Couture Wars: the politics of fashion

Sunday 31 October, 5.30pm until 6.30pm, Student Union

While the glitterati have often been accused of supporting fashionable causes, until recently this rarely extended as far as the whole fashion industry. The supermodels of the 1990s would rather have gone naked than wear fur, but today’s fashionistas are eager to be seen wrapped up in ethical chic of all kinds. Ethics are no longer applied to the odd piece of women’s wear and the way it’s made but to all clothes and accessories, their production and consumption.

Fashion magazines praise designers for their sustainable and green-friendly credentials. Being seen in last year’s outfit is just as likely to provoke cheers for ‘upcycling’ than gasps of derision. Meanwhile some leading fashion shows show off their ‘plus-size’ models. Off the cat-walk ethical concerns are increasingly taking over high-street fashion as well. Budget retail giant Primark has reaffirmed its commitment to offering bargains but ‘not at the expense of the people who make our products’. TV schedules are awash with programmes revealing the human cost of Western luxuries. Campaigners and parents have called for regulation over everything from padded bikinis for children (and other ‘inappropriate’ goods) to the airbrushing of models in ads.

Is sustainable fashion a contradiction in terms or is it time the fashion industry woke up to its responsibilities? Should we cheerlead for a culture in which designers can realise their artistic vision above all other concerns? Would fashionistas be better off getting a bit of perspective on the world’s problems? Can fashion change the world, simply make it better-dressed, or both?

Listen to session audio:


Mason Jung
fashion designer, visiting tutor, Royal College of Art; winner, Fashion Collection of the Year, International Talent Support 2009

Tamsin Lejeune
founder and managing director, Ethical Fashion Forum; author, Can Fashion Be Fair?

Terry Mansfield
chairman, Graduate Fashion Week; consultant, Hearst Corporation; former chairman, COMAG, largest magazine distribution company in UK

Abigail Ross-Jackson
speakers' agent, Ed Victor Speakers Bureau LLP

Peter York
broadcaster, management consultant, journalist and author

Tessa Mayes
investigative journalist; director, The Queen & Us

Produced by
Tessa Mayes investigative journalist; director, The Queen & Us
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