secondhand, DIY and other methods of constructing my fashion sense. I studied fashion then, as much as I did during university. The latter, however, was where my awareness expanded again, in making terms and cultural ones. The artistry and expressiveness are what captured me, however growing awareness of the wider implications of fashion – environmental, social and psychological – resulted in an ethical dilemma within myself: How can something like dress cause so much harm to so many? Am I really okay with contributing to that?
In the final year and a half of my BA, I became interested in sustainable design. It harked back to my late teen fashion forays and held then, a potential avenue for integrating consideration within my practice. The ethical fashion sector blooms with campaigns, companies and conversations aplenty. New approaches to production and to consumption are proposed, and often enacted upon. It is admirable to see how many are moved to take up this gauntlet, attempting to address the many concerns that exist within the established fashion system. However, it’s here that I became stuck.
Back in 2013, I rarely used the term sustainable for my work. I still wouldn’t now. The tokenism of sustainable fashion irks me, and in pursuit of betterment, we have let the wolf dress in sheep clothing. Integrating ethics into design practice requires substantial thought and is undeniably a hefty undertaking, especially given how saturated the fashion market has become1. However, if a fundamental issue is excess2, using recycled, reclaimed, organic or fair-trade means is the easy route, yet it does little to deplete the number of garments available for consumption. The ideologies that underlie established fashion practices remain unquestioned. To what extent can ethics really align with fashion?
Fashion sung to my imagination once, and in this fumbling for meaning, I’d lost my place in practice. Lately, I have written more than I designed, read more than I made and yet I hold them as equally important. This MA has seen me grappling and trying to find my footing again. In our collective journey to a better-dressed state of affairs, I suppose I am seeking something more substantive. My interest, I have realised lately, is in talking about the possibilities rather than implementing them into the world. Change is a slow process, and yet, if we do not discuss the implications of those changes, the meaning becomes lost anyway.
Fashion may be the siren, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look for the rocks.
1. Dezeen, The Fashion Industry is “Saturated” says Oliver Theyskens
2. British Council, How can you shop for fashion sustainably?