Interview with Fashion commentator & campaigner, Caryn Franklin

The Ethical Agenda is a blog/ online magazine about ethical business, ethical living and ethical thinking with interviews with people doing amazing things to set the agenda for a sustainable way of being…

Safia opens THE ETHICAL AGENDA with an interview with Fashion commentator & campaigner, Caryn Franklin.

Caryn-Franklin-wears-Po-Zu-shoes-SWHow does fashion have to change to become more humane and ethical? Is it about brands, consumers, government or media taking the initiative?

I have chosen to work with the next generation of young creatives to empower them to challenge old systems and find new answers. There are many amazing educators out there that believe as I do that we can encourage emerging designers, journalists, art directors, PRs, image-makers etc, to channel their own anger and frustration at what we have now, into an authentic force for positive change. We all need passion in our lives and it’s these emotions that drive us to act. What I say to my students is don’t suppress it, express it look at how you can contribute even by bringing about the tiniest shift in another’s attitude. I’m always learning too and I really understand that finding the courage to speak, is a very hard step for some. But when you love an industry you can see its faults too and helping to make our industry better is my mission. I call myself a Disruptive Fashion Lover!

Why have you chosen to focus on body image and psychological well being?

The fashion industry is a powerful taste leadership energy in people’s lives, and with the ability to influence comes with accountability. Fashion must acknowledge that the promotion of unachievable body ideals and lack of appearance diversity is not good for the mental health of girls and women and increasingly boys and men. Studies show that we engage in social comparison to elevate our sense of self but if we feel our body type or appearance is not measuring up to idealized fashion imagery then this affects our perception of ourselves in a negative way.

Caryn-Franklin-with-Safia-Minney-Po-Zu-MD-SWIn short… thin white models should not be the only type of appearance promotion, there are many visions for humanity and many others that deserve visibility too. In seeing them celebrated, we become more visible too. There are incentives for companies to engage with a broader spectrum of appearance. Diverse models can enhance the bond that the consumer will make with the model in the sales appeal and studies show this leads to increased intention to purchase by 300%.

The routine sexualisation of women in imagery is also problematic. This normalizes consumption of femininity as sexually available and objectified. Studies show we de-personalise both men and women who are sexually objectified in imagery. This has very negative effects on gender perception but also very negative outcomes for women who are far more frequently objectified in our media whether it be as a passive and perfected exterior, a coathanger for fashion or a sexualized fembot. Women who internalize these messages for their own femininity, also are more likely to go on to self-objectify. This does huge damage to self- esteem and can lead to depression and self-harm. I’ve been able to work with organisations such as The Women’s Equality Party, The Advertising Standards Authority, Graduate Fashion Week, The Age of No Retirement and many others to help disrupt thinking and belief systems.

3. How do we bring about the reduced rate of consumption?

I think many women and increasingly men, are trapped in a cycle of medicating low self-esteem with quick fix clothing buys. I say this because I link the proliferation of false realities in advertising, (dependent upon the unachievable body ideal and the perfected self) to rising rates of body image dissatisfaction and low self worth. To my mind, we have to address the way the repetition and ubiquity of these images can influence mental health. I studied an MSc in applied psychology, to be able to find the studies to make these claims and I feel very strongly that we must begin to break the hold fashion has on the viewer’s perception of self.

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This can be done through realistic casting, diverse appearance ideals in race, size and age, body difference and of course disruption of gender norms. This is something I encourage my students to investigate. Creating a situation where we want to buy better quality and therefore less because we want to celebrate ourselves as individuals rather than clamouring to belong to a short lived trend that keeps on changing, could mean we begin to feel really good about ourselves as authentic beings. And this means choosing clothes to express who we are not who fashion thinks we should be. Studies show that our clothing can effect our cognitions – in other words what we are wearing affects how we feel as well as how we process information. It’s early days but I do feel excited by the things I am learning through psychology research.

4. Can you tell us about projects that you are working on and what impact you are expecting this to have? Is collaboration important?

