As 2020 turns to nightwear, deconstructing a pale fashion look only through the pandemic will offer the wrong story. Global lockdowns, store closings, the human cost of stalled production, the grim reminder that fashion is a discretionary purchase, is causing tremendous upheaval. But the metamorphic relationship between equality and exclusivity has finally picked one side. It changes fashion, as we know it, to fashion.
Shoes, clothes, bags, trends, celebrities, OTT series, glamor-spiked (virtual) events – nothing resonates unless marked with something meaningful. The Fashion Design Council of India (FDCI) starts a fund for craftsmen, celebrities talk about recyclable fashion, Meghan Markle hands over her royal tiara for free California skies and cropped pants, fashion magazines put doctors on the cover to convey courage, Gita Gopinath, the Chief The International Monetary Fund economist, was the cover girl for Vogue India in November. Not only that. Actor-singer Zendaya won the fashion visionary award at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards in Italy, for being “a pioneer in diversity, equity and sustainability”. Designers Mia Morikawa and Shani Himanshu of the Indian brand 11.11 / eleven eleven showed a film at the season liquid edition of Lakmé Fashion Week in October without a single fashion model. Instead, they show artisanal hands at work, from spinning hands to dyeing threads, showing off the journey of “seed to sewing” clothes. The NFC (close-up communication) button means transparency, helping to find the precise aim of spinners, dyes, weavers and craftsmen who make clothes.
What matters is the spirit of our time. Dignity and equality for those who are slaves in fashion production. Circularity is not a more-is-joy doctrine. Race and diversity-sensitive leadership and storytelling. A design that not only prioritizes natural beauty, height or good health. Clothing is made without toxic dyes and polluting materials, the manufacturing process is redesigned in a way that is socially just and environmentally safe.
The rise of dark stories
The pandemic has accelerated such a transition. But so is the Black Lives Matter movement in the West and the wise lessons of the exodus of migrants from Indian cities. Among the stark questions that producers and designers must answer are about the plight of migrants, some of whom are allied workers in the fashion industry. What is the true price of beautiful clothes when those who work the bottom rung find themselves unrecognized and homeless in an unprecedented crisis like this? An October report, entitled The State Of Circular Innovation In The Indian Fashion And Textile Industries, by Fashion for Good, a platform for innovation, collaboration and community, reported that the Indian fashion industry employs approximately 300 million people across the supply chain, 80% of them women. “As a center of production and a labor-intensive geography, worker empowerment is an important area of innovation in India,” he said.
There is a wave of dark stories. Just last week, a report by the Washington-based Center for Global Policy found that more than 570,000 people from China’s minority groups were forced to work on cotton farms in the Xinjiang region, which supplies one-fifth of the world’s cotton. It said some of the most famous fast-fashion, sportswear and luxury brands took their cotton and products from China. In India, some skilled and unskilled workers (including minors) are part of an invisible supply chain for Western companies, where orders are sourced from vendors who outsource them to unverified intermediaries who “get the job done”. Fashion brands barely know the hands behind their bags, so let’s say, let alone track well-being, wages and working conditions.
However, not all of them can be put at the door of ignorance. Recently, The New York Times reported on the bankruptcy of India’s top designer Manish Arora, accusing his company of not completing partial employee dues, many of whom continue to work even as the business spirals out of control. Salary delays started in 2017 and some are still waiting to be paid.
Migrant life is a problem, women’s life is a problem, Dalits are a matter of life, farmers’ rights are a problem. And it all has to do with the materials, manufacture and supply of what eventually becomes fashion.
If you look at 2020 fashion through this prism, it’s a terrifying year.
Ritu Kumar’s campaign, ‘Sama Cantik’, represents four religions.
Over the past few years, after a number of top luxury and fast fashion brands – Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry, Gucci, H&M – were called in for producing culturally inappropriate clothing, corrective action saw more brands realizing there was a feeling of “awakening. in 2018, H&M announced its first diversity leader. In 2019, the Italian luxury brand Prada founded the Prada Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council. Gucci also hired a new head of diversity, equality and inclusion.
