There's an increasing groundswell of opinion that the fashion industry is approaching just such a tipping point. Influential voices like eco-fashionista Livia Firth, journalists like Lucy Seigel and Pamela Ravasio, as well as designers such as Vivienne Westwood are making the point that the industry needs to change, and fast.
I believe that call for change has its manifesto, or at least a framework onto which a working document can be built. Writing in The Business Of Fashion, Edward Hertzman puts a brutally sharp focus onto 21st century fashion, and shows us how it is ripe for change.
The facts of the matter, once you break them down, are simple. The fashion industry is splintered, and incapable of policing itself or indeed being policed. Fast-fashion garments are typically made up from elements sourced and stitched around the globe. The fabric may be from India, the trim from China, and the item may be put together in Bangladesh. How does one company make sure that their extended supply chain is under appropriate scrutiny for ethical behaviour every step of the way? The sad truth of the matter is, they can't. Agreements like the Bangladesh Fire And Safety Accord are seen by many as a sticking plaster over a gushing wound. It may, perhaps help workers in one part of the chain, but does nothing to address the wider issus at stake.
And there's a lot to deal with. The fashion industry is a trillion-dollar business that seems to run on distrust and corruption. Kickbacks are the fuel that keep things running, everything is run on razor-thin profit margins, and the whole model seems to be permanently on the brink of collapse. And when it does--quite literally, in the case of Rana Plaza--the people that suffer are the ones at the bottom of the pile, the poorly skilled, badly-paid workers who have little choice but to do what they're told, or lose the one source of income that's keeping the roof under their head.
The multinationals distrust the factories, who they view as constantly trying to rip them off. The factories distrust the multinationals, who impose high-handed compliance guidelines that have to be paid for by the factory owners with no guarantee of orders or work. And everyone, I mean everyone, hates the consumers, with their voracious appetite for dirt-cheap clothes in the latest styles.
So, what's to be done? Here, sadly, Hertzman loses focus, unsurprisingly when faced with such a bewildringly complex conundrum. He admits he has more questions than answers. The increasing number of designers that are choosing to step away from the whole outsourced model, and work more closely whith their suppliers and artisans perhaps show us a path out of the swamp, but it's a slippery slope. And the fact remains that the business in its current state is seriously overdue for change. Revolution is a loaded word. And it's time we started using it.
Do, please read Edward Hertzman's article, An Industry In Denial. It's a real call to arms.