I have just come out of a very tiring few weeks and I am hopeful that the cultural shift that we are currently observing will have long lasting impact. No one can have missed the debate around sexual assault in the workplace and the accusations about Harvey Weinstein that led to his immediate dismissal. I decided to use this film producer’s behaviour as a reason to re-visit protests I have made over the years, about fashion photographer Terry Richardson – also a predator. I wrote a piece for Refinery29 about my attempts to speak out and stop him from working with young women (this included writing for national press and giving an interview on Channel 4 news back in 2013 as well as continued initiatives through out the years). A few days after the Refinery 29 piece, the Sunday Times quoted me in their feature and in a very short space of time, brands were distancing themselves from him. I’ve made it sound very simple and it hasn’t been…I only started being vocal in 2013 after reading about him but other women and industry voices have been protesting for much longer. I’ve never written so many pieces this last week or given so many interviews. I’ve been glued to my social networking platforms because everyone wanted information and quotes. I’ve just done quite a few back-to-back 18 hour days spent in my PJs because as soon as I got up it started all over again! It’s been a revelation that this time round everything changed when this man had previously seemed untouchable. But that in itself has also been a wonderful education. Keep speaking out don’t let it drop!

5. Can you share with us the one positive phrase/ inspiring words or vision that keeps you motivated and moving the agenda forward?

Psychologist Hamira Riaz recently wrote “I used to keep a lot to myself, expressing opinions brings the risk of being judged. However, such reticence born of fear is the ultimate betrayal of one’s ability to affect change,” This really resonated with me. Perhaps everyone is waiting for some very big powerful initiatives to create change when all the time they could be actively involved by using their voice. I just try and use my voice is all – sometimes it leads to a shift.

6. What are you wearing in these lovely photographs we took of you and why did you choose the Stormtrooper boots? Aren’t they the bad guys? 😉

Love those boots so comfortable and sleek.

I am wearing them with a second hand laser-cut skirt from my local store Kensal Vintage and a wonderful sample garment jacket from Ada Zanditon.

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I am enjoying what I am wearing because every garment embraces sustainability. It makes me feel nice to think about clothes this way.

2. Which book is a ‘must read’ to help understand the issues in your field?

One of my favourite books recently has been Dorothy Rowe’s Beyond Fear. As a noted psychologist Rowe explains how, when we begin to observe the stories we tell ourselves, we can move beyond the fear we all feel about life, unknown outcomes, death and humiliation. Well you asked!!! I really recommend it she’s a brilliant writer.

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Caryn wears: Po-Zu.com Stormtrooper boots, chrome-free leather

Safia wears: Po-Zu.com ethical sneakers, organic cotton

What people are saying about ‘Slow Fashion – Aesthetics meets Ethics’

What people are saying about ‘Slow Fashion – Aesthetics meets Ethics’ at the Book Launch in the Duke of Cambridge, Slow Food Mecca of London

23rd March 2016

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80 people gathered at The Duke of Cambridge, the slow food mecca of London to launch ‘Slow Fashion – Aesthetics meets Ethics’, written and creative directed by Safia Minney, MBE, Founder and Director of pioneer ethical fashion brand People Tree.

Published by New Internationalist, Slow Fashion profiles the designers, labels and eco-concept stores across the globe that are taking the lead in providing consumers with a more sustainable alternative to fast fashion. Working with high profile operators in the industry, Safia’s latest book is an incredinbly important part of the huge movement that is sustainable and ethical fashion

The audience of journalists, fashion bloggers, campaigners and contributors sipped on organic Prosecco cocktails whilst Caryn Franklin asked the author questions about the book.

Other speakers included Lucy Siegle, journalist and social justice advocate, who MC’d the event; Mike Gidney, CEO Fairtrade Foundation; John Hillary, Director of War on Want; Jean Lambert, MEP for The Green Party; Romy Fraser OBE, Founder of Neal’s Yard Remedies; Lord Peter Melchett, Director of the Soil Association and Orsola De Castro, Co-Founder of Fashion Revolution.

