Landing with purpose

two models looking toward the camera wearing clothes by Away to Mars
Image: Away to Mars

If we want the world to become a better place post Covid-19, we must stand up for the change we want to see before we all simply default back to business as usual, to the pre-pandemic ‘normal’. The previous post in the series linked to our Fostering Sustainable Practices project concluded with a call to action (see previous posts January, March, May).

Now, as we tentatively welcome friends and extended families back to our lives, rejoice the re-opening of borders, and book suspiciously cheap flights overwhelmed by the desire for sunshine, air and a change of setting, stepping back to consider how the lessons of the last few months can help us to rebuild better is more critical than ever. What the shock of the global pandemic certainly taught us, is that change is not only possible but also inevitable.

The grief of those who have lost their loved ones and the despair of the millions left in destitute will take years to heal. To be bold and fearless right now would be both an insensitive and a senseless ask of them. However, for those more fortunate in the current crisis, bold visions, fearless questioning, and brave actions are a moral imperative. To recover from the turmoil of 2020 is not about re-turning to the old trodden paths, it’s about rethinking where we want to get to in the first place and then building new and much more diverse pathways, likely also in different places.

The Covid-19 crisis has shown with a startling clarity that both societies and businesses that are driven by the single value of economic profit, are alarmingly ill-equipped to face a crisis of this magnitude. When the trajectories of constant growth and profit generation are disrupted, what truly matters suddenly becomes blazingly obvious: people whose lives are built around the values of care, compassion, and devotion to work that is so much more than just a money making exercise.

Over the last few months, through our Instagram, we have been introducing micro and small fashion businesses who are revolutionising what fashion and fashion business are and what they can be in the future. We mentioned Phoebe English, Bethany Williams, and Holy Fulton, who founded the Emergency Designer Network producing scrubs for NHS workers, Paynter Jacket who launched an extra batch to donate the proceeds to their Portuguese factory and the NHS, and Birdsong who set up an emergency fund to support their makers through this difficult time. We feel both honoured and encouraged to have been able to work with all these designers and founders, constantly questioning “why and how we make”[1], as Christopher Raeburn puts it. Away to Mars, who give creative power to designers from all around the world and Unmade whose customisation technology enables reduction of overstock are just two of many more examples.

While many leading brands have been busy walking out on their suppliers, furloughing and laying off their employees, and gambling with health and survival of millions of garment workers around the world. Countless designer-owners in the micro and small fashion sector have shown incredible courage, creativity, and community spirit in offering their skills and resources towards causes they passionately care about. Professor Mariana Mazzucato urges that this crisis is used to redefine both purpose and the problems we will invest in in the future[2]. We need to support those who stand up for and work with the values we want to develop once the worst is out of sight. This will help us build societies that will be better equipped to face whatever the future brings.

Resilience, or as Nassim N. Taleb would argue, ‘antifragility’[3], is the capacity of individuals, societies, cultures, economies, and ecosystems to reorganize and recover from change and disruption in a way that enables them to retain their identity and develop further[4]. We now have the summer to think about what kind of world we want to recover into and how we are personally going to contribute to this effort. In the short-term, we all need some time to prioritise the personal, to nurture the relationships with our loved ones, and to focus on our own well-being. We need sunshine and the time to rest, reflect and dream. But when we come back, let’s seize the moment and put all our renewed energies in standing up for long-term solutions that prioritise health, care, diversity, global justice and the planet.

Because the global pandemic has shown that when times turn difficult, it is not the often misdirected short-term fixes of resource intensive industrial innovation that help us pull through. Rather, it is people familiar with local context, who have the courage and integrity to lead the way by giving time and energy to work driven by community spirit and purpose. Painfully exposed by Covid-19, the injustice of the current economic system, and the fashion sector as a powerful case in point, “is not just about the redistribution of the fruits of progress, but about the very manner in which the planet is made fruitful”[5].