More than an anecdote, a cry from the heart. “This morning on the beach I heard two teenage girls crying, ‘Let’s go to H&M!’ I wanted to cry: buying a t-shirt for 5 euros has become a hobby,” complains the young woman, a journalist in a major French magazine. The public is stirring around her. How do you fight against overconsumption and disposable fashion? How can we empowering them without lecturing them How do you set up a new model?
Welcome to the 3rd edition of the Anti-fashion Meetings, which was held at the beginning of June at the Palais de la Bourse in Marseille. Created in the wake of the manifesto Anti_Mode by Li Edelkoort, famous Dutch trend fighter, this free symposium proposes for everyone to question the workings of a fashion industry considered “breathless” and to propose a more virtuous system. Under the southern sun we saw designers, industrialists, entrepreneurs, researchers, students, journalists. Together they explored new fashion models in the field of creation, production, distribution or training. So many ways to reduce the environmental and human costs generated by fashion, the second most polluting industry in the world after oil. Slightly academic, the setup of this three-day proto-festival did not discourage an audience more than ever concerned about clothing issues. “Consumers are increasingly asking questions about their purchases, they are looking for meaning,” notes Anti-fashion founder Stéphanie Calvino.
The fashion industry has been at the heart of a moral storm for several years now. In 2013, a nine-storey building containing five garment factories in Bangladesh collapsed. 1,138 people were killed and more than 2,000 others injured in what remains the deadliest accident in the textile industry to this day. Western consumers were horrified to discover the appalling working and safety conditions in the fast fashion, these fashion brands that produce and distribute innovative clothing and shoe collections in record time. Add to that an environmental disaster, because according to the “Make Fashion Circular” foundation, only 1% of the clothing produced on a global scale is recycled.
In this context, it is no wonder that Anti-fashion has emphasized the concept of circular economy (recover, repair and recycle). “This system has always existed, but was previously implemented on an individual level. We now move on to a phenomenon of greater magnitude. People are starting to realize that consuming less can potentially make them happier,” explains Raphaël Masvigner, co-founder of Circul’R, an international network of circular economy entrepreneurs.
The event’s new partner, La Redoute, has set up a mentoring program to give young people from “sensitive areas” of Roubaix (where the company is headquartered) a new lease of life to t-shirts and hoodies not sold. “Fashion companies have a social role to play. We cannot revolutionize everything overnight, but little by little we hope that consumers and other companies realize that other ways of working are possible,” explains Nathalie Balla, co-president of La Redoute. Also present in Marseille, Géraldine Vallejo, director of the sustainable development program of the luxury group Kering, which committed in 2016 to reduce the CO2 emissions of its activities by 50% by 2025. Her presence provokes angry reactions from the public. “No matter how much you make environmental efforts, you will always be looking for growth,” says one listener.
“The pitfall of good intentions”
It’s true: recycling clothes, wearing cobweb bags or banana peel shoes is all about curing the symptoms of a disease, not the disease itself. Namely an economic system based on perpetual growth. “Fashion brands have been taking small actions for years to reduce their ecological impact and harm the planet. It’s beautiful. But doing less damage in an ever-expanding industry means doing more damage. This is what I call the trap of good intentions. Nothing will change as long as no one questions the foundations of the capitalist system,” roars the English journalist and philosopher John Thackara.
Except the return to communism isn’t for tomorrow. So what’s the solution, Mr. Thackara? “We should absolutely no longer regard raw materials and clothing as commodities. Instead, we should talk about place, history and people. This is the only way to put empathy and love back at the center of this ecosystem. The fashion industry excels at generating desire, but can it generate the desire to love, not the desire to earn money?
A story, a place, people, gestures. Every year thousands of initiatives are born with the aim of restoring the bond between those who make fashion and those who wear fashion. In Marseille, for example, with Atelier Bartavelle, a French brand of slow mode (quality fashion designed to last) created by Caroline Perdrix and Alexia Tronel. To celebrate the craftsmanship, the founders decided to launch the “Itinérance” project. The idea is simple: travel to five countries around the Mediterranean and work with local artisans to create a mini-collection that sells through a short circuit.
Knitting 20 unique sweaters with Greek grandmothers on the island of Tinos or making unisex shirts with a border in Tunisia: here we are, far from the fast fashion† “We want to make our production chain as transparent as possible and to give a face and a name to all the people who contribute to the production of a garment,” develops Alexia Tronel. And to add: “Our aim is not to lecture our customers, it is a very sterile approach. Beauty remains the best way to grab people’s attention. After all, fashion will always be about pleasure and desire.”