Category: Fashion (industry)

“Sustainable” vs. “Carbon Neutral”

In response to growing reports of the fashion industry’s wastefulness, many brands have adopted the philosophy of sustainability. The problem with “sustainability,” though is that it’s presenting more as a vague buzz word, rather than an action.

Many large companies have introduced “sustainable” lines and many smaller companies are building their entire brands around the idea, but there aren’t many real restrictions on what the label actually means.

The Environmental Law Institute noted recently the term “sustainability” was first introduced in environmental policy discourse in 1987 when the World Commission on Environment and Development published Our Common Future. The report defines sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

However, the leaders of the Environmental Law Institute say the term still “suffers from ambiguity that must be overcome if governmental and private-sector decision makers are to optimize the concept’s potential.”

Instead of giving concrete requirements for the use of the word sustainability, the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides advise marketers on making environmental claims without deceiving customers.

Unlike “sustainability,” “carbon neutral” is a more concrete term that some luxury brands are beginning to strive towards.

In June, Burberry announced plans to be more responsible when it comes to carbon emissions and has since followed up by declared that its Spring/Summer 2020 show, “has been certified as carbon neutral.” Gucci announced that it would be completely carbon neutral by the end of September, including in-house operations and outside suppliers. Gabriela Hearst also announced that it offset its Spring/Summer show emissions.

According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the fashion industry is responsible for “around 10 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions due to its long supply chains and energy intensive production.”

However, “carbon neutral” tends to be less about actually cutting back means of production and more about finding ways to offset emissions.

“The only way we can have zero emissions is to shut our business,” said Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri.

In order to reach carbon neutrality, brands are funding projects such as building wind farms, truck stop electrification and planting trees.

“Credits to help fund these projects are proving a popular initiative for fashion brands that want to be more ecologically sound and achieve carbon neutrality, while still manufacturing garments and accessories, and staging runway shows,” reports The Fashion Law.

However, one major hurdle brands face if they want to become truly carbon neutral is calculating just how much greenhouse gases they produce.

According to The Fashion Law, “The inability of brands to adequately gauge their individual emissions is a critical element in the equation since carbon neutrality requires companies to determine the scale of their emissions in order to offset them.”

So the truth is fashion isn’t doing much to change its wasteful habits. Is achieving neutrality by balancing out the bad with good really going to be effective? It’s hard to tell. However, the fact that millennial and Gen Z consumers tend to be more environmentally conscious and seek brands they can connect with more holistically may be the motivation the industry needs to make substantial change.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

Redefining Protest

The recent PR fiascos in fashion took no break for Black History Month. In fact, some even felt that brands had decided to use the month as an opportunity to stir up some buzz by antagonizing the Black community. Balmain’s late January blackface incident, Gucci’s questionable sweater design and Burberry’s blatantly bizarre use of a noose on the runway caused understandable outrage on social media.

As with all social media conversations sparked by outrage, boycotting inevitably came up. Most people seem to agree that if brands can’t be culturally sensitive then they don’t deserve the Black dollar, yet it still seems boycotting is something that’s hard for us to commit to.

Just as everyone else, arguably even more, luxury brands are an aspiration for much of the Black community. Labels are a symbol of wealth and as an oppressed people, it feels good to look and feel upper-class occasionally; furthermore, for those who have obtained substantial wealth it feels good to finally flaunt. This is why there are countless Gucci and Prada references in hip-hop.

In the spirit of protest, though, Young MA says at the end of her “Thotiana” remix, “we ain’t buying Gucci, we ain’t buying Prada,” likely referencing the aforementioned Gucci sweater as well as Prada keychains that went viral in December 2018 for similar reasons.

However, when discussing protests we may have to broaden how we view the issue. I saw someone on Twitter note that Black people can’t protest luxury brands because we buy knockoffs instead of the real thing. While I think it’s important to note that everyone buys knockoffs, not just Black people, this got me thinking about the stigma behind fake luxury pieces, because although they’re common they’re still a source of shame.

What Dapper Dan proved over 30 years ago, though, is that it doesn’t matter if its authentic as long as it fly. His now iconic work was often made from knockoff materials because at the time high-end brands had no interest in this Black man’s shop in Harlem. He was a pest who received numerous cease and desist letters.

