While some of the People Tree team has headed to Somerset House this weekend to hang around absorbing the fashion indulged atmosphere and catch upon the newest trends and daring styles, a few of us have decided to stay closer to our Shoreditch headquarters and attended a less glamorous but incredibly important event on Brick Lane.
Glamorous or not, with London Fashion Week on, the topic has been fashion of course. Fast fashion to be precise and the continuous exploitation of developing countries that comes with it.
In the back room of Café 1001 a so called `LFW Remedy` took place under the title `Has capitalism killed fashion?` Organisers, `Brick Lane Debates` and `War on Want` decided to “take back our city” during the most fashionable time of the year, when besides astonishing creativity and infinite imagination, inequality, body hatred, racism, the use of toxic chemicals and corporate greed are also in the spotlight.
The day went by with workshops on body image among others, with documentary screenings, theatre and DIY sessions. Not to mention the intense debates around the various interpretations of the topic.
The People Tree PR team has caught upon the closing session of the event and were given some food for thought by the last three speakers including Tansy E. Hoskins, author of Stitched Up The Anti-capitalist Book of Fashion, Katharine Hamnet, fashion designer and pioneer of environmental fashion since 1989 and John Hilary, executive director of War on Want.
Tansy has explored the question whether fashion can kill capitalism and has started off with expressing her admiration for fashion as a symbol of human creativity. She reminded the audience how powerful a tool it was throughout the centuries for people to express their opinions. People have always been using their bodies to resist. Let it be resistant to inequality with women wearing trousers or the punk movement by people who felt they have lost everything. Fashion might not kill capitalism on its own but it certainly is an incredibly strong tool used for the expression of opinion, humanity and resistant.
Second to address the audience was Katharine Hamnet, British designer, eco-heroine and a legend of her own right. She called for urgent and immediate action to address the problems of the fashion industry, stating that the only way left was to get politically involved, to use our rights as citizens of the western world to choose the right people to bring change on. To encourage the issue of laws that will only allow ethically sourced and certified clothing imports to the country. “Enough is enough. We run out of time.” – called out the designer while elaborating on that another Rana Plaza tragedy is only a matter of time. Legislation in developed countries is crucial because even if we `sort Bangladesh out` the industry will move onto another poor country where no regulations are in place.
Last but not least we heard War on Want`s executive director, John Hillary, who spoke about the myth of globalisation and the win-win situation we are promised: namely that by outsourcing our manufacturing we will get to buy cheaper clothes in the west, while people will be getting jobs all around the world in developing countries, which will empower especially women to become independent. While garment prices fell by 38% in the last decade in the UK, emancipation in the East did not happen, but exploitation got deeper. John has also pulled out `shadow boxing` as a main problem: there might be small illusionary victories on the ground level, but they are of no use if they do not touch the power level. Support given to trade unions is important but higher action is needed that directly confront high street retailers in the UK and includes governmental involvement that sets standards of origin, as there are regulations on food safety.
As for boycotts, opinions were split in the panel as the aim is not to take away garment worker`s jobs by refusing to buy their work, but to ensure that human rights regulations are in place and that they are paid a living wage. However, it has also been anticipated that money, as the centre of capitalism, is the driving force behind actions and a slight drop in sales will scare retailers and influence their buying habit. So boycotting is a tool, however if actioned, needs a careful and targeted approach.
If you feel inspired by this post and share the view that “outsource production” is not equal with “outsource responsibility” as put by John, then follow the link to War on Want and see how you could get involved or learn more on the topic.
We close with the `new` slogan of War on Want:
LOVE FASHION, HATE SWEATSHOPS, OVERTHROW CAPITALISM.
We hope that you feel as enthusiastic and ready for action as we did after listening to these inspiring speakers.
People Tree PR team
(Written by Judit Karola Nagy, PR Intern)