Can Big Fashion — fashion with a capital F — ever exist without exploitation of the planet and the humans and other living beings on it?
The more we dive into Fashion’s perils, and how deep rooted these issues are, the more unlikely this seems.
In this episode, four members of Fashion Act Now are joining us to explain why they believe that we need to dismantle this centralized, monolithic Fashion system and what kinds of clothing systems could take its place.
Links From This Episode:
- Fashion Act Now Website
- Join Fashion Act Now
- The Common Market
- The Linen Project
- David Bollier
- Article: Who gets to be a fashion activist?
This Episode Was Brought To You By:
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Read the Transcript From This Interview:
Welcome to the season 4 finale! We’ve been talking a lot about slowing down fashion and this idea of envisioning post-growth fashion futures. Basically, imagining a fashion system that isn’t dependent on ever-growing production volumes and ever-increasing profits for their shareholders.
A system that isn’t just about enriching billionaires of the world’s biggest fashion brands, while paying everyone else along the supply chain poverty wages. A system that replenishes the earth instead of extracting as much as possible from it, and polluting everything in its wake.
A system that celebrates culture, creativity, and expression and the beauty of clothing and ways of adorning, not just pushing these trends that are determined by some people at the top. And these visions for fashion future might be what some call a radical change.
And it is, right? The word radical means “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something.”
And sadly, a fashion system that actually cares about people and the planet is a pretty fundamental shift to the status quo.
So there’s an interesting article in Fashionista I recently read called ‘Who Gets To Be A Fashion Activist’ by Megan Doyle. And Megan talked about these sort of two groups of fashion activists. People who advocate for incremental changes from the inside, and those who advocate for more dramatic change from the outside.
Obviously, in reality, there’s more of a spectrum. But basically, in the article, Megan kind of speaks to why both groups are necessary to create change. Again, it’s really a spectrum. But I definitely fall more towards this group of people from the outside advocating for more dramatic change. That these fast fashion, eco capsule collections, and sustainability ambassadors are just not cutting it for me.
And I also just think that mainstream fashion media focuses already so much on these incremental changes coming from the big brands. This material shift, this carbon neutrality goal, this minor improvement in worker well-being that isn’t even actually addressing wages.
And having an independent media platform, I would just way rather spend my time focusing on some of these more exciting and transformative solutions and ideas coming from grassroots organizations, workers, worker activists, small businesses, researchers, writers, and so forth.
I would love to give voice to these people and groups and ideas, because I think that a broader collective of ideas coming from the ground up is going to inspire a better future than like, people at the top, right?
Because they’re, frankly, out of touch with what we need for a livable healthy planet for everybody. And they’re definitely out of touch with what the people in the frontlines of fashion production need.
So my goal with this podcast is to make it a space where we can explore these ideas from all around the world, from people at all different areas of fashion. And one of the grassroots groups in the fashion space that I’m really inspired by is Fashion Act Now.
And Fashion Act Now is an independent campaign group that evolved out of the climate advocacy group Extinction Rebellion. Fashion Act Now, or FAN, still collaborates with and supports Extinction Rebellion, but they are sort of their own separate entity.
And in this episode, I’m speaking with four members of FAN: Sara Arnold, Sandra Niessen, Sam Weir, and Cindi Clark. You’ll be hearing much more about what FAN is and what they’re up to.
But first, I wanted to remind you that the transcript and relevant links will be in the show notes at consciouslifeandstyle.com. And I wanted to remind you to hit subscribe or follow on your favorite podcast listening app.
This is the season finale but we have a bunch of bonus content coming your way over the next couple of months and then we’ll be back with Season 5 in 2023. It feels wild to say that but we are actually in the last stretch of 2022.
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Okay, let’s get on to this week’s episode. Sara is going to start us off by sharing what Fashion Act Now is and what the group’s goals are…
So I was previously an activist with Extinction Rebellion and this all kind of formed out of that. So we had some quite high profile campaigns, one in which we were challenging the British Fashion Council to cancel Fashion, and really readdress what this system was all about, and address this parade of excess.
So we were doing that work and we would go to negotiations with British Fashion Council, the various designers, and we were kind of getting dumbfounded looks back at us being like, yes, but you’re asking us to do this emergency response. But what do we actually do?
We felt kind of unable to give them specifics. Perhaps we still can’t, but we felt like we needed to create a space in which we could really explore what it means to be doing enough in the face of climate and ecological breakdown. So out of that, we created Fashion Act Now.
We felt that we really needed to explore what degrowth means for the fashion industry, but also fashion culture. In doing this exploration, we realized that must come hand in hand with deep decolonization.