Fast forward to 2019 and we’re simultaneously looking for an effective means of protest while shaming people wearing fake labels. To me, the answer is evident. While I obviously see that value in authentic fashion and wouldn’t normally encourage counterfeits, there is no protest in doing what you should and normally would do.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

 

Balmain, Black Face and (Possibly Fake) Ignorance

I almost can’t believe that I’m writing this in the year of our Lord 2019, but then again stuff like this shouldn’t be a surprise anymore.

Balmain closed Couture Week in Paris on January 23 with Creative Director Oliver Rousteing’s first-ever couture collection. The show was supposed to be a big one for obvious reasons: it was Rousteing’s first couture collection, it was the week closer and it was Balmain’s first couture showing in 16 years. However, it ended up being the talk of the industry for something no one expected: the beauty look.

Rousteing’s Spring/Summer 2019 vision was one in complete black and white apparently as models were covered in either ghost white or pitch black makeup depending on their skin tone. The odd beauty look, which was done by Val Garland, was immediately called out by many on social media as black face (and white face).

Of course there were also those who argued that the makeup couldn’t have been rooted in racism because Rousteing is partially Black himself and there was white face involved as well. It should be pointed out, though, that Rousteing was raised by adopted white parents and doesn’t identify as a particular race, but as “human.” I will also add that I don’t believe the beauty look was rooted in malicious racism either. I believe it was rooted in tone-deafness, which is almost just as bad in this age of information.

A simple search into black face would reveal its ugly history in minstrel shows. White actors dressed in black face perpetuated stereotypes as a means of entertainment and justifying racism for years and when Black actors were finally given opportunities to work they were forced to don the same black face.

To present a beauty look even reminiscent of this is irresponsible and offensive, but it seems that such avoidable irresponsible and offensive occurrences keep happening in the fashion industry. H&M’s “coolest monkey in the jungle” hoodie and Prada’s monkey figurines last year are also examples of the kind of tone-deafness major brands keep finding themselves under fire for.

That fire, though, has brought these brands a lot of press and to some people all press is good press. There’s a running theory on social media that brands are only pretending to be ignorant in order to create controversy and garner attention. This creates a dilemma, do we ignore these instances and not reward brands with the influxes in views that go along with a scandal or continue to call them out?

To me, the answer will always be call them out. Unacceptable is unacceptable and we can’t accept it because we think we know the motive. Ignoring racist imagery would be encouraging it. If we ignore black face from Balmain it’s almost guaranteed that we’ll see it elsewhere soon.

The reality is that the closing show of Couture Week, or any fashion show, is just too big of a platform to display ignorance. Brands have a responsibility to understand the images they’re putting into the world. Doing the necessary research (and thinking) is not too much ask.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

Culture Changes and We’re Just Going to Have to Accept It

Things are getting weird. Michael Kors purchased Versace for $2.3 billion and the hip-hop scene is becoming unrecognizable. Other than being odd, those two things are seemingly unrelated, but in actuality, they’re both indicators of the same occurrence: a shift in culture.

Every generation has them. It’s the time in which an era’s trends are defined and in most cases, they come with some opposition. Change, especially in the things we hold dear such as music and family fashion business, is hard to accept, but not accepting it problematic. The spirit of the times, the zeitgeist, will persist, even if you disagree.

It’s also worth noting that those changes are often less dramatic than we realize, but the fear of the loss of tradition can cloud judgment even when in reality, it’s not that bad.

Concerns that Michael Kors’ acquisition will ruin the brand are valid only when you don’t consider the facts. Firstly, Versace was bought by Michael Kors Holdings, which will soon be changing their name to Capri Holdings, not the MK brand. Secondly, Donatella isn’t going anywhere. She will remain creative director as well as become a shareholder in Capri Holdings and according to her, Versace will remain a luxury brand.

What is concerning, though, is Kors’ plans to increases Versace’s revenue by adding more stores. Exclusivity is an important element of luxury. But this is still only a minor issue as going from 200 storefronts to 300 is hardly the nose dive from caviar to McDonald’s that Twitter is pretending it is.

