Are we there yet?
It's difficult to cut through the discordant noise of the fashion industry and to go beyond the obsession with possession and commercial barrage of campaigns, targeted advertising, editorials and hashtag #ads. Beside that cacophonous linear climb toward overconsumption and beyond the status stampede, however, are the young, emerging designers rooted in a design philosophy that strives towards making a difference - whatever that may look like. It's always baffled me that, especially within the region, these designers' capabilities have too often been minimised. Clients visit the ateliers clutching the phone that holds the Pinterest images of Balenciaga's latest runway collection requesting it be made in black. With a slightly higher hemline. Cinched at the back. Often young and sometimes struggling; designers oblige. And I can't blame them. In a notoriously competitive industry, somebody has to pay the bills to make the collection that pays the bills.
After years of developing close friendships with these young designers it is my observation that they undoubtedly possess the vision and ability to challenge the status quo. They simply lack the platform to do so to their full potential- even in the Instagram era. They provide enough of a bare slate to bravely contest the system, with enough fervour and alacrity to actually implement change. What does this mean for the customer? A chance to deviate from the stagnant paradigms of what it means to love and enjoy fashion. We may even escape the homogeneity and ubiquity of the monolithic corporate entities' fast fashion offerings that empty our pockets and load up landfill.
So what are our options? Despite the admirable efforts and initiatives by those advocating sustainable product, it has yet to find a permanent home in our closets or a place at the top of our shopping lists. I'm constantly reading about the topic and still there's so much I have to learn. Still, I have those moments during conversations with my better informed friends where I'm left feeling completely out of the loop. Sustainability is more of a thoroughfare than a set destination. Can we ever achieve 100% sustainability within fashion? It's not impracticable but we have a long way to go. Is it ever going to be possible to turn the likes of Inditex 'ethical'? Or can we only expect an asymptote where we work towards but never quite reach ethical fashion? Or can we strive for ethical fast fashion? Gasp.
It's less about availability nowadays than it is about, well, marketing. If we want more people to channel their social and environmental values into their purchasing power we have to stop looking at thoughtful consumption like a bilateral option and focus on it's integration within not only our current retail climate but also in tourism, food and beyond. How can we implement this idea when we've readied our ecru-coloured glasses at the eco- prefix alone? Going "green", eco-friendly, sustainable and thoughtful products are being grossly mismarketed. We live in a time where the collective youth is filled with curiosity, knowledge and, dare I say, an interest in activism but it all gets lost with the amount of noise competing for our attention. How do we progress from passive, seasonal "ice-bucket" activism to nurturing real values that inspire us to make the right choices, empower emerging designers and support communities of people while, here's hoping, saving the planet?
It has to be a no-brainer. It just has to exist. It has to be approached the way you would an attribution model, where "sustainability" can be accessed through a variety of touchpoints that ultimately lead to a certain metric. The end goal. Where achieving sustainability is not limited to a single channel but can be spread and attained across many. Where you can shop from emerging designers that produce their collections fairly and responsibly and still be contributing to thoughtful consumption. Oftentimes, these designers produce the majority of the garments or product in house but are not what most would consider "sustainable". How does that impact our shopping behaviour? How does supporting an emerging designer impact the other efforts toward responsible consumption? How does, say, supporting the less "sexy" sustainable agriculture impact our closet?
Carl Jan Cruz is one of the many designers I know that creates the product and majority of the textiles in-house, supporting a small, talented team that can barely disguise their elation whenever you walk into the studio and fit the pieces. Seeing their joy in witnessing their creations come to life is reason enough to venture down to his Taguig studio and bypass the usual shopping locales. CJ, always positively loquacious and ready to offer a rich conspectus of his methodologies for creating his signatures - cuffed denim and emblazoned crop tops - is just one of the many emerging designers that believes in the value, longevity and story of slow fashion.
And I do too.
Shot on location in Paris / Photography & Styling: Kim Jones