Through looking at that, we then started to question whether Fashion — what we think of as fashion — can still exist when we really grapple with these problems fully, with degrowth and decolonization?
So we started to use this word defashion, because we felt that if we were really going to kind of grapple properly with degrowth and deep decolonization of Fashion — what we think of as Fashion today would no longer exist. And therefore, we needed this process of de-fashioning.
So we’re a group that we’ve now got about 40 activists worldwide. We’ve got people in New Zealand, Australia, across Europe, across the US, and I’m here in the UK. We also have some activists in Indonesia, and also South Africa. I’ve probably left off some countries, but we’re quite widely spread out.
And we’re really brought together by what seems a simple ask: for clothing cultures that nurture people and planet. Not that simple in practice!
But also crucially, we stand against Fashion. And when we’re talking about Fashion, this is Fashion that we’ve given a capital F, which is distinct.
It is different to when we talk about dress or clothing, in general, the adornment of the body that is a human universal, which we are completely not against. In fact, we want all of that culture to thrive.
But we see this Fashion as this globalized system that is intertwined with our growth-based economic system. I’m sure we’re going to go into more detail about that later, so I won’t do it.
So there this kind of three parts to the work that we do:
One is looking at how we dismantle Fashion, this kind of big, complex system.
Then secondly, how we then build the future that we want. We call this seeding and nurturing a post-fashion commons. When we’re talking about commons, we’re really talking about kind of community-led initiatives. I’m sure we’ll go into more detail about that later. So we really want to be heading towards flourishing, resilient communities that are repairing the health of our planet.
Thirdly, this work is also about looking beyond Fashion or looking how fashion can be a way to embed change into culture as a whole, and the economy as a whole.
Yeah, I’m really looking forward to diving deeper into all of that. Thank you for that overview.
Can you explain a little bit more about defashion? That’s a word that I know Fashion Act Now uses a lot and I’m sure it will be used throughout our conversation.
So can you just dive a little bit deeper because people may be listening to this podcast — we are style lovers, maybe fashion with a lowercase f lovers! And that word might be a little bit jarring or nerve wracking.
So can you just dive into what you mean by defashion a bit more?
Yeah, it’s interesting that you say that that’s kind of nerve wracking, confrontational term. I do think that’s an important aspect to it in the same way that degrowth is quite jarring too.
Because we think growth is good. And aspects of growth are good. It’s the same for fashion.
We felt that by saying that, it’s going to make people think about okay, well, what really is Fashion? What are the bits that are good? And what are not? What isn’t good about it? What really is it?
So what is defashion? As I said, we do believe there is this distinction. We are all for the creativity that we can have with our clothes, and that human need for expression through our clothing.
We accept and love that there is this human universal of adorning the body to express local customs, cultural identity, and that serves the needs of communities and serves the needs of individuals.
But we see that this Fashion with a capital F isn’t doing that. It’s not really serving our needs. It’s not really serving our wellbeing. It really has become a system that is about growth, about economic growth to feed people at the top of the pyramid.
This growth is achieved through planned obsolescence, through overproduction, through irresponsible advertising, through cheap labor through the exploitation of not just people, but also our environment and animals. It’s not really benefiting anyone, but for some very few people at the top of this.
I think it’s also really important to note that it has become this big, globalized, monoculture. This monolithic thing that has spread through the world, and in doing so has eroded these other dress systems that used to be flourishing through the world. We would like to see those other dress systems flourishing once again.
So, yes, we believe there needs to be a defashioning. We need to question and dismantle this ideology of Fashion, and open up space for other systems that serve real needs that make us reconnect with our customs and our traditions.
When we’re saying traditions, I don’t think that needs to mean looking backwards. It can mean creating new traditions and looking forwards.
We really need to explore how we celebrate sufficiency rather than excess. This capital F fashion has really become a system of excess.
Absolutely. Sara, you mentioned how the Fashion system really just works in the favor of a few.
Sandra, you refer to the places where fashion production is centered, or the frontlines of fashion as sacrifice zones in your work. So can you explain what sacrifice zones are and why they exist in the fashion industry?
Sara was mentioning that Fashion Act Now is interested in clothing systems that nurture people and the planet. That’s directly the inverse of what’s happening now.
We’ve got clothing systems, we’ve got an economic system that’s based on extractivism and exploitation, and sacrifice zones are what results from that approach to production.
I would like to expand this whole notion of sacrifice zones, beyond supply chains. Beyond just the realm of Fashion. We use it in Fashion Act Now, in a much broader way.
