One of the Readings from the Ethical Fashion Module
This past weekend, I attended the Ethical Fashion module offered at the American University of Paris. This was the module that made me the most excited about applying to go to school at this university, so I was thrilled to finally experience the class. Taught by Professor Charles Talcott, we learned about the global impact the fashion industry has on the cultural, environmental, and human level. With guest speakers such as AUP Fashion Track Director Madeline Czigler and an industry leader who preferred to go unnamed (so as to protect her privacy), we also learned about ethical fashion players and the reality of how ethics plays out in the business.
While fashion is often perceived as a glamorous industry, the class was an important reminder that the industry affects the world in many different ways, often having negative implications. Given the nature of the fashion industry, only the beautiful, shiny parts of it are glorified and massively communicated, while the ugly is often swept under the rug.
This fact was proven when we watched “Behind the Label”, a film about the cotton trade in India. Tragically, many cotton farmers in India have committed suicide due to their inability to grow and trade cotton at the rate that would provide them a decent living wage. During Indian Fashion Week (just an hour away from the farms where the suicides were happening at an alarming rate), models walked up and down the runway in cotton dresses. Over seventy journalists covered Indian Fashion Week, while only six covered the farmer suicides. The disparity across the board- economic, social, and otherwise- are extreme.
A Man Says Prayers at the Rana Plaza Site
We also delved into conversations around the “watershed moment” in fashion, the devastating Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh. Rana Plaza, a poorly maintained eight-story garment building, collapsed last April killing thousands of garment workers. It was the moment that forced the industry to take responsibility and accountability, and one could only hope that significant changes will take place.
As a person with a social activist background, I appreciated participating in the discourse around social responsibility in fashion. Though at times difficult and heart wrenching, the class discussions were vital reminders that as industry professionals, we have the agency to make a difference. Should we choose to, we have the power to influence decisions, communicate a better story, and to work with integrity.
No matter what area of the industry we may choose to enter, it is my hope that we find a way to use fashion as a platform to aid in making the world a more just place.
By: Ruby Veridiano