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Why the fashion industry needs a value overhaul

Over the course of the last year, the pace of life has drastically slowed down, allowing a number of important conversations to take place. Important power structures, from Hollywood, to the royal family, to our own university have been called upon to begin the momentous task of dismantling institutionalised patterns of discrimination. 

However, the fashion industry seems to have gone the other way, with a new scandal being exposed almost every day. Anyone who follows the Instagram account @diet_prada knows that nearly every high fashion brand is shamelessly guilty of careless cultural appropriation and blatant racism. This is not new and there are too many examples to choose from – Dior’s choice of Jennifer Lawrence to front their 2019 campaign inspired by escaramuzas (traditional female riders from Mexico) or Dolce and Gabbana’s advert in which a voiceover mansplains how to “properly” eat pizza, spaghetti and cannoli to an Asian model holding chopsticks. Even Rihanna’s Fenty fashion line, which has been championed for its diversity, came under fire for using the song Doom by artist Coucou Chloe, which includes a Muslim text known as a Hadith. 

What’s worse is that whilst other institutions are beginning to take concrete action, the fashion industry continues to recycle notes app apologies that are about as sincere as that breakup text you sent your year 9 boyfriend. These inauthentic influencer apologies have practically become ingrained in the structure of the fashion industry; brands can thoughtlessly pick and choose visually pleasing aspects of other cultures in the knowledge that a hastily typed out apology will allow bigotry to be swept under the carpet. The most backlash a brand will face is an aggressive ramble from @diet_prada. The facelessness of the fashion industry combined with its fast-paced nature means that it is incredibly difficult to hold anyone accountable for their actions. Questionable behaviour is forgotten as quickly as last season’s trends. 

This lack of accountability is unparalleled in any other industry. Following his tone-deaf comments regarding Meghan Markle’s expression of suicidal thoughts in the recent royal interview, Piers Morgan stepped down from his role on Good Morning Britain. Similarly, Bon Appetit have completely dismantled their organisation’s structure, dedicating an entire podcast to unpicking racist structures. Similar events seem to be absent in the fashion industry. 

It feels even more frustrating as it is clear that the capacity for change exists. This is evident from the current conversation around sustainability – a range of high fashion brands including Versace and Vetements have willingly accepted the need for a slower, seasonless fashion model. And whilst greenwashing adds an additional layer of complexity to the issue, sustainability is slowly being built into the structures of the industry. When it comes to discrimination, an effort has to be made to unstitch the bigoted systems at the root of these institutions. When will diversity stop being a unique selling point and just become the norm? 

Undeniably, this article paints a depressing painting of the fashion industry; some progress has been made. Vogue’s appointment of Edward Enninful as Editor-In-Chief suggests a conscious effort is being made. Ultimately, there is a long way to go, and the fashion industry lags behind most others when it comes to holding brands and individuals accountable for their problematic behaviour.

image: graphiknixe via Pixabay