The word itself sacrifice zones, suggests physical spaces. Indeed, the original notion of sacrifice zones is about regions of the world that can be “sacrificed” — done away with, destroyed, for the sake of capitalist economic growth.
When you think about that on a small scale, then you say, we really want to build a mine here, we really want to build an oil field. The nature here, or the region, we can regard as something that can be dispensed with, for the sake of that “greater good” — the economic system.
I think a good example of that is the oil fields in the tar sands in Alberta. They’re on Cree land. The Cree people were forced to move from their traditional heritage lands, in order for this oil to be dug out of the earth.
That’s not just the oil industry. Fashion operates as well, indirectly, as well as directly, on sacrifice zones.
Because we know there’s increasing use of synthetic fiber, and also huge amounts of transportation in the production of our clothing. Also, the production systems are hugely consumptive of energy. As a result of that, Fashion is allowed to grow because there are sacrifice zones out there in the world.
But at Fashion Act Now, we go beyond this notion of physical space. We say, well, in fact, there are sacrifice zones that are more specific to Fashion.
Think of what Sara was mentioning earlier about the exploitation of animals. We think of either down, leather or skins, we sacrifice our fellow creatures for the sake of fashion.
But we can also think even more broadly. Currently, there’s a lot of research — and I think you’ll see that on social media — people are examining quite deeply what kinds of materials are causing harm to the earth?
And we — not just Fashion Act now, but other degrowthers — are saying we have to go beyond this materials focus and take a look at how Fashion’s growth in general leads to more and more sacrifice zones.
So growth is the engine of sacrifice zones. And what is that growth? Why is fashion growing like this? We have more than enough clothing for everybody on Earth.
So what’s happening is something between our ears. Something cognitively, something in our hearts, something that is pushing us to expand the fashion system, even though it’s sufficient. Even though it’s too big, right? Much, much too big right now.
Then I think we have to think about another kind of fashion sacrifice zones. Sara was also mentioning advertising. And that advertising, I call it mind rot. It pushes us to consume. It pushes us to be unhappy with the way we look. It pushes us to buy the latest fashion. It pushes growth.
So we’ve got both here a trigger of expansion in advertising. We’ve also got the sacrifice zone of our own minds, and culture, because it is that mind rot, that advertising.
Sara also mentioned that fashion undermines Indigenous clothing, and this is a very specific sacrifice zone for fashion.
Fashion is expanding. We’ve called it the globalization of fashion. But it’s expanding in the world, and as a result of that, it’s undercutting, altering, and rendering invalid, Indigenous systems of dress. That means that Indigenous culture and Indigenous systems of dress have become something that Fashion sacrifices.
I think it’s really important to keep that in mind. Because fashion students and fashion aficionados tend to focus on fashion perse, as design. What do I like? How do I look? We forget that in that expansion, we’re actually destroying other cultures.
So Fashion likes to think of itself as promoting some kind of culture. But in fact, it’s also destroying culture, and that’s a very significant facet of Fashion sacrifice.
Fashion is a colonial construct. It emerged in the colonial era. It was a way of distinguishing those with ‘fashion’ from those without ‘fashion’. Clothes with culture from those who are considered to be without culture and history.
In that sense, the sacrifices that we see occurring in the world, have generally been considered to be, or at least have generally been happening in the areas of people not considered having culture and history. People of color, impoverished people if we look for example in the States, but in other parts of the world, it’s the Southern nations.
But now the whole area of — we know there’s a terrible storm happening right now, today, in the southern part of the States. Canada was just struck last week terribly. The Fashion zones that we’re creating through production, through our capitalist system of production, are now much larger than just areas where there are people that we can consider expendable.
It’s now the whole world being sacrificed for the sake of expansion and growth. We’re sacrificing ourselves essentially.
In that sense, we can also take a look at our sacrifice zones as having a temporal quality. Because we’re sacrificing our own futures. We’re sacrificing the futures of our children.
So let’s go back to that whole issue of growth, not just materials. Materials are really important to have them somehow in line with the capacities of the Earth, what we’re using.
But we also have to take a look at expansion and ensure that we’re getting the opposite of that as quickly as possible. Because every form of expansion right now is a sacrifice of ourselves, our future, and every being on Earth.
Yeah. Thank you for that breakdown. That was very powerful.
We see so much talk about sustainability in the Fashion industry these days as the conversation has been growing, but we’re really just seeing incremental changes.
Maybe a fast fashion brand launching a so-called conscious or circular or green collection. But as you write on your website, as you all wrote on your Fashion Act Now website, you are a “collective of activists demanding and enabling a radical defashion future.”