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Slow Fashion reflects Safia’s expertise, intimate and intuitive knowledge of supply chains and her supplies through Fair Trade and her 25 year history of campaigning for ethical business. Slow Fashion brings you the future of the fashion industry. We’ve got something out there: the next tool to get this message out there. We need to get this book out there. We have to fight to get this book on the playing field. Safia, you always have an answer. You are an unstoppable force. I hope we can all pay Safia back by getting this book out there.

Lucy Siegle
Journalist and Social Justice Advocate

Safia brings a radical compassion and a humanitarian approach to everything she does. I’ve had the privilege to work with her for 15 years. She has a remarkably clear eye and focus on turning a mission into ethical business with such dedication. Slow Fashion, her new book, is partly manifesto and partly how to – it’s a must read for all!

 

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Mike Gidney
CEO Fairtrade Foundation

Slow Fashion is definitely a great read and watch, there are films to inspire us, and help us to act. At a political level public pressure is helping to create policy and enforce standard in the garment supply chain – we need to keep up that energy.

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Jean Lambert
MEP

I really recommend reading Slow Fashion. Safia has been fearless in shining the spotlight on what is unacceptable business practice in the fashion industry. She holds up a mirror to unfair trade and shows us that fashion can be fair, ethical and equitable. Few people are able to go the extra mile and put their principals out there like Safia can and Slow Fashion is a testament to that. Slow Fashion is such a rich book, like a delicious plate of slow food!

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John Hilary
Director, War on Want

I am delighted to be here. What an amazing book…

Safia’s understands that cotton comes from the people on farms… The people who started it. It takes horrendous tragedies to get people to pay attention to what happens to the people supplying our clothes. Thousands of people die each year on non-organic cotton farms… the death and illness and destruction that non-organic chemical causes particularly in developing countries.

When I first got involved in the Soil Association, Safia gave me a sense of determination that we are going to change things for the better. It’s a wonderful book.

Peter Melchett
Policy Director, Soil Association

It’s an honor for me to be here. I do feel that I am with friends and have been friends with Safia for 25 years. This is just another exciting episode of Safia’s life – particularly from a retailer’s point of view. As a retailer, you are the interface with the customer. It’s about trust. With Safia, I trust that she knows what she’s doing. She knows the people at the beginning of that chain. We don’t usually know where these products come from – we don’t know the stories. But Safia unravels what’s behind each of those products we buy on a whim. When you featured retailers, that was really exciting to me. There are other retailers there who care.

Romy Fraser
Founder Neal’s Yard Remedies & Trill Farm

Safia and I have both been called pioneers and it seemed so lonely for so long… But tonight we are all here together. The difference between slow fashion and fast fashion is like a one-night stand and a relationship… We want to know the person, who they are, who made them, their taste in things and where they want to go. You want to build on something. Asking the question ‘Who made my clothes?’ call allow you to follow the thread of your jumper back to the person who has woven the cotton. I hope that in the future, we will re-own the [fashion] industry. The supply chain, the fashion industry, can really ignite solutions.

Orsola De Castro
Co-Founder Fashion Revolution

 

Slow Fashion is available to purchase from local bookshops, Amazon and direct from New Internationalist.

Caryn Franklin interviews Safia Minney about her latest book: Slow Fashion – Aesthetics meets Ethics

23rd March 2016

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Caryn: Good evening everyone and lovely to see you. I’m going to be really teasing out information from Safia about her book that you will hopefully all take home with you tonight. It’s a fantastic book because it is packed with knowledge and words from people who have done a small part of the journey with Safia and for helping to bring those voices and an alternative belief system and that’s crucially important because we need a system to believe in or a logistic to engage with in order to shift and in order to change and Safia is doing all of that work and we just have to agree with it!

