MotionInsightAll the World’s a Runway

All the World’s a Runway

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When confronted with the term ‘fashion’, different people will offer different reactions. Some embrace it, while others dismiss it as unimportant, but the truth is none of us deliberately look for unsuitable clothes. The degrees of attention given to the things one wears may be different, but consciously or not, carefully or not, we all do some mixing and matching every morning.

The inimitable Coco Chanel once said, “Every day is a fashion show and the world is the runway.” For most of us, fashion begins and ends as a way to express ourselves. When we shop for new clothes, we pay attention to the cuts, the quality of the fabrics, the price, and last but not least, the brand. The factor which rarely influences our decision, if it ever comes to mind at all, is the people who make the clothes.

And no, we’re not talking about designers.

Every piece of clothing does begin with a designer, but these creative minds and the hands that actually make the clothes almost never belong to the same person. Perhaps, once or twice, a vague image of a seamstress sitting behind a sewing machine comes to mind, but how many among us consider these ‘hands’ when we stand in a favorite store, looking at beautiful clothes? The word ‘fashion’, for most of us, is synonymous with beauty and glamor and high-end brands that line the catwalks.

The majority of the fashion industry, however, is not what we see between the pages of a magazine. Neither is it the crème de la crème of haute couture, despite the attention of most fashion photographers. Instead, it’s the industry that clothes the masses, all the 7.5 billion people currently inhabiting this planet.

2015 saw the release of The True Cost, a documentary film exploring the impact of fashion on both the planet and its inhabitants. In this eye-opening, feature-length film, viewers are given a peek into the ‘ugly’ industry behind the pretty clothes. Problems like chemical waste, water and soil pollution, and pesticide contamination, are only some among many. Even more harrowing is the living and working conditions of textile and garment workers in many developing countries—among which, it may be of interest to know, our country is mentioned.

The director, Andrew Morgan, set out to make this documentary film after the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh, which caused the deaths of thousands and put a spotlight on the horrifying working conditions in the garment industry. He was especially concerned by the fast fashion industry.

Fast fashion, similar in concept with fast food, aims to deliver goods quickly to a large number of people. Big names like Zara, Topshop, and H&M are major players in the fast fashion industry. The objective is simple: to deliver clothes that we see on the runway to the racks in stores and boutiques all over the world while the trends are still relevant. Speed is paramount.

However, with the burgeoning middle class, another factor comes into play. Producers are now expected to churn out ready-to-wear goods at a faster pace and a lower cost. Mass production becomes inevitable. This results in thousands of opportunities for cutting corners, resulting in, among others, low-wage workers,long hours and absolutely dangerous working conditions.

Not enough effort has been made to address these problems, but at least there are some attempts as more and more concern is raised over the sustainability and humanity of the fashion industry. Several designers have begun a campaign  to use leftover flowers, fruits, and vegetables instead of chemicals to dye fabrics. Another angle is to tackle the challenge of recyclability. In a competition held at the beginning of this year, suggestions like polyester-eating microbes, algae-based fabric and recycling food waste into yarn, amongst others, were put forth and duly considered.

But what can we, as regular consumers, do?

Donating clothes to charity, as Morgan pointed out in The True Cost, is not enough. Most of them will still end up in landfills or, perhaps the most ironic of ironies, worn by the very people who made them. As long as there are demands, the fast fashion trend will not lose its steam.

A greater awareness is the only answer.

Buying a new piece of clothing has never been easier than it is now. New shopping centers are constantly being built, which mean faster and more convenient access to the latest fashions. Online shops specializing in branded items are also ready to offer their services, priding themselves on delivering the newest, latest goods far more quickly than via any official channel.

But surely if we can afford it, then it also means that we can afford to shop with more awareness? Shed our mantle of apathy, gather more information, and carefully select ethically made goods. These measures might just make a difference.