So I was hoping to dive a little bit deeper into that. Sandra, can you speak to why these incremental efforts are not enough, and why Fashion Act Now is working towards such a different future?
I think I’ve touched on why it’s not enough already.
Because of that focus on materials. I really hope that people will become aware that we actually have to get rid of the coloniality inscribed in Fashion. And that will help us reduce the number of sacrifice zones, and also build respect for other systems.
So when we talk about our radical approach, I think Sara described that perfectly with her discussion of what is defashion. That’s radical. We’re talking about dismantling the system. We’re not talking about tweaking it, and incrementally changing what kinds of fibers are in your jacket or your pants.
We’re talking about actually dismantling the system because it’s the system. We have to start looking at the systemic problems here. That’s radical. We want to grab it by the root. That’s what radical means.
We talk about this a lot in Fashion Act Now. What is the direction that Fashion should be going in? And we’re actually saying, we don’t want the fashion industry to be going anywhere. We want to actually have alternatives to the fashion industry.
So that’s why we’ve utilized the term pluriverse a lot. The pluriverse suggests variety, dynamism. Something different from that monolithic system that was, at one point, a small system in the West and has become globalized.
Actually globalization is a euphemism. It is domination of what used to be a small system, now throughout the whole world.
We’re saying we want the inverse to occur. We want a pluriverse again, to be able to thrive.
A pluriverse means all kinds of dress systems that maybe are not now incorporated in the notion of Fashion. In fact, are not because they’re a sacrifice zone of fashion, and they’re ignored and denied by Fashion. They’re erased.
So what we’re arguing for in Fashion Act Now is really a paradigmatic shift. And that’s what’s so radical about it. We’re wanting to go to the root of what’s between the ears. That paradigmatic shift is a different way of looking and being in the world. It leads to a different way of being in the world.
I can’t stress enough the importance of this paradigmatic shift. Again, that single-minded focus that I see in social media, on materials change, is just a tiny slice of the pie. It’s just the tip of the iceberg of the kind of change we need.
We need degrowth. As Kate Fletcher and Matilda Tam said in 2019 — and that was three years ago — we needed then a 75 to 95% shrinkage of Fashion. That’s really considerable. Terribly considerable
That kind of degrowth is not easy to achieve, or we would have achieved it. We haven’t achieved degrowth at all yet. And what’s holding us back? I think it’s that the paradigmatic shift hasn’t yet been made.
We could be banning fashion advertising because it encourages consumption, modernity notions. And modernity notions are planned obsolescence. Fashion is in essence, planned obsolescence.
We should be supporting Indigenous systems, instead of undermining them, encouraging them. Not devaluing them as crafts but looking at them as legitimate other kinds of clothing systems.
And obviously, we have to stop exploiting extracting, and we have to stop relying on sacrifice zones. So those are the real shifts that are needed. And that’s why we call it radical change that Fashion Act Now is asking for.
Yeah, and I really appreciate how you brought in this idea of globalization really being about domination. I think we can even see it with terminology used in the fashion industry with things like the word “empire” is often used when somebody’s building a really big brand, or maybe they have several brands under their umbrella. And we say, media empire or fashion empire.
And that just even that terminology, it’s very clear what the sort of goal is. So I think that is something interesting to pay attention to in Fashion, for sure.
So, Cindi, I would love to ask you, what types of solutions specifically do you think that we need to drive this systemic change? Sandra talked about this a bit, but I was hoping you could dive a little bit deeper into what Fashion Act Now’s vision is for a post-Fashion future? What would that look like?
You know, when I was thinking about this, I realized what a big question this is.
And adding on to what Sandra already said about the solutions. It’s really about this paradigm change. That unless that happens, all the solutions will not take hold, or they won’t make sense.
In order for us to get to this post-Fashion world, it seems to me that we have to go through this deep process of not just changing the way we think about the fashion system, or even the larger economic systems. We need to go deep into that and transform how we are in the world, and how we relate to the fashion world, to our clothing, and to our economic systems.
That is really, really hard to do. Because it involves a lot of inner change on what’s between your ears, like Sandra said. But also a lot of outer work in the world demanding and pushing for these changes to happen on the scale that they really need to happen.
So what we talk about in FAN are these three processes of degrowth. And I like this idea of empowerment. I think about this a lot. Sandra talks about valuing the Indigenous clothing cultures, and empowering them, giving them the value that they truly, truly deserve.
