Industry Interconnection Part 2: Fashion and Politics

This is the second in a series about fashion industry interconnection. At the moment, our industry is at its most volatile, due primarily to political unrest.

We used to follow tried-and-true models to reach our sales goals, but with unavoidable and unpredictable threats to our supply chains, it’s hard to trust what was once a well-oiled machine. We are amidst a pretty exciting shift in ideals, business models and technology. At the same time, we have to navigate instability across global communities: religiously, politically and environmentally. Thinking of our businesses as separate from or immune to the world’s problems is irrational and dangerous. The Earth, humanity included, is one complex system: a symbiotic network of give-and-take with a pulse that speeds up or slows down with positive and negative input, respectively.

The unrest is widespread: mass migration across the Middle East; religious and political conflict in Myanmar; severe weather, earthquakes and tsunamis amidst climate change denial; heightened anxiety around the testing and threat of nuclear weapons; and rampant pollution. It’s no wonder we feel like we’re constantly bracing for impact. And as much as we might like to keep political views out of our work lives, all of these factors threaten our businesses’ success. Our work should reflect our values and our political views are an extension of those values.

If we cannot live our truth at work, how can we wholly actualize the positive change we wish to see in the world?

One example of how world issues permeate our business is in our selection of vendor partners. Employing cheap labour comes with the risk of doing business in particularly unstable regions. Of course, one can avoid that risk by moving manufacturing somewhere with more fair and consistent governance. But if that is not an option, it is my opinion that brands that choose the cheapest, most desperate labourers must take responsibility for garment worker safety, advocate for them and partner with local NGOs to lift their communities through education and investment in resources. That way, either path ends in a positive result: reinforcing the ethical behaviour or helping to establish responsible habits. That said, there is not much we can do to avoid geological and climate instability but invest in infrastructure and avoid contributing further to the man-made causes of climate change.

My view is this: if the political world affects our supply chains, why should we not discuss it at length in order to strengthen our businesses? The whole notion of keeping one’s political views to ourselves only perpetuates the overall lack of transparency plaguing our industry. Acknowledging the world’s problems is the first step in tackling them. We need to own our contributions to those issues in order to find solutions. And the solutions are there!

One of my favourite quotes from Albert Einstein is: “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” We can crumble under the weight of it all, or we can choose change.

As I’ve mentioned before, because we work within an expansive web of influence, when one person makes a small change, its reach is boundless. If humanity has the power to dry up entire seas, wholly pollute Earth’s atmosphere and completely redesign weather systems, we have the power to restore those things with positive impact. How do you feel about this in your day to day – are you encouraged or discouraged to discuss how fashion & politics are connected?


Runway revolt images from Karl Lagerfeld and Vivienne Westwood


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