Hip-hop is a different story. Accepting that shift is understandably harder because, for now at least, it’s more evident. The vague and divisive term “mumble rap” has become a bane for hip-hop heads, icons such as Kanye aren’t who they used to be and rappers have lost their sociopolitical voice.

It’s clear that the genre has changed into something very different and arguably more careless. However, that change can also be viewed as growth. Maybe mumble is just a subgenre of hip-hop– maybe it’s not. Maybe this really is a completely different phase in hip-hop’s evaluation.

Either way, ignoring (or fighting) it is probably a bad idea. At some point, being a purist makes your viewpoint obsolete if you’re completely unwilling to accept change. Yes, we’d all love for monumental names like “Versace” to maintain their grandeur and yes, we’d all love for hip-hop to always sound the way it did that summer we fell in love with it, but those things could only happen in a perfect world.

In the real world, things change and from the standpoint of a cultural critic, those changes are worth embracing and exploring. Finding the balance between appreciating how things were and appreciating how things are is just something we’re going to have to learn to do or soon we’ll turn into our parents, regularly reminding anyone following what’s popular that “things just aren’t how they used to be,” and honestly, no wants to hear that.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

Melania Trump Really Doesn’t Care

The big story about Melania Trump for Thursday, June 21 was supposed to be about her visiting immigrant children in Texas. Instead, it ended up being about her wardrobe. The ever-watched First Lady chose to wear a ZARA jacket with the words “I REALLY DON’T CARE. DO U?” printed on the back. This was bizarre, to say the least.

While Melania is often depicted as somewhat ditzy and not fully aware of what’s going on, I find it hard to believe that the impact of wearing such a jacket was truly lost on her. The Trump era has been and remains to be a tense one, with many minorities and lower class individuals voicing their feelings that the president simply doesn’t care about them. Therefore, Melania’s wardrobe choice comes off as confusing and somewhat taunting. It seems as if she’s making light of citizen’s grievances, which honestly wouldn’t be surprising considering the behavior of her husband.

However, he claims that the message on the jacket was aimed at the media rather than individuals feeling isolated by the Trumps. “[the message] written on the back of Melania’s jacket, refers to the Fake News Media. Melania has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares,” tweeted the president.

This doesn’t coincide with the statement given by Stephanie Grisham, Melania’s spokeswoman, though. Grisham responded to questions about the jacket, “It’s a jacket. There was no hidden message. After today’s important visit to Texas, I hope this isn’t what the media is going to choose to focus on.”

While I agree that there certainly was no hidden message behind the jacket, being that it was clearly and boldly printed on the back, I can’t accept the idea that Melania’s team didn’t intend for this to be a story. The first lady doesn’t simply wear a jacket saying she doesn’t care and expect it not to be a big deal.

This fashion statement, while odd, is exactly the kind of non-traditional and arguably disrespectful thing we’ve come to expect from the president, but not so much the first lady. Early on in Trump’s presidency there was much speculation about whether or not Melania fully understood or agreed with her husband’s policies and leadership style. I think she answered that question today. She doesn’t care.

Be the Zeitgeist.

Angela Davis, Prada and the Romanticization of the Revolutionary

Prada is selling $500 t-shirts and $1700 coats with Angela Davis’ likeness on them. That sentence is ridiculous for various reasons, so just let it sink in for a little bit.

According to the description of the t-shirt provided on Prada’s website, the design is meant to be a continuation of  Miuccia Prada’s “feminist” sentiment for Spring/Summer 2018. Clearly, Prada’s co-chief executive officer and lead creative designer has a different understanding of feminism than I do. Ironically though, the release of these pieces is exactly what I would expect from a “feminist.”

Feminism (more blatantly white feminism), has been riddled with insensitivity towards women of color and queer women since its inception. This is why Alice Walker invented the term “womanist” and why Angela Davis herself identifies as a “black feminist,” to offer a more inclusive option.

Like many other feminist acts, Prada’s t-shirt and jacket ignorantly miss the mark for the sake of being cute. Yes, wearing a shirt displaying an image of Angela Davis saying “Right on” would be a fashionable way to state your political stance, but it also just doesn’t make much sense.