But this year’s protests following George Floyd’s death at the hands of a police officer in the US, which added fuel to the Black Lives Matter movement, show a disconnect between claim and reality, in the fashion media as well. In June, Anna Wintour, global content head and artistic director of Condé Nast, the world’s most influential fashion editor, was called upon to “put women of color aside for years”. Wintour apologized for “publishing stories and images that were hurtful or intolerant”. Christene Barberich, editor-in-chief of fashion media site Refinery29, resigned after allegations of discrimination from employees. In August, black employees at Nike urged the brand to confront organizational equality issues before releasing the You Can’t Stop Us campaign, which featured top black athletes, including tennis star Serena Williams.
The results are just as important. Diversity concerns ushered in an unseen group of models on the catwalk and hitherto neglected professionals into the workplace, opening up new opportunities. Minor changes, but they are starting to downplay what was once the front runner in the game of fashion: elitism, exclusivity and privilege. According to the Diversity Report on the digital platform fashionspot.com, spring 2020 is historic due to the diversity of fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris. Of the 7,390 castings models in 215 main shows, 41.5% were color models.
Gaurav Gupta’s Indian fashion show, Name Is Love show, which opens FDCI’s India Couture Week in September, lined up on the catwalk – including size, gender, sexuality and age. Travel and lifestyle brand Nicobar chose an elegant gray-haired doctor, Gita Prakash, as the protagonist of Diwali’s fashion edit. Raw Mango Festive 2020 film and fashion campaign Moomal, shot in the hometown of founder-designer Sanjay Garg in Rajasthan, features 53-year-old actor Mita Vashisht. Kochi-based designer Sreejith Jeevan, founder of the ROUKA label, featured his mother Sailaja Jeevan in a sari campaign. Just last week, the fashion leader, Ritu Kumar, released Equally Beautiful, a campaign by photographer Bikramjit Bose, with actor Zoya Hussein representing the four religions.
Table for two
A muslin piece from Injiri by Chinar Farooqui, who didn’t participate in the fashion week due to industry ‘pressure’.
It is clear that consumers have become aware of the plight of garment workers, child laborers and other vulnerable groups in the fashion supply chain. Campaigns to end unethical practices and advocating a circular, recyclable, reusable and non-polluting fashion are creating the biggest change. They are making headlines in the fashion media now. The McKinsey State Of Fashion 2020 study, with the online publication The Business of Fashion, found that 55% of consumers surveyed expect fashion brands to pay attention to employee health in times of crisis. In a consumer survey for the India Sustainability Report 2020, a white paper by digital magazine The Voice of Fashion, 49% of respondents said they want to adopt sustainable practices, while 65% are willing to pay more for responsibly made fashion.
Together, fashion companies realign priorities. Kering, the parent company of Gucci, Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen, released its first progress report on sustainability at the ChangeNOW Summit in January – on reducing emissions, suppliers and traceability of key raw materials. H&M has invested in sustainability into “100 percent circular”. India’s Aditya Birla Fashion Retail Ltd was named the Sustainable Company of the Year in 2019 in the 4.0 Sustainability Assessment and Award by Frost & Sullivan and the Energy and Resources Institute.
In India, the dialogue is inconsistent. Most clothing and jewelry retail brands were reluctant to be questioned. The majority of designers feel entitled to reject transparency surveys. Country artisans or weavers, one-half of the main duos who created the country fashion, remain disproportionately placed. From credit to copyrights to revenue and technological innovation, the game continues to gravitate toward urban designers and entrepreneurs.
The blank white cover of Vogue Italia in April, a first in the magazine’s history, was a response to the Covid-19 crisis. “White is rebirth, light after darkness …” said the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Emanuele Farneti.
Blank slate is a necessity of Indian fashion. To document the search for its meaning, go beyond busy crossroads in 2020. A sensitivity vaccine will help.
Shefalee Vasudev is editor of The Voice of Fashion and author of Powder Room: The Untold Story Of Indian Fashion.