Cosmopolitan (UK)

Can fashion be a force for good?

The industry has a rep for bad behaviour. But some renegade designers are trying to change that


In February 2019, I attended my first Vivienne Westwood show – an emotional, ‘pinch me’ moment. A diverse rabble of models, actors and activists strutted to a backdrop of impassione­d monologues on the state of the planet and how we, the human race, must change to get our house in order. It climaxed with Westwood herself skipping round the stage and singing emphatical­ly for more people to ‘buy less, choose well and make it last’. It’s increasing­ly common for designers to present politicall­y charged performanc­es like this on the catwalk. But do these runway revolution­s get noticed outside of the so-called fashion crowd? And crucially, does the awareness raised fuel any change in the long run?

That Westwood show was emblematic of the late designer’s approach to fashion and a lifelong dedication to making change happen. From driving a tank up to former prime minister David Cameron’s home in Oxfordshir­e in protest of fracking to pitching up outside the Old Bailey in a giant birdcage to call for the release of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks whistleblo­wer, Westwood often stated that crafting beautiful clothes was secondary to speaking up on the issues that truly mattered to her.

In my job as a fashion features director, I’m committed to spotlighti­ng the rising generation of creatives who are similarly intent on using fashion as a force for good. And yes, I know it’s not often that you hear ‘fashion’ and ‘good’ in the same sentence. More commonly, fashion is called out for its elitism and exclusivit­y, its lack of diversity in terms of race, body types, ability and identity, and its devastatin­g impact on the planet. The list goes on (sadly).

In 2022, fast-fashion brands remained top in Google results, despite the sector’s unsustaina­ble overproduc­tion model, mistreatme­nt of workers and notoriety for ripping off indie designers. Last October, Kanye West’s ninth Yeezy show became

the straw that broke the camel’s back, as he sent corrosive ‘White Lives Matter’ T-shirts around a Parisian car park, kick-starting an almighty backlash. Even the seemingly unshakeabl­e Balenciaga fell from grace late last year, with controvers­ial campaigns leading fans to boycott it. (In response, the fashion house released a statement saying, ‘Balenciaga takes full responsibi­lity’ and that they ‘strongly condemn child abuse’.) To say that I don’t often get bogged down by fashion’s dark side would be a lie. But I’m spurred on by the brilliant creatives with whom I share a common goal – to represent a broader range of people on the runway and beyond.

London is frequently regarded as a pioneering fashion city; a bratty upstart intent on doing things its own way. But for years, it was lagging behind in runway diversity. That is until recently, when graduates from the Royal College of Art, Karoline Vitto and Sinéad O’Dwyer, landed on the schedule for London Fashion Week and used the moment to show their commitment to crafting clothes for larger and differentl­y abled bodies. At their SS23 shows last September, Vitto sent her debut collection out on models all above a UK size 10, and O’Dwyer cast two models who use wheelchair­s – almost unheard of within fashion.

And thankfully, they’re not the only ones reassessin­g exactly what a model ‘should’ look like. A new generation of fashion fans are seeing themselves represente­d on the catwalk by designers ranging from partygirl fave 16Arlingto­n to cult kilt connoisseu­r Chopova Lowena in London, Ester Manas in Paris and Eckhaus Latta in New York. And as someone who lived through the ‘size zero’ onslaught of the noughties, that’s a priceless, empowering feeling. (See ya never, ‘heroin chic’.)

Progress towards sustainabi­lity is also largely being made by a forward-thinking league of young, rising designers. One

A new generation of fashion fans are seeing themselves represente­d on the catwalk – and that’s a priceless, empowering feeling standout name to watch is Collina

Strada, which is the brainchild of bonkers Brooklyn creative Hillary

Taymour. Rooted in small-scale production with a zero-waste ethos, Taymour and her ragtag troupe are shifting the narrative on what slow fashion can look like. Out are the shapeless hemp tunics; in their place come avant-garde garments ripped straight from a fantasy role-playing game, crafted from offcuts and recycled materials. Nothing ‘crunchy’ about that, hey?

But is any change coming from these endeavours? I think so. Magazines such as this one are celebratin­g all kinds of beautiful humans, from differentl­y abled people to those with limb difference­s and skin conditions. For the second year in a row, Love Island is sponsored by eBay, and the Islanders are influencin­g the next generation to shop pre-loved clothes. A new crew of slow-fashion influencer­s are educating their growing audiences about shopping more consciousl­y. And in today’s hyper-online world, where so many people get their news from social media, these moments of fashion revolution can take off and go viral, reaching a bigger global audience than ever before.

When invited to write this article, I was asked to consider who was emblematic of ‘fashion as a force for good’. For me, the answer lies in the hands of the upcoming generation – of whom original trailblaze­r Vivienne Westwood would surely be proud.

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 ?? ?? SUPER STARS Trans model Hari Nef opens Collina Strada’s show
SUPER STARS Trans model Hari Nef opens Collina Strada’s show

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