FIGHTING FASHION FARCE: ETHICAL ISSUES FOR YOUTH
“We communicate who we are through clothing.” The True Cost documentary
Young people have innate curiosity about the things they love. When it comes to fashion, even a surface level exploration of the industry raises as many questions as it does answers. A number of documentaries on the fashion industry have become topics of hot conversation among young fashion lovers. There are brilliantly entertaining films (now popularised by Netflix) about individual designers and fashion icons like Iris and Jeremy Scott - The People's Designer. However, more noteworthy are those like The True Cost, which uncover the awful realities behind the high price that has come with fast fashion and the reinvention of the fashion industry around the ‘beast’ of materialism.
Elsewhere, the personal lives of individuals at the helm of famous fashion houses are putting businesses under ethical scrutiny. For example, Topshop founder Philip Green has come under serious scrutiny with the emergence of several #MeToo allegations, inspiring many young influencers and their followers to boycott the high-street store. Scarlett Curtis (who we spoke about last week as the face of Gen Z feminism) also had a negative run-in with Green when Topshop dismantled a pop-up event in their store for her book (which was published in partnership with the UN charity Girl Up). She subsequently launched the hashtag #PinkNotGreen:
“It was a heartbreaking and shocking act from a powerful man and a true example of why the words in our book are still so needed. The patriarchy is alive and kicking... The fact they clothe entire nation of teenage girls but won’t support something that fights for their equality is awful and heartbreaking.” Scarlett Curtis
“My big bugbear is "Feminist" tshirts where the women who made them have not be treated fairly. Ask & look into #WhoMadeMyClothes Clothing is an industry we drive with our cash & we can not buy things if they are not made fairly.” Aisling Bea
Young people who love clothes want them to make them feel genuinely proud - not guilty that they’ve been made in a compromising way from an ethical standpoint - be it human rights OR, increasingly, from an environmental perspective. Because what they wear, is a reflection of who they are. And this reflection is built for the digital realm - where visual language rules and fashion cues bare a heavy weight. This means a call for greater transparency (as it does in nearly all categories now). Youth are welcoming the demand for new systems, new materials and new mindsets - in a bid to bring the fun back into fashion.
ICONS, POWER-DRESSING & RULE-BREAKING
“I want my clothes to live, to party, to have fun, to create a moment.” Jeremy Scott
Photos of Beyoncé and Ed Sheeran performing together became the subject of great debate recently, because of how representative the pair were of fashion and beauty standards for men and women:
“There was Sheeran, looking as he always does, as if he just got out of a lock-in at the student union, and there was Beyoncé, looking as she always does, like a magical fairy queen from the land of Oz. ...Sheyoncé looked like most heterosexual couples out on a Saturday night...” Hadley Freeman
While many young people choose to wear what they do, there are expectations that somewhat unconsciously come into play. Young people are challenging these bias when it comes to fashion by identifying them and finding ways to break from the ‘norm’, champion individualism and shed expectation. Model Cara Delevingne, for example, firmly established the return of the ‘power-suit’ for young women, after wearing a top hat and tails to Princess Eugenie’s royal wedding, and actor Billy Porter turned heads (in all the right ways) for wearing a jaw-dropping custom couture skirt to the Oscars.
Another rising trend that’s being championed by youth influencers like Lady Gaga and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, is protest / statement dressing - or - dressing like an icon. Gaga dressed like Judy Garland for an awards ceremony - demonstrating an endearing act of mirroring and self-awareness - acknowledging “the fact that other talents have preceded her - and that other stars will surely follow”. Similarly, Ocasio Cortez made headlines by wearing all-white at her congressional swearing in ceremony to honour the women who paved the path before her and in the name of all the women yet to come, saying: “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the mothers of the movement.” Her gold hoop earrings and red lipstick were also selected to make a statement.
In this same vein, mainstream or high-street fashion trends like boiler suits have been noted as boundary-crossing, due to the fact that they’re about functionality and empowerment.This 'fashion with attitude' trend has led to clothing becoming even more influential and politicised - especially as the lines are increasingly blurred between news and fashion reporting. Young people prefer to be seen as dressing for themselves, rather than for another’s gaze.
“Fashion is more art than art is.” Andy Warhol
As brands look to disrupt in this context, some are standing out in the ways they are shaking things up to attract young people. We’ve spoken before about how sports brands like Nike are driving social and political conversation with their campaigns.
But it’s not just sports brands that are disrupting to capture the eyes of youth. Louis Vuitton, for example, are experimenting with ways they can break down conceptual barriers and tap into this notion of boundary-breaking. Their latest campaign features images of three children ranging in ages 2-16 wearing pieces that "form a man’s identity and wardrobe." The youngest kids represent "purity of infancy, still unaffected by preordained perceptions of gender, color and creed," and the older, "illustrate the pre-teen and teen stages of boyhood and reflect on the desires and dreams of their generation."
Calvin Klein, on the other hand, appear to have ditched their luxury offering in preference for a focus on their underwear and denim. Their latest spring 2019 spot showcases a noble effort in claiming youth relevance - “Our Now” focuses on youth, discovery and ‘the spirit of right now’, and features a star-studded line-up of youth icons: Shawn Mendes, Noah Centineo, Kendall Jenner and A$AP Rocky. Check out the campaign ‘BTS’ here, where, each star tells a story about making a ‘statement’ after introducing themselves by their age / date of birth and their birthplace.
Elsewhere, the fashion experience is being stretched and enhanced. The likes of the V&A museum’s Dior exhibit, Rag & Bone’s NYFW dinner ‘A Last Supper’ hosted by an AI guest (“a nod to the way in which humans might co-exist with artificial intelligence, in the future – and to how technology is changing the way we interact with fashion”) and Lego x Snapchat’s empty clothing store, promote the discovery of fashion in immersive, innovative and creative ways that are attention-grabbing.
Young people are pushing for new narratives, stories and experiences around the clothes they wear.
Fashion is constantly being shaped by young consumer shifts. Whether your thing is innovative tech, a social cause or building trust, reflecting youth zeitgeist by having the courage to disrupt is key for future-proofing your brand.