So just tell us a little bit about the book…

Safia: There has been a staggering shift in the awareness – in civil society in industry, in policy and in the media after the horrific tragedy of the collapse of Rana Plaza. I wanted to really capture this new chapter which has been full of incredible campaigns like Fashion Revolution, ethical brands and stores that have really put pressure on the industry and policy makers to change. Also, as I was developing the European market for People Tree (now celebrating our 25th anniversary since I started the company in Japan). The retail growth of eco concept stores worldwide is amazing. They sell Fair Trade, sustainable and ethical fashion and look completely different to how they looked 10 years ago. Travelling around Germany, Scandinavia, Japan, it’s incredible to see the prolification of ethical brands has led to better quality stores – alongside ethical and vintage fashion, they sell ethical lifestyle products, local art, they have organic cafes and run talks about well-being and social issues. I think the whole fashion industry is changing and we have some of those key people here tonight who have helped shaped that change.

I’m hoping you can download the QR code reader app onto your phone and watch the films. You can actually go into the stores, look around and see the products and meet the people who run them. These people have done a remarkable job of creating stores which are really engaging. And we need more stores like this, so I’m really hoping that we can promote the eco-concept stores near us. Because this is the future of fashion, telling the story of fashion – the story of the producer and the products.

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Caryn: Tell us a little about why you think it’s taking much longer for the fashion industry to embrace slow produce – we’re in one of many organic, slow food pubs in London but why is slow fashion taking longer?

Safia: Clearly fashion product has a shorter product life cycle – a maximum 6 months often to design a product and get it to market – it makes it very expensive in terms of supply chain development – all of the transparency needs to be done and truly sustainable and fair – this takes time to check properly. We’ve come to a place where we have fair trade and ethical systems and standards for cotton like organic cottons and Fair Trade standards for clothing manufacture. There’s a lot of initiatives that show how to improve the supply chain, worker’s rights and environmental protection, compared to 5 to 10 years ago, I don’t think that fashion companies now have any excuse to not engage with delivering sustainability and worker’s rights behind the products they make and retail.

Caryn: How can we now get over the worthiness of Fair Trade issues not having the edgy approach or coolness that people are looking for when it comes to fashion – how can we weave this in that its uncool not to link the worker with the product?

Safia: There’s beautiful, quality products and really desirable fashion that you will buy because you love the product. Clearly ethical fashion is competing on an un-level playing field and there is no real environmental or social cost factored into conventional fashion prices.

That is a genuine challenge for ethical brands as we spend money on developing supply chains, paying fair prices and better environmental practice, results in less money available to spend on marketing. Caryn, how do you think ethical fashion companies can get more for their tiny marketing budgets?

Caryn: What I do know from the work that I’ve done in promotional work with sustainable fashion is that if we can reach these individuals and get them to make a personal decision and unite them. What happens is that people get stuck in a system and they feel disempowered which is why an alternative belief system is crucial. Everyone wants to make a contribution to change. Especially if you work in fashion – we need to contribute to what feels good about being human. I’ve seen you do it say ‘come and help, you know you want to.’ We need to incorporate more ambassadors who can do that on your behalf, invite people to switch, to make changes in their lives on a limited budget so that they feel very engaged with slow fashion and what it is they love about fashion itself and the opportunity for change.

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Safia: It might sound strange, but despite being an owner of People Tree, we ought to be buying less fashion. We ought to be buying more second-hand vintage, up-cycled and when we do buy something new, of course it should be Fair Trade and organic! It’s about people being more conscious about what they buy.

Caryn: Do you have a simple point to leave our audience with tonight?

Safia: I just want to tell you about some of the feedback I got from some of the Fair Trade groups I work with from around the world including Nepal, Bangladesh and India about the Slow Fashion Book.

In Bangladesh they said: “If we have better stores selling our clothing and products, we can empower more women, more people with these orders, we can build schools, we can build clean water facilities, we can start micro credit programs”.

From India: “We want to introduce some of your campaigns in Europe here in India – your book is inspiring to us!”

So really there is just so much excitement from the Fair Trade movement about this book. I really hope to create livelihoods and support people to help themselves, my new book will inspire people to start new stores and to continue to campaign for fairer fashion, I hope.

Slow Fashion is available to purchase from local bookshops, Amazon and direct from New Internationalist.