Why is ethical fashion not yet the norm?
The power to change the unethical side of the fashion industry lies in a better understanding of the processes of producing and consuming fashion, according to UNSW Canberra Cultural Geography PhD Candidate Breeze Mojel.
Previous research, exploring the exploitation of factory workers within the supply chain, has largely focused on industry processes, with little attention to the relationship between fashion and the consumer. However, Ms Mojel said this must be explored to make improvements within the industry.
“No matter how many policies or schemes are introduced at the level of factory production, their benefits and gains are undone by the consumers’ actions and involvement with fashion,” Ms Mojel said.
“Consumers tend to spend no more than what they deem necessary for a product and to favour aesthetics over morals for their decisions making process.”
In turn, brands intent on producing a profit pressure factories to meet the demands for cheap labour.
“While often registering these factors, researchers have persisted at tackling this issue at the factory production end of the supply chain.” Ms Mojel said.
“Traditional modes of thought surrounding production and consumption have resulted in a lack of understanding of what the consumer’s relation to fashion actually is.”
Taking this line of inquiry and informed by her work with the research cluster, the Difference Lab, Ms Mojel investigated this relationship by interviewing and observing producers of fashion, specifically designers of small-scale fashion lines.
“Producers do not only themselves wear and purchase fashion, but also consume materials in the production process and their engagement with these materials is often much more complicated than the conventional understanding of design allows,” she said.
Ms Mojel’s interviews demonstrated that production is often not the deliberate act that it is portrayed as.
“When a garment is designed, made or worn it is done so through a simultaneous engagement of the material, the designer or wearer, the body and the environmental, political and micro-perceptual data.”
Ms Mojel said a designer who exemplifies this is Anne-Sophie Cochevelou. Rather than formulating a fully realised design on paper and then locating the materials and producing the exact design, Cochevelou’s works are created mostly through chance encounters with objects, which she then allows to evolve into wearable art or fashion.
Anne-Sophie Cochevelou's studio.
“The difference this approach makes is often apparent when you attend a fashion show,” Ms Mojel said.
“The designs that really captivate the audience, regardless of how ordinary or bizarre they are, are those that have been allowed to evolve though a contemplation of all of these components rather than trying force a narrative on the material.”
Expanding on this, Ms Mojel notes that it is not just the fabric that experiences a creative change, but also the designers, wearers and observers.
Designs by Anne-Sophie Cochevelou. Photo credit: Anthony Lycett.
“The beauty, repulsion or magic we experience when encountering fashion objects is not necessarily the object itself, but the encounter we have with it,” Ms Mojel said.
“The greater this aesthetic encounter, the greater effect it has on us and thus the more we desire it and are able to overlook its often not so ethical means of production.”
Ms Mojel said the majority of ethical brands fully rely on ethics as their selling point but in the long run, this often isn’t enough. Successful ethical brands, such as the Social Outfit, push their aesthetic side along with their ethics, allowing their consumers to still participate in this magical moment that fast fashion traditionally provides.
Designs by The Social Outfit. Photo credit: Levon Baird.
“Rather than focusing purely on fashion’s factory production, research should also pursue ways that enhance ethically produced fashion to a level where it produces a greater affectual experience for the consumer than traditional fast fashion. In pursuing such a task, I believe ethical fashion can truly start to become the norm.”