As millions of "Fashion Revolutionaries" gear up for another week of asking the question Who made my clothes? for Fashion Revolution week (24th - 30th April), we thought we'd ask the ethical fashion experts and influencers that we've come to know (and hugely admire) over the past year about what they're doing to actively change the way people think about fashion and the industry.
Our Fashion Revolutionaries series starts with Olivia Pinnock, fashion journalist and founder of the Fashion Debates. We discovered the Fashion Debates in September last year when we were in London for Fashion Week. From fellow fashion journalists, to ethical fashion influencers and models, Olivia invites experts working in and around the fashion industry to regular debates - currently being held at the Condé Nast College Of Fashion & Design - and asks them the questions others are too afraid to ask; Can we put an end to sweatshop labour? Is the fashion industry racist? What is unpaid work doing to the fashion industry?
Here, we ask Olivia a few questions of our own about the debates, the big 'ethical' issues affecting the industry at the moment, oh and a few quick fire questions at the end. Prepare to be inspired...
OLIVIA, TELL US ABOUT YOU / YOUR BACKGROUND?
I’m a fashion journalist and copywriter, I’ve worked with lots of independent fashion titles, as well as big international fashion brands to create copy for them. I’m also a lecturer at London Metropolitan University on the Fashion Marketing & Journalism course and last year I founded The Fashion Debates!
WE LOVE THE FASHION DEBATES. TELL OTHERS ABOUT IT!
Thank you very much! The Fashion Debates is a series of panel discussions exploring ethical issues in the fashion industry and asking what we can do to make a difference. We don’t shy away from the controversial issues and we also want to expand the meaning of what we mean when we talk about ‘ethical fashion'. So our past topics have included the use of sweatshop labour, racism in the industry, the health of models, environmental pollution caused by fashion and unpaid work and internships. Some of these issues might seem quite separate but we believe they’re all linked. At the same time, we also like to give each topic its own dedicated event to explore it properly.
WHAT OR WHO INSPIRED YOU TO START THE FASHION DEBATES?
I wouldn’t say there’s one thing that inspired it. I’ve always been very passionate about these issues and always made an effort to educate myself about them because I feel a responsibility for them as a professional who works in the industry.
I suppose a feeling of helplessness inspired them. I was tired of caring about these issues but only feeling like a very small cog in a big wheel and that there was little I could do about these big problems. The Fashion Debates is very much about empowering and inspiring individuals, no matter what your role in the industry, or even if you’re a consumer who wants to make better purchasing decisions. That’s why we always ask the question at every debate ‘what can we do about it?’ because you can make a difference.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE CRUCIAL 'ETHICAL' ISSUES IN / AROUND THE FASHION INDUSTRY AT THE MOMENT?
I think the environmental issue is a massive one because not only is it a disaster for the planet, but the drain on resources mean that we can’t keep making fashion at the rate that we are. Fashion companies need to find new ways of doing things or they won’t exist in the future. They need to wake up to the reality, not just because it’s unethical, bad for the planet, and bad for our health, but it’s bad for their business if they want it to survive.
The mindless consumerism that’s being encouraged by many fashion brands is also a major problem. It leads to a world of shoppers who are never happy because we’re led to believe that happiness is found in ‘things’ and it leads to poor quality clothing that is tossed aside without a second thought, filling up landfill sites. I got into fashion because I love clothes, I value clothes and I’m interested in the stories behind clothes. A cheaply made rip-off of a designer piece that’s mass-produced by poorly treated workers and falls apart in a year is not fashion. There’s no value in it.
HOW HAS THE FASHION COMMUNITY / PEOPLE GENERALLY RESPONDED TO THE FASHION DEBATES?
Amazingly well! I’ve been overwhelmed. I knew that an ongoing event discussing ethical fashion with a stylish focus that appeals to the industry was missing, I just didn’t know if others would agree with me. Thankfully, they do! We’ve had some top fashion publications attending and covering the events, and a wide variety of people attending every event. It really spurs me on to keep doing it when I hear of people making business connections through The Fashion Debates or being inspired to do something differently. It can only get bigger from here.
WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE FASHION DEBATES?
Well, on 24th May we celebrate our one year anniversary! We’re partnering with Beyond Retro on an event aimed at ethical fashion businesses. We’ll have an expert panel who will give a 10-minute talk each on their business advice for ethical fashion brands in a specific area, for example production, PR, marketing or sustainable technology, followed by speed networking to encourage collaboration. This idea was born out of what I’ve seen in the past year; that there are a lot of emerging brands doing amazing things in the ethical area but they lack specific support for their business and we need them to survive in order to start making a difference in the industry!
TELL US ABOUT #ONWEDNESDAYSWEWEARETHICAL?
#OnWednesdaysWeWearEthical is our social media feature, letting people know about some of the awesome ethical brands out there! Every Wednesday we share a brand that we think is stylish and ethical on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to inspire better shopping choices. Next time you fancy some new clothes, you can search the hashtag and discover something new and unique.
WHY FEATURE NU BLVCK?
Because you ticked all our boxes! A transparent, ethical supply chain – check. Great looking imagery on an easy-to-use website – check. Beautiful accessories we’d love to own – absolutely!
Go to The Fashion Debates Facebook page here to find out more.
Fashion Revolution is an organisation set up in response to the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, when 1,134 people (mostly women) were killed and over 2,500 were injured. Go to www.fashionrevolution.org to find out more and for local events go to the Fashion Revolution Scotland Facebook page here.