Fashion and the Future

I've had this half-written post sitting in my drafts for sometime now, and I wasn't quite sure how to conclude it. Most of you who read this won't care, but I feel that I need to explain what is amounting to a quite substantial change in my professional trajectory, and I need to outline the reasons for my new direction to those I've worked with for the last few years. So, here they are.

Four years ago, when I took my first ever job in the fashion industry as a brand PR coordinator, it was a harsh wake up call and counts as the most upsetting 10 weeks of my life. I learned pretty quickly that the industry was not as beautiful as it appears on the outside, and I thought for a while that it wasn't the industry I wanted to be involved in.

But rather than walking away from it, I threw myself into galvanising the people who are working to create a beautiful industry - the kind of industry I want to see. In the four years since, I accidentally built myself a reputation as someone who knows things about sustainability in the fashion sector. Thanks to a great many conversations over the past few years, I know that there is an immense amount of good intentions, clever thinking and passion in our local industry.

But the longer I spend absorbing the magnitude of the issues present in the fashion industry (and they are enormous), the more I am convinced that these issues are just a symptom of a broader broken system.

Now I know better than most that there are amazing opportunities afforded to emerging economies by fashion and textile production. Many developed economies have grown off the back of fashion manufacturing. The industry employs and feeds millions - from cotton farmers, to garment makers, to the innovative designers working here in Melbourne. But the percentage of fashion companies actually facilitating the kind of economic development I like to encourage are so few that I have find myself in such a state of anxiety whenever I'm faced with the task of making a purchase decision.

With this isn mind, I'm going to be stepping away from the industry I've invested a huge amount of energy into in recent years. Below are the reasons for my decision.

Reason #1: I feel that encouraging fashion lovers to adjust their consumption habits so that they preference "ethical purchases" rather than fast fashion completely ignores some very deep seated systemic issues. It allows us to leave our habits of consumption, patterns of global inequality and resource exploitation almost completely unexamined, because we're told our shopping is actually doing more harm than good. This may be the case, but I'm unconvinced.

Reason #2: Anyone working in the local industry knows that it is facing a really challenging period at the moment. I think that if it does survive it will look vastly different, but there is a very real change it won't survive. There have been political issues caused by fundamental differences in values and opinion and it feels to me that it is creating an even more challenging scenario if real change is to be realised.

Reason #3. In the early days of developing Sustainable Fashion Australia, I thought it would take someone like me to set the agenda. I've realised though, that it isn't enough for me and a handful of other passionate individuals to be campaigning for change. For real change to happen, there needs to be large scale buy-in from industry and consumers - and that would take a lot more of me than actually exist at the moment.

Reason #4. I have run out of energy. I've written about my health here previously, and that is one side of things. But the reality is that what I've done in the last 4 years has also been financially and emotionally draining. I really believe that large scale change will only happen if many become partially emotionally invested, allowing a great number of people to give a little, rather than change relying on the absolute commitment of a very few. I've given what I can, and unfortunately I don't have the skills or the capacity right now to take it the full extent I would have liked to, but for now it is up to others to take it from here.

Reason #5. I am a systems thinker, and as such, I know that the problems with our industry are founded in some pretty serious problems outside our industry, and also that there are more powerful leverage points to be accessed. My interests have shifted to media, policy, economics - I want to understand these as best I can and work to create changes from higher up. Hopefully, this will make the changes easier to realise for those within our industry.

So I am taking a big side step but, I'm not stepping away entirely. I'll be lecturing in Ethical Business at Melbourne School of Fashion and finishing off a few specific contracts in the sector, but for the most part, I'm going to be focusing on my work at the Centre for Sustainability Leadership, finishing my Masters (and maybe starting a new one), restoring my health, and writing. I really hope that the things we've started will go from strength to strength, and that the community and it's goals will continue to move forward. I will observe with great optimism.

The recent tragic events in Bangladesh have shone the media spotlight on something that most of us have been incomplete denial of for far too long, but that those of us in the industry are far to aware of. This isn't new - it is a far too common occurence. What is new is that the media seem to care about it. The response from consumers and industry has been interesting to say the least, and I'm hopeful that it is a turning point for global change.

Sustainable Consumption and the Fashion Press

For my final semester in the Master of Sustainable Practice at RMIT, I'm looking into if and how the fashion and mainstream press help communicate the message of sustainable consumption.Much of my work involves looking at reasons why or why not "the system" will support or encourage us to move to more sustainable models of consumption. The media has been the point of a great deal of investigation, as it seems to be an almost insurmountable obstacle to us truly understanding the impacts of our current levels of consumption.

In a recent discussion with my class mates, I raised the issue of just how at odds the message of sustainable consumption (ie, consume less) is with the mainstream media business model that is driven my advertising revenue, which is dependent on sales.

This has come up in conversations many times of late, and we've seen the emergence of new media models like The Conversation, which is not driven by advertising sales, and is instead funded by a group of universities.

I anticipate that I will post much more on this in the coming weeks as I finalise my article for assessment. In the meantime though, I'd love to hear of any example of the mainstream press and fashion media spreading the sustainable consumption message.

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