Ahhh, where to start with the ethics and morals of fashion with the spotlight on sustainability? How long have you got? Well, we didn’t quiet have long enough last week when CSF co-hosted a discussion led by Professor Reina Lewis on the topic of Faith and Fashion: Ethics, Morality, Sustainability. Joining Reina was CSF’s Professor DIlys Williams and Ayesha Mustafa, founder of socially conscious fashion brand Fashion ComPassion.
Below are some musings and many more questions inspired by the evening’s conversations, if you’d like to listen to the discussion in its entirety you can find it here.
Sustainability as a moral code with or without a religious underpinning
Questions of morality and ethics are complex and in relation to fashion choices are no less so. What are the moral codes that guide our choices and actions in relation to fashion? What does it mean to dress ethically – to not cause harm to others? Not to generate landfill or waste? To ensure no child labour has been involved in the production of items in your wardrobe? To buy fairtrade? All or none of these? And where do these crossover with sustainability?
Following on from these maxims, it’s possible to argue that sustainability does provide a moral code for our fashion choices as these are all issues tackled within a sustainability framework. Take this definition of sustainability as example: an activity that can be continued indefinitely without causing harm; doing unto others as you would have them do unto you; and meeting a current generation’s needs without compromising those of future generations – this has much moral underpinning as a statement about how you decide to live, though arguably this can apply whether regardless of religious identity.
During the discussion Reina pointed out how questions of sustainability were already central to many faith communities thinking whether or not it was defined as such. Dilys also highlighted how this may not always be immediately apparent, as matters of faith are often intensely personal, and so not something that necessarily get discussed.
The consumer-citizen as identity and the limitations of sustainability as only ethical consumption
As both Dilys and Reina suggested during the evening, sustainability has now become part of a mainstream fashion (and ultimately capitalist) narrative rather than a challenge to the existing fashion model as it may once have been. Rather than an anti-fashion rejection of current practices we are now offered an ethical option, usually a material choice or efficiency saving that makes the current model appear ‘sustainable’, limiting ethical behavior to that of a choice of consumption. To think more radically and deeply about the issues is however, to think beyond ethical consumption as the only form of ethical and indeed sustainable fashion/behavior.
How can we reject an off the peg identity, bought by us and sold to us, even if it is an ethical one? How can we resist being constructed and constructing ourselves only within a framework that treats us as consumer-citizens?
It can’t only be the consumer who has a moral obligation
Thinking about sustainability as a moral framework for fashion must apply to both producer and consumer. Not to buy x as it was made by slave labour may be an approach suitable to the consumer, but what about the role and responsibility of the producer – do ethics (religious or otherwise) have a role to play here too? Not an angle that was discussed on the evening but something worth considering.