Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Clothing and Conscience: Voices of the Fashion Industry and Corporate Social Responsibility

By Vanessa K Ferragut

I know I’m not the first to stand in front of my closet for hours wondering what to wear. I know I won’t be the last try on seven different outfits, narrow it down to three and still ask my roommate, or friend, or significant other to tell me which one looks better. Ask ourselves, if we can devote so much time, energy, and mental anguish into figuring out what to wear, why is it that we still aren’t conscious of what we’re wearing?

The answer is that you probably didn’t attend “Clothing and Conscience: Voices of the Fashion Industry and Corporate Social Responsibility” hosted by the House of Sweden on October 2, 2008. If you had, you would have been catapulted into a time of fashion reflection – a time to think about where the products we buy, wear, give, etc are coming from, and where they are going once retired from our closets.
But with the help of government agencies, nonprofits, designers, and entrepreneurs what was once thought to be a fad is slowly becoming a growing trend and one that isn’t losing momentum even in slumping economies. These agencies and organizations are encouraging corporate social responsibility and demonstrating that hard work and knowledge are proven tools in taking what we think is a good idea and turning it into good practice.

That afternoon, guest speakers from the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the U.S. State Department, Nudie Jeans Co., DEM Collective, Fashion Fights Poverty and Rena Kl├Ąder (the Swedish branch of the Clean Clothes Campaign) got together at the House of Sweden for an afternoon seminar on how the garment industry has changed over the years; where it’s been, where it is today and where we want to see it go in the future.

Moderator Ann Thorpe, author of The Designer’s Atlas of Sustainability” stressed the importance of putting conscience into activism and outlined her sustainable design measures. These are the steps needed to integrate conscience into clothing. It starts with the market (competition), moves into government support (compliance), and finally trickles down to the nonprofits (activism).
Malin Eriksson, of Rena Kl├Ąder, discussed the role Clean Clothes Campaign plays on raising consumer awareness, putting pressure on companies to “play fair,” and working with trade unions and NGOs in making their words stronger. She notes that while a lot has been accomplished, still more needs to be done such as implementing a basic living wage for workers across the board, transparency, focus on freedom of association, international framework agreements, and integrated corporate social responsibility.

But the event didn’t end there. That following night on October 3, select guests were treated to a fashion show featuring Nudie Jeans Co. in “Recycled Denim Maniacs.” Maria Levin, founder and designer, took old jeans and recycled and recreated them into 18th century gowns. Nudie Jeans sources all their cotton from organic cotton growers where every stage of the cotton is produced, spun and dyed in accordance with ecological procedures. Learn more about this designer’s work and human rights initiatives at http://www.nudiejeans.com.
We encourage everyone reading this to take a few seconds, of what could ultimately be an hour-long decision process, next time we’re shopping and really think about what we purchase. As consumers we have more power then we give ourselves credit for. We can be our own personal activist – after all, the hottest thing this season is having a conscience!