Also, I come from an activist background. I don’t have a background in fashion. And when I became aware of actually how destructive the fashion industry is, and always has been and brought this up to…
I’m part of Extinction Rebellion in New York. And it was almost seen as yes, you can target the fashion industry. You ladies go over there and do that, while we’re going to do the tougher stuff, we’re going to take on the fossil fuel industry.
But to empower people who are doing simple things like a sewing circle. That’s really radical. The idea that I’m going to mend my clothes instead of buying into the capitalist system that controls how we do everything.
Which leads us to this idea of Commoning, which we’ve done a big study of in FAN, working with David Bollier and his ideas about Commoning. And how do we create a clothing Commons, which Sam will talk more about in a little while.
But it’s bringing it down to local. Instead of this big globalization, we’re gonna bring it to local. Local communities, making clothes for their community, in their community, and how amazing that would be to build those kinds of communities.
So there’s that inner work of making people aware of the huge impacts of the fashion industry and our basic relationship to our clothing — and what that could mean, what that could look like, and how that really could be a personal expression.
Also, we need to look at how do we pressure the industry, and the governments to bring about these changes?
We need activists out in the street, causing disruption, to bring that awareness to people. And we all know that the industry’s main goal is profit. So they’re not going to just agree to downsize or degrow on their own, they’re going to have to be forced into doing that.
So we need to demand transparency from them. We need to demand accountability from them, for the loss and damage that they have already incurred. And we need to push them towards degrowth. And that can really only be done through government regulation. So we need to push.
The fashion industry is one of the least regulated industries in the world. I know in the United States, it’s very, there are a couple of bills now that are trying to be pushed through to regulate the industry. But until now, they have not looked at it. It’s another one of those things, oh, fashion, it’s just a trivial thing. It’s not a big player in everything. But it really is.
So with FAN, part of what we’re doing is bringing awareness to people through education, through having these kinds of conversations with people, and making them aware of and thinking about what their relationship is to their clothes.
What their relationship is to shopping, and that consumer driven need that people feel like… That’s inner work. That’s like, well why am I compelled to go shopping and buy this stuff? And that’s something that we each need to answer for ourselves.
So through education, and awareness, and people making those personal changes, pushing for outer change, and also providing alternatives and options through one thing that we’re doing the Common Market.
So it’s going to take a lot of work to move to that vision of a defashion world. But what’s necessary, keeping in mind the climate crisis and the severity of that. It’s what has to happen.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s really interesting to think about the cycles of growth in fashion. They’re obviously unsustainable on a human level and ecological level. But also on an economic level!
Like we see how these fast fashion brands, they grow really fast, they get really big really fast. And then they go out of business. Like what we’re seeing with Missguided, and now Boohoo is having issues as well. We saw Forever21 go bankrupt. We’re just going to continue to see that happen as they race to the bottom.
There’s a marketing thought leader Seth Godin, who has a quote that I really like. And it’s something along the lines of “the problem with the race to the bottom is that you might just win.” I feel like that’s kind of what we’re seeing.
Because if your business model is based on just having the cheapest and the most, well, someone can always kind of beat you, as we were seeing with SHEIN. You know, SHEIN is sort of beating everybody, and then they’re gonna have a boom and bust cycle for sure eventually.
So it’s really interesting. It’s honestly not even sustainable on an economic level. So it just doesn’t even make sense.
But Cindi, I really appreciated what you said about building alternatives. And that leads into my next question quite well, that I had for Sam.
Sam, can you share some examples of these alternative textile or clothing systems that are possible outside of Big Fashion?
Yes, let’s talk about things that make sense now!
Now we get to the fun part! There’s so many to discuss, we can never fit it in just one podcast. And we just don’t usually hear them or see them because they get drowned out by these big advertising budgets of capital F Fashion, as we’ve been discussing.
But we’ve been tracking a lot of new projects. One area that we’ve been looking at are projects that pop up online that use open source software, which means it’s completely free to whoever has access to the internet and a computer. It’s completely open for all to enjoy.
An example of that is a project called Fixing Fashion. So they have an online platform with multiple videos and also like full courses, educational courses, on how to mend your clothing. That’s one area. But also like really creative and fun projects about upcycling.
From my generation, speaking from my perspective, a lot of us don’t even know how to sew! We don’t even know the first start of it. So to have something that can educate us and really get us closer to our clothing in that more like mental spiritual way — and also provide a practical solution to my denim has a hole in it — it’s really nice. And it’s available for everyone. So that’s one project that we’ve been looking at.
Another kind of category is more local-based projects that are very physical. An example of that is the Linen Project. So they’re based in the Netherlands and they investigate and work towards reactivating the economic viability of small-scale, local flax cultivation and linen production, which is really cool as well.