The obvious issue is that Davis’ adult life has been mainly dedicated to Black liberation, so a white-owned company profiting from her aesthetic is odd, to say the least. It’s also worth mentioning that when you consider the price of the t-shirt and the fact that Black people are historically less affluent for various reasons, you can easily come to the conclusion that Black people likely won’t even be the ones purchasing this shirt.

The second and probably more overlookable issue is that Davis has long been noted for her communist sentiments. To sell a $1700 jacket celebrating an icon whose views call for the dismantlement of capitalism is the definition of irony.

However, I’m sure that those issues were never even considered during the production of Prada’s two latest buzzworthy pieces, and if they were they were apparently decided to be not that serious. What was seemingly considered, though, was the current trendiness of activism.

It seems as if being a revolutionary is the new cool thing. Everyone wants to march, everyone wants to protest and everyone has faced some form of oppression that they simply must fight. As someone who advocates for civic engagement, I should find this inspiring, but I can’t because I know that in far too many cases it’s not genuine.

Somewhere along the way being mistreated and having to work for your liberation became beautiful and people began to romanticize the idea of being a revolutionary. Angela Davis and her peers have become the icons of people who don’t know, and probably don’t care to know, how difficult and dangerous their work was.

Truly pushing for change requires a level of commitment that anyone who would wear Prada’s Angela Davis t-shirt or jacket probably just doesn’t have. There’s no problem in looking up to a woman as resilient and intelligent as Davis, but one should do so holistically. You can’t aspire towards the triumph if you’re not willing to go through the struggle.

 

Be the zeitgeist.

Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton, The Biggest Story That Shouldn’t Be a Big Story

It was announced on Monday, March 26 that Virgil Abloh has been named Men’s Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton. Unsurprisingly, the announcement was met with the usual excitement that comes with such news. Virgil Abloh, a Black man from Chicago, has made history by becoming the first ever Black man to hold his new position, that’s a big deal.

But why? Why is it that his success is viewed as such an anomaly that it had to be the biggest news of the day, and likely the week? It’s not as if Abloh isn’t deserving. Whether you’re a fan of his work or not, you have to admit that for over a year now his has been one of the most relevant names in fashion.

Even the simple fact that he’s a Black man should be seen as an advantage rather than a disadvantage when it comes to a career in fashion. However, despite all logic, we’ve convinced ourselves that the fashion industry isn’t a place for Black men to thrive. When you really think about it though, we’ve seen enough examples of successful Black men in fashion to have dispelled that myth long ago.

Willi Smith, Patrick Kelly, Dapper Dan, Virgil Abloh and even Kanye West (among others, of course) have shown that the fashion industry is, in fact, a place for Black men. It’s also worth noting that all of the Project Runway Allstars Season 6 finalists (Anthony Williams, Fabio Costa, Ken Laurence and Stanley Hudson) are Black/Brown men. Despite all of this, there’s still a lack of Black men in fashion.

“I believe there aren’t many Black males in the fashion industry because of the stigma that comes with being in the industry. We don’t allow ourselves to venture outside of the norm so we never do anything but normal shit. There also wasn’t any representation in the fashion industry for the longest times, and that’s by design,” says Javier Cousteau of the Cousteau House of Design.

The argument that the lack of Black men in fashion, and the subsequent lack of faith in Black men that are is due societal norms is one with some merit. Black men often do find themselves in boxes, surrounded by expectations of what they should and should not do. While that entire concept is ridiculous, fashion being in the “should not” category is particularly egregious.

There have been countless proclamations that Black people are the most stylish people in the world, and you’re delusional if you’re still not ready to admit that Black/Brown women living in the ghetto are the source of many fashion trends, yet there still seems to be a belief that there’s no for Black men in the industry.

So at this point, you have to ask yourself why. You have to wonder why we’re still shocked that Black men can do great work in fashion. You have to question why Virgil Abloh’s new position at Louis Vuitton is more noteworthy than any other fashion story of the day. Not because he doesn’t deserve the honor, but because he does.

 

Be the zeitgeist.