Wednesday 1 October 2014

Doing It For The Kids

In a recent article for The Guardian, fashion activist Rachel Kibbe makes the case that ethical brands need to engage with a growing and influential market: the so-called Millenials.
Or as we used to call them, teenagers.
Although there's not a great deal of fresh meat in Rachel's piece, she does make a couple of interesting points. However, there's a whacking great hole in her central argument. By asserting that ethical brands need a more active social media presence to attracts the youngers, she ignores the fact that they are largely an online phenomenon in the first place. Brands like People Tree grew up on the Internet, and don't need to rely on bricks and mortar stores. The Ethical Fashion Forum is a vibrant online community that allows free online access to tons of useful resources. Most of the brands that I've covered and dealt with have solid Twitter, Instagram and Facebook presences.
However, is this enough? In some ways, Rachel's right. Pop into Primark on a Saturday afternoon, and the place is groaning with teens. Are any of them aware of the problems with fast fashion's ethical and environmental model? Do any of them care?
The thing is, Millenials have always had the web, have grown up online. As Rachel says, they're more than capable of researching an issue and making up their own minds. Is it, then simply a case that ethical brands need to use one of the oldest tricks in the book: getting a pop star to endorse their message? That's a slightly more tricky prospect, with the ever-looming chance of backfire: check out Lana Del Rey for H&M, advertising angora sweaters just as the scandal over the way the stuff's harvested kicked off.
If Rihanna or Taylor Swift made the case for ethical fashion, and urged their fans to hit the stores and demand change, what would happen? Would we see a fashion revolution? Social media can of course be a driver for change. What Rachel doesn't seem to realise is that it's already happening. Greenpeace's Detox initiative has caused a major shift in the way huge fashion multinationals deal with their industrial waste, and War On Want's campaigns regularly make the headlines. These are projects whose core engine is the power of social media.
Millenials are smart, engaged and incredibly media-savvy. There is still work to be done to ensure that they see that there's more choice out there when it comes to fashion than the big-box brands, and of course celebrity endorsement can help. But I think it's borderline insulting to suggest that ethical fashion needs to up its social media game. We're already here. And the message is getting out, albeit a little slower than Rachel--and indeed the rest of us--would like.

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