So you get to actually grow your own linen right there and be a part of this process physically and see it. So much of our clothing is made outside of our eyesight. We don’t even know how clothing is made, really. So to bring it back to their original task and like creative force, I think is really exciting. So that’s another example.
But also something as simple, or “simple”, as Cindi mentioned — I don’t think it’s simple anymore; I think it’s actually quite revolutionary these days — is your Sunday night knitting circle in your town. That’s an alternative to big capital F Fashion and it’s always been here.
All these things have always been here. We just have to like weed out all these bad fast fashion brands and advertising to find it. So yeah, there’s been so many I can go on forever on this. But there’s a lot of creativity out there when you stop looking at clothing through a consumption-driven lens. On the outskirts, we’re having a lot of fun. We recommend you come join us over here.
Yes, and also I would add to that the rise of stylists like yourself, Sam, that are helping people shop their closets.
Yes, I’m back.
Yes. And yeah, for listeners, we have an entire episode on that with Sam that you can go back to to learn more and get some tips on how to shop your closet a bit more.
And then Sandra, do you have anything else to add to this question about alternative textile and clothing systems?
Yes, I do. And I have to say that listening to Sam talk about Sunday nights sitting around knitting or patching our socks or whatever we’re doing, I was smiling away. Because that feels like home to me.
I’m an anthropologist, and I’ve spent 40 years going back and forth to North Sumatra. And I just spent the whole day researching, or at least going through some of my notes on a head cloth that I’ve been researching in North Sumatra. And it’s exciting. Sitting around with the village, the community, the family, working on an Indigenous piece of clothing.
I’m in love with it. I’m in love with this particular head cloth that I’m working with, because I think, well, what’s not to love? It’s exactly what we’re looking for as fashion reformers.
It’s local, it’s what Sam was describing about the Linen Project. It’s got a brilliance of technique that hasn’t been lost completely yet. Fashion systems are undermining it, but anyway…
It’s appropriate to the climate. It promotes local knowledge. There’s no chemical additives. It’s not disposable. It’s passed on. It’s treasured, it’s loved. So there’s no planned obsolescence.
And I think, hey, this occurred to me years ago, all these students and researchers looking for this sustainable fashion system and then thinking, well, this under our noses. We’re recreating it now, we’re trying to, it’s taking a lot of effort, but it’s out there in the world, and it always has been.
And, alas, we’re destroying it through our capitalist activities. We know, for instance, that agriculturalists, who are looking for alternative ways that are more sustainable, for working the land, are very often going to Indigenous systems and learning age-old ways of living in harmony with the land.
I hope that Fashion people will do that with Indigenous clothing systems, because there’s an awful lot out there to learn about. And it’s available.
I think maybe it takes seeing it, respecting it, honoring it, because it’s always been there. So why can’t we see it? And why aren’t we learning from it?
Yeah, so we have more to learn from it. Let’s hope that we’ll learn from what’s left instead of continuing to increasingly rapidly undermine it through Fashion expansion.
Mhm. And Fashion Act Now is currently working on a really exciting project to bring together these alternative systems and localized solutions to addressing fashion’s ecological and human impact, and impact on all living things.
Sam, can you tell us about the Common Market?
I would love to! So at FAN, we’ve done a lot of talking, debating, writing, imagining, which are all really important parts of this process to creating change. And we’ve also criticized the current system a lot as you’ve heard in the past 30 minutes of us talking.
But we also believe equally and perhaps more importantly, is this need to repair the ills of the current system and develop just and functional alternatives. That’s when the Common Market was born. We need to do something and build something.
So the Common Market is an online marketplace for community-led clothing projects. So we say internally, essentially, it’s like a destination for clothing cultures uncorrupted by profit and capitalism, which is beautiful.
But more importantly, they’re defined by purpose, meaning, and values. So we really want to give fashion lovers all of the people listening to this podcast right now easy access to this beautiful world of the fashion commons, where everything is creative and fun, and we can actually enjoy this stuff not be stuck under a really aggressive system, as we’ve been discussing.
Because like I mentioned earlier, they exist. They’ve been existing. And we just want to give them the platform that they deserve.
So we’ll have both local projects. So you can type in your zip code on a map, and you can find that Sunday night knitting circle in your area that maybe you didn’t know about before. And you can go join, which is fantastic.
We’ll also have online projects that you can join in something like Fixing Fashion, all across the world. So those are going to be on the platform.
But really, our goal is joining together this network of Clothing Commons, so we can move away from excess and towards sufficicency. We can move towards regenerative practices, and this thriving diversity of cultures. We really hope that the Common Market can help facilitate a federation of local community projects that really stand in solidarity with one another.
