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Fashion and Politics: APPG for Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion

To Be a Voice for Change is not just about tone, it’s also about context. Fashion is political, from our individual actions and choices, to the power of its major industries and economies. Having cross threads in education, business, government, society and research has been vital to us since our outset. Collectively these make up the inquiry, commitment, jurisdiction, will and means to re-balance what we value and how we live. Fashion, in both its production and consumption, is about vital resources, so engaging and informing government to value and support better practice is a of great importance to us at CSF.

From discussions in 2009, leading to formation in 2011 CSF, has provided the secretariat for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion. Working with its founder, Baroness Lola Young, we’ve set agendas for debate, hosted discussions involving a variety of great speakers and turned a committee room into a design work room for the day. Our scope of exploration includes development of political solutions that might address the environmental impact of excessive consumption; the assessment of government’s role relating to exploitative labour conditions in the supply chain; concerns relating to the welfare of animals used in making fashion products; and critically, the means to educate children and young people on issues of sustainability.

These aims are explored in a variety of ways, through advising parliamentarians, written reports, inclusive events and lively debates around how we care for and exchange our clothes, manufacture in the UK and elsewhere and engaging first time voters in the political system using fashion as a starting point.

The APPG has built a network of individuals, students, designers and businesses all working towards a more ethically and sustainably led industry, creating space for further action as well as raising awareness of issues amongst Parliamentarians.

Formation 2011

In the initial meeting Baroness Lola Young and Prof Dilys Williams launched the APPG naming its remit, exemplified through the bringing together of voices that represent its scope, with Lucy Siegle speaking about animal welfare, Lizzie Harrison about community resilience, Prof Frances Corner, Pro Vice Chancellor at LCF about education and Phil Patterson deciding to deliver his talk on fashion’s colour toxicity in unforgettable rhyming couplets.

At the same time we took Prof. Kate Fletcher’s Local Wisdom research project into the House of Lords, photographing peers and MPs talking about the connections that their clothes make, a forthcoming publication Craft Of Use, explores Kate’s work on this project over the past five years, its ideas are radical helping us to see fashion from a new angle.

Questioning the Status Quo

As well as the APPG’s own events, Baroness Young takes questions into the Lords for debate, with students in attendence in the public gallery, the debate has continued in classrooms as well as having the minister responding formally. Watch the March 2013 debate in full here:

Baroness Young took questions regarding the weak response to Rana Plaza by many retailers, on Tuesday 10 December 2013:

‘To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made in their discussions with fashion retailers in securing improvements in factory working conditions since the Rana Plaza disaster in April this year’.

IOSH Roundtable

Since the Rana Plaza factory collapse, the APPG has hosted two roundtable discussions with the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

In 2014 the aims of the roundtable were:

• To commemorate the deaths of workers in Bangladesh Rana Plaza disaster on 24 April 2013
• To highlight what health and safety improvement has been achieved so far and what still remains to be done
• To raise awareness and gain support for health and safety improvement in supply chain management

In 2015  the panel debate looked at the initiatives that have been set up and discussed what more can be done, particularly focusing on having greater transparency in the industry and workers being able to raise safety concerns without fear of reprisals from their employers.

I Stood Up at the House of Lords

With a general election looming the APPG, led by CSF hosted I Stood Up at the House of Lords, as part of Prof. Dilys Williams Habit(AT) project inviting first time voters to Stand Up for their concerns through fashion making and wearing. Finding out about the very low engagement in politics by the under 25s galvanized us to see if we could engage first time voters with politics. Since then, we have seen a huge surge in interest by the under 25s, which we hope will energise the ambitions of the APPG to engage young people in politics and the issues around sustainability.

First time voters were invited to spend the afternoon at the House of Lords discussing and making fashion objects to represent the concerns they had for the future. The event was followed by a debate about these issues. The panel at the debate included: Louise Court, Editor-In-Chief Cosmopolitan magazine; Professor Frances Corner OBE, Head of London College of Fashion and Pro Vice Chancellor University of the Arts London; Lois McNay, Professor of Theory of Politics Oxford University; Professor Dilys Williams, CSF; Lord Tyler, Liberal Democrat Peer; and Alison McGovern MP (Labour).

Debating material solutions

Some of the clothes donated to H&M through their take-back scheme

In the autumn of 2015 the APPG hosted two debates looking at the material flows of the industry with particular focus on the take back schemes offered on the high street (October 2015) and corporate uniforms (December 2015). Both debates posed a question posed to an audience of industry experts, educationalists, students and sustainability professionals. Alongside new co-secretariat partners Hubbub, CSF hosted the debates to further the conversation around the throughput of materials in the industry.

The first focused on:What contribution to fashion sustainability do clothing take-back schemes offer?

The event was hosted in Portcullis House with an expert panel that included: Professor Kate Fletcher – Professor of Sustainability, Design, Fashion here at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, London College of Fashion; Dr Andrew Brooks – Author of Clothing Poverty, and lecturer in Development Geography, Kings College London; Trewin Restorick – CEO/Founder of Hubbub; Cyndi Rhoads – Founder of Worn Again; Cecilia Brannsten – H&M Project Leader for Sustainability; and Adam Elman – M&S Director of Sustainable Business for Plan A.

This was followed by questioning: How can we prevent 90% of corporate uniforms from going to landfill?

The experts giving insight on the panel were: Kate Riley, Technical expert, Oakdene Hollins; Alex McIntosh, Research and Enterprise Associate, Centre for Sustainable Fashion; Suzanne Westlake, Head of Corporate Responsibility, Ocado; Steve Jones, Sodexo and Trewin Restorick, CEO & Founder, Hubbub

See our events page for future events.