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Visible Hands: Shop Talk 🛍️
We explore the topic of responsible fashion.
This week’s newsletter is written by Ivy Zhang, who works in D2C retail. In this newsletter, Ivy explores the topic of responsible fashion.
During the past few months in quarantine, brands have quickly pivoted and adapted in order to try and stay afloat: some have started making masks, some have built out entire e-commerce websites to accommodate new realities, and some have started highlighting and supporting Black partners, models, and influencers. We’ve seen a shift in consumer expectations: consumers are demanding transparency, corporate social responsibility, and representation. Some brands are successfully using their resources to stand up for what they believe in, and consumers are responding by pulling money from their pockets to support these brands.
Unfortunately, systemic racism tells us that despite these efforts, the systems and structures we have built in the United States disadvantage African Americans. Overwhelmingly, the brands we consume -- and are inundated with -- are created, designed, and profited on by white men. And a lot of these brands do this while appropriating the same cultures that they oppress.
In 2020, it’s hard to ignore the prevalence of streetwear and its influence on the fashion industry from ultra-high-end labels to accessible brands: Nike x Dior collaborations resell for tens of thousands of dollars, Yeezy landed a deal with The Gap, and fights break out in the line outside of Supreme when there’s a new drop. It’s lesser known that many of the major streetwear brands these days are all founded by straight white men – Kith by Ronnie Fieg, Supreme by James Jebbia, Aime Leon Dore by Teddy Santis – and receive praise for selling sweatshirts for upwards of $200. Meanwhile, the same systems and institutions that support these men have simultaneously allowed stores to put up signs that say “No hoods” on their doors.
However, the discrepancy between provenance and profit in fashion goes beyond founders and it goes beyond America: textiles and traditional patternmaking across the world are routinely appropriated by major fashion labels and fast fashion. With global trade allowing for designs to travel the world into the hands of different designers, we have watched the rise of Japanese Shibori dyes, Malian mud cloth patterns, and other traditional textiles on the runways and in storefronts. Traditional African textiles, known for their indigo dyeing process and bold designs, are praised under the guise of “innovation” by white designers. As we continue to celebrate and don designs featuring international patterns, it is critical to ensure that those same communities stand to gain economic and cultural recognition for their creations.
At a time when 67% of consumers identify as “belief-driven buyers who will choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues,” it is also important to scrutinize brands for potential hypocrisy. Tempted to capitalize on these societal issues, brands can be quick to react to “hot” topics such as environmental sustainability. However, many of these brands capitalize on the marketing of sustainability without taking the necessary supply chain adjustments to truly stand behind their claims -- for example, Everlane’s “Radical Transparency” tagline comes alongside a failure to record manufacturing greenhouse gases and water use, no corporate social responsibility reports, and an absence of guaranteed living wages. Although it’s encouraging that consumers are demanding better business practices, it becomes important to hold brands accountable for the difference between their marketing messaging and reality.
As a consumer:
The Ethical Fashion Initiative connects artisans from developing countries with large fashion labels (i.e. the likes of Brother Vellies, Stella McCartney, and more) to provide fair working conditions, representation, and credit to these artisans.
Do your research on brands! Pay attention to where the money is going: who is the owner and founder? Brands are not just faceless entities: every purchase you make puts money in the pocket of somebody – and mindfulness of where your money is going is the easiest way you can hold people accountable. Thingtesting has a lot of cool filters that allow you to discover brands that are female-founded, Black-owned, etc. and is an interesting place to discover new places to put your money. DoneGood and other websites categorize brands that pay fair wages, have eco-friendly practices, and more.
Want to learn more about some of the certifications accessible to brands? Check out our earlier newsletter on Fair Trade, B Corp, and others here.
Push retailers to commit to the 15% pledge, which commits retailers to offer a minimum of 15% of their shelf to Black-owned businesses.
Encourage brands to also hire diverse models and representation for their brand: unsurprisingly, most runway models and ad campaigns fail to represent their diverse consumer base.
As an employee:
Reflect on if your company has appropriated styles, patterns, or trends inauthentically and speak up if they have. Does your company’s actions align with its marketing and publicly stated values?
It’s important to recognize that our current systems prioritize funneling certain demographics into the pipeline. Can your company build out initiatives to give back to demographics that are underrepresented? Can your company encourage 1-2 paid volunteering days to allow its employees to give their time to those initiatives? Good examples are Black Girls Code, #BUILTBYGIRLS, etc.
If your company is looking for freelance creative talent (like an illustrator, photographer, or designer), check out People of Craft, which features creatives of color.
As an investor:
Large brands pave the way for the expectations of the industry: when Gucci (part of Kering) announces that it has reduced its 5-season per year runway cycles to 2 seasonless ones, it’s setting a precedent to other brands to reduce waste in the industry.
Exercise your voting rights as a shareholder -- make sure the Boards represent the demographic that the company and its brands are purporting to serve. For example, last year, Ralph Lauren’s chief people and human rights officer said about the company’s board: “Women are our number one consumer. We need women in the room.” Today, there are three times more men than women on Ralph Lauren’s board.
As a citizen:
Push for more regulation on the fashion industry. Look at France’s unofficial “minister of fashion” who is pushing for stronger government oversight on the fashion industry’s pollution problem. Or Model Alliance’s RESPECT Program fighting against racial discrimination and sexual harassment in the fashion industry.
Boycotts Can’t Be a Test of Moral Purity: “The reason for this is that boycotts replace tension in the political sphere with tension in the private sphere, putting the central axis of tension between the firm and the activists. Will they or won’t they change practices? As such, boycotts can lead to small changes, or tangential promises to provide other kinds of community support that are not in line with the initial purpose of the boycott.”
On Diversity, Silicon Valley Failed to Think Different: “According to the Kapor Center for Social Impact, about 21% of computer science graduates are Black or Latinx, yet they represent only 10% of technical roles at the 20 top-grossing tech companies. More than 97% of tech startup founders and their venture capital backers are White or Asian.”
Republican Senators Seek $25 Billion for Airline Relief: “In the weeks before the CARES Act was passed, airline executives and lobbyists met with lawmakers in Washington to ask for help, succeeding in securing not only the $25 billion in payroll funds but also an additional $25 billion in low-interest federal loans. This time around, executives have deferred to their unions in asking lawmakers for an extension of the payroll funding, though they are lobbying behind the scenes.”
Instagram Displayed Negative Related Hashtags For Biden, But Hid Them For Trump: “The difference between these two results, which an Instagram spokesperson told BuzzFeed News was a “bug,” prevented hashtags including #Trump and #MAGA from being associated with potentially negative content. Meanwhile, Instagram hashtags associated with the Democratic presidential candidate — #JoeBiden and #Biden, for example — were presented alongside content that included overtly pro-Trump content and attacks on the former vice president.”
California Lawsuit: Uber, Lyft Committed Wage Theft: “The lawsuits are seeking “unpaid minimum wages for all hours worked, rest period wages, unpaid overtime wages, liquidated damages due for minimum wage violations, itemized wage statement violations, paid sick leave violations, penalties for failure to pay all wages due during employment and at separation of employment, and reimbursement of business expenses.””
Stay connected with us through Medium, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and, of course, email! Please invite any friends, roommates, coworkers, armchair activists, and fashion icons to join the movement. See ya next Thursday!