We want to build our team up against Big Fashion. And that’s what this is really about — it’s bringing us all together in one place. It’s about celebrating these projects and creating a space where everyone listening to this call can celebrate with us. That’s what the Common Market is all about.
Hey listeners, Elizabeth from the future here! You may be wondering what is this “commons” that the Fashion Act Now team is talking about? Maybe that was just me, but I felt like I wasn’t completely confident I knew what they were referring to when they said Commons, so I asked them to clarify.
Here’s Sara with an explainer of what the Commons really is.
I’ve been wondering how to explain the Commons in a really simple way. Because I feel like there’s so much I want to say about it.
I feel that when we talk about our economy, we tend to talk about three things: the role of citizens, the role of the State, and the role of the market, and we forget that there is actually a fourth player in our economy, which is the commons.
This is when citizens come together, and they see their resources not as resources to exploit, but as a common wealth between those people. And they create their own rules, or customs or traditions that might help to manage those resources.
So this could be an area of land, but it could also be a knowledge that we hold between us as a community in terms of a sewing circle. It’s a community coming together and being like, we’ve got knowledge, somebody knows how to sew a button, somebody knows a particular type of stitching, and together we can learn.
The Commons is super important, because actually, when we can come together as citizens through participation in direct democratic ways of organizing, we create systems that make sense for those communities.
You could see Indigenous communities as Commons in a lot of ways. I think it’s no coincidence then that Indigenous communities make up 5% of our global population, but are protecting 85% of our remaining biodiversity. That’s because these systems work.
So I hope that gives a bit of an explanation. Not sure if anyone wants to add anything? We could do a whole podcast on the commons.
I would add to look up David Bollier and read his stuff. That is a perfect entry point to the Commons.
And I would like to add that in our current system, what drives it is that money moves upwards. So you’ve got production of clothing as an excuse, actually, to get money to flow upwards. It makes the rich richer. And in a commons, you actually get distribution, that the proceeds stay within the community.
So the community works with its resources, and the money doesn’t flow upward. It stays within the community. And that’s what makes it healthy. That’s what means that’s not extractive. It’s regenerative. It’s sustaining, it’s nurturing.
And I just have to throw this in. We know that Patagonia is wanting to use its profits now, for projects related to sustainability and so on, and that’s absolutely laudable.
But what I prefer to see is a structural change, where it’s not a company that’s getting those kinds of profits in the billions. But in fact, leaving the money, leaving the benefits of all kinds within the community. Then you don’t have to worry about redistribution. It’s already redistributed from the get-go.
Yeah I am with you that if you’re, you know, it’s great when companies give back or distribute profits, but how — exactly as you said — how did they accumulate so much profit in the first place?
Was there somewhere along the way — during production in the case of a fashion brand — that they could have, ensure that more of that money, was for example, going to the workers.
So yeah, it’s really challenging, but I love that Fashion Act Now is sort of helping us envision this future with the Common Market. Sam, what is the call to action for listeners with the Common Market?
Yeah, so there’s two ways you can get involved, or you could do both of them, we welcome either option. So one way is just as a clothing wearer, lover of all things beautiful, join our waitlist, and we will tell you when we have our projects come out.
You can explore them, you can get involved with them, it’s just gonna be really exciting. So join our waitlist. That’s the first call to action.
The other one if you or whoever’s listening has a project that you’re currently working on, maybe you started it, or you’re a part of it, reach out to us. We would love to have a discussion with you and see if it makes sense to partner on the Common Market.
We do have a 10 point protocol that every project must filter through to just keep the space safe and aligned. But we would love to hear any ideas you guys are doing and starting, please join us.
So if you do have a project, you can go and write to us on our website. It’s thecommon.market. I’m sure you’ll have it in the show notes. But check it out there. We have so much coming. So just stay tuned, essentially.
You can explore it but also interact with it. And I think that’s the cool part of how we set it up. It’s not just something to look at. It’s something to get involved with. Stay tuned for when that can happen.
Very cool. Yes, that link will be in the show notes. And also I recommend subscribing to FAN’s monthly newsletter. I love receiving that and the articles you suggest, the events that you have linked in there to attend. Really, really cool resource.
So Cindi, can you tell us where people can learn more and connect with Fashion Act Now?
Yes. Go to the website, it’s fashionactnow.org and please check it out. You can join, you can become a member, you can learn about various events that Fashion Act Now is either sponsoring or participating in.
