Behind the veil of sustainable fashion
Lauren Haughey discusses the sustainable fashion and it’s relationship with racism
On May 25th, Darnella Frazier recorded 8 minutes of George Floyd’s horrific death, providing a small glimpse into the systemic racism, police brutality, and inequality that Black communities and people of colour have suffered internationally for centuries.
In recognition of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many other racial injustice victims, protests have taken to the streets with thousands participating in the UK alone. With this, we’ve also seen a simultaneous rise in petitions encouraging improved diversity awareness within education systems, the toppling of racist statues, and increased public acknowledgement of institutionalised racism stemming from the colonial past. As a consequence, Black Lives Matter (BLM) campaigners have pushed questions regarding societal attitudes and behaviours to the forefront of our minds, vitally considering how these may be perpetuating the issues at hand.
Something that has become particularly spotlighted over the course of the BLM Movement is the fashion industry. Now more than ever it is fast and easy to buy clothes online, with GlobalData retail analysts projecting an online shopping increase by almost 30% between 2019 and 2024, now likely to be even larger based on coronavirus impacts. But this is problematic. In the face of new fashion trends and cheap discounts, the screen in front of us arguably masks what’s going on behind the scenes. In light of this, BLM Movement speakers have vocalised previously hidden racist dimensions of fashion brands, some of which have also been accused of using environmental sustainability as a guise to cover up inequalities within work practices.
Reformation, being a high-end fashion brand, is a big topic of discussion when it comes to this. From a sustainability perspective, they pride themselves with thorough consideration of garment production processes, accounting for water input, energy, land-use, greenhouse gas emissions and other vital factors when creating fabrics. As a result of this environmental passion, they’ve made it their goal to use rapidly renewable fibres with the potential for recycling in most of their products.
While this is significant progress for the textiles industry which pumps out 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 per year, worsening climate change, Reformation has recently faced severe allegations of racism. This was largely initiated by Leslieann Santiago, a former Reformation employee, who publicly commented that she felt “overlooked and undervalued as a woman of colour”, and was largely unacknowledged by the founder Yael Afalo in comparison to her white associates. Similarly, other former employees shared similar experiences of mistreatment, suggesting that Reformation’s Back of House team predominantly consisted of Black people who were not given basic necessities like water, and when they complained, they were called “easily replaceable”.
Likewise, Everpress is another ecologically-friendly fashion company which functions through a sustainable pre-order model, allowing the preservation of 336 million litres of water, and saving over 124,000 trees from landfill. However, Everpress has also been called out for racism. Cory Jed, a former employee, expressed on Instagram that while Everpress had an “outward utopian projection of diversity and inclusivity”, the company did not reflect these values internally. Cory Jed goes on to list various discriminatory remarks he had been victim to while working at the company, and expressed that while he reported these issues, nothing was ever done to improve the situation.
It is important to mention that both companies have responded to the backlash with apologetic statements, vowing to re-examine workplace practices and increase donations to civil rights organisations. Telling you to accept or reject these apologies is not the purpose of this article, but it is clear to see that environmental sustainability and workplace equality don’t go hand in hand. Although, that does not mean we should sacrifice one for the other.
So, what direction will these brands take from this point forward? The question is raised as to whether these were genuine apologies and if we’ll see genuine change to racism in the fashion industry, or whether companies were merely forced into apologising based on public pressure. Believing things will change is definitely the more optimistic approach that I’m sure we’d all like to take, but we have to actively participate to ensure that in future, brands strive to be diversity-inclusive, anti-racist, and environmentally sustainable.
We need to pause and check where we’re buying from and whether it’s ethical
As I said previously, online fashion shopping is accessible and addictive, so I’m sure that we’ve all fallen into the trap of scrolling for hours and mindlessly adding things to our basket. Nevertheless, now more than ever, we need to pause and check where we’re buying from and whether it’s ethical. Researching the web and listening to how people of colour and minorities are responding to fashion brands is vital for encouraging a fairer industry. If you feel that a brand is racist, make sure to participate in online conversations and spread awareness of the problem. In addition to this, for both equality and environmental progress, look out for certification accreditation, such as ‘Fairtrade’ or ‘Cradle to Cradle’ which can be used to evidence your purchases aren’t harmful. Also, if it’s affordable for you to do so, make sure to support charities that are working hard to improve the conditions of fashion, including Support Garment Workers and ReMake.
There are many more actions we can take, but the message is clear. The fashion industry can change, but we need to drive it.