We have a book club meeting once a month, where we dive into a book or a writer whose work is relevant to what we’re doing with Fashion Act Now. Like I mentioned before David Bollier on Commoning. We’ve read him.
We’ve read Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, just about her whole notions of Indigenous relationships with the land with each other. And that idea of reciprocity and living in this world in a healthy way.
You can also, if you go to the website, there are videos on there. You can watch a video of Uli, who Sandra has worked with in Indonesia, talk about her work. There are other videos there that you can see. You can also join us to help shape this whole new post-Fashion world that we want to move towards.
So your voices, your experience, your knowledge is valued. It’s a big world, and we need people working on this.
Well, thank you all so so much for this past hour. This has been informative and inspiring. And I really hope that listeners will check out everything that FAN has to offer.
Before we close out, I do have one final question that I asked every guest that comes into the show, and I would love for all of you to answer. That is: what would a better future for fashion look like to you?
I kind of feel that the shin bone is connected to the knee bone. There’s all these changes that we’re talking about that are holistic, and they’re all related to one another. I was going to say something about no more sacrifice zones. Make sure if we don’t have any more sacrifice zones, everything will change.
The same thing goes with Indigenous self determination. That’s what I like to see. And if we have that, there’ll be no more sacrifice zones. There’d be no more profits going to the first world and so on.
Every single piece of the puzzle would radically alter every other piece. I was also thinking, if we have a pluriverse of clothing, that means no more Fashion industry.
But in the end, I think what I’ll do after saying all of that is after listening to Sam talk about the Common market, I think I’ve changed my mind. And I’ll say now that what I’d really like for the fashion future is for the Common Market to eclipse capital F Fashion.
So, for me, this is really about clothing culture that is not about egos and power, but it’s about community. I feel as we face climate and ecological breakdown, we need fashion to be a tool that builds resilient communities.
Fashion that shows respect for all individuals, and that means humans and non-humans.
I don’t know how much more to add, because I think it’s all quite connected. And you kind of know our answer throughout this whole conversation. But I just want to make one note about creativity and joy and bring back that back to this fashion world.
Originally, when I was quite young, I was always dreaming of being a fashion editor and being in the magazines, seeing all these things, and then I finally got there at that point in my career, and realized it’s not at all what I dreamed about.
It was completely dominated by advertising and selling product, and it really ruined it for me. It ruined my relationship with clothing for quite some time. But after stepping outside of that, and joining a group like FAN, I realized that there’s so much love and joy and creativity still in clothing for me, and for so many others. I just had to open my eyes a bit more and step outside of it.
I think that’s what I really want all of us to experience — this new world where you can still have fun with this stuff. You can still express your identity and explore different things. Just doing it in a way that’s safe for all. That’s really powerful to me.
So that’s what we want to really do with the Common Market is to show that there’s so much fun over here. It’s not a restriction. It’s actually a celebration of clothing.
I think for me, it’s very simple. I would like a future for fashion for us to feel good about what we’re wearing in that we can wear whatever we’re wearing with integrity, knowing that it has not caused harm to anyone else or any other creature or to the earth.
So that we can feel good about a human being dressed and walking around on this planet.
And that’s a wrap for this episode — and this season.
Thank you so much for tuning in today. If you haven’t caught up with the other episodes of the season, definitely scroll back in your podcast feed.
All the episodes were centered around these themes of slowing down and envisioning a post-growth future for fashion that isn’t centered around just producing as many plastic clothes and trendy styles as fast as possible.
As I mentioned in the intro, there’s going to be still more episodes through the rest of the year. They’re just like not attached to a season. And we’ll be back next year with season five.
In the meantime, if you’re enjoying this podcast, it would be so much if you took a moment to rate, review and/or share this podcast with someone else who you think might like it.
And then some other ways to stay in touch with us. You can follow @consciousstyle on Instagram. And you can always DM me if you have a question or you have a topic that you want to see addressed on this show.
There’s also a weekly newsletter. And this newsletter is free. I’ve gotten questions on that. So yes, it is free. It’s called the Conscious Edit and I share articles, documentaries, brands, campaigns to support, and all that kind of good stuff. That sign up is at consciouslifeandstyle.com/edit. And the link is also in the episode description if you don’t remember that link.
So thank you again for tuning in to this episode — and supporting the show!
About Fashion Act Now
Fashion Act Now is a group of activists demanding and enabling a radical defashion future.
Fashion Act Now urges an immediate crisis response to dismantle the dominant globalised Fashion system. It calls that response defashion, the role that Fashion must play in degrowth. Defashion is a transition to post-fashion clothing systems that are regenerative, local, fair, nurturing and sufficient for the needs of communities.