It took a pandemic for fashion to finally find its moral fibre

  • Style
  • Friday, 11 Dec 2020

Social enterprises are helping to make a change in the fashion industry. In Malaysia, Earth Heir helps out traditional artisans in underserved communities. Photo: All Is Amazing/Paul Staniunas

It’s not always glamour and glitz for the style industry. Fashion has somewhat of a bad reputation – having to contend with its impact on the environment and also battle a less-than-positive image regarding how it is affecting communities.

From fair trade for producers and workers to ethical sourcing and supply chain management, the industry needs to adhere to the best practices possible – in order to make a positive social impact.

The good news is that brands and the people who run them are waking up to what needs to be done. But is it enough? Can fashion salvage its name, even with the increasing awareness to be better?

Read more: Even in Malaysia, fashion goes 'green': why is sustainability so trendy now?

“Bad practices deserve a bad rep! Having a sense of empathy and responsibility is necessary for change to happen. So I am all for people asking questions and being curious, conscious consumers, ” says Sasibai Kimis.

Running a social enterprise based in Malaysia, her fashion label Earth Heir helps out traditional artisans in underserved communities. The products sold – which range from apparel to bags, jewellery and more, support local craftsmanship.

Earth Heir offers education, collaborative design partnerships, production training, market access and financial support to its workers. The aim is for them to grow and be upskilled, as well as develop sustainable livelihoods.

Sasibai believes that the pandemic has made the need for positive fashion even more apparent locally. She points out that when the borders were closed, everyone in Malaysia had to survive on what was already inside the country.

“It highlights the reason why consumers and governments must invest in local businesses and local supply chains, ” she notes, adding consumers have been more receptive to supporting businesses that are doing good.

“This year has shown why it is important to be a socially responsible business. Businesses that prioritise doing good and making profits sustainably will be able to weather cyclical economic periods.

The wider fashion industry in Malaysia has stepped up to be more responsible this year. In April, local designers helped out during the pandemic by sewing personal protection equipment (PPE) for frontliners.

The Malaysian Official Designers’ Association rallied its members to donate the time and skills. It partnered with FashionValet and the Islamic Medical Association Of Malaysia Response And Relief Team (Imaret) to raise funds to buy fabric.

Independent tailors and seamstresses were also seen pitching in. Local fashion labels did their part, with many rolling out their own initiatives to raise funds in order to help those affected by the pandemic.

'Our consciousness has shifted'

”As it is, the British Fashion Council calls for the industry to adopt positive fashion. This covers decent working conditions and fair trade for workers, support of traditional skills and sustainability.

The Council Of Fashion Designers Of America has made a similar declaration. With London and New York being fashion capitals, it sends a resounding message for the rest of the world to follow.

The British Fashion Awards held recently honoured designers, brands, creatives and individuals who have led change within the UK industry. A category for “community” was even included.

Five honourees were chosen – comprising designers A Sai Ta, Kenneth Ize and Michael Halpern, as well as volunteer-led enterprise Emergency Designer Network and luxury label Chanel.

Read more: Featuring celebrity presenters, British Fashion Awards recognises turbulent year

Their efforts include contributions to frontline workers during the pandemic, in addition to support for issues like the “Black Lives Matter” movement and backing of artisan communities.

Actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas, who presented the Community Award for the event held via video, said it shines a spotlight on those who have inspired everyone to develop a better future.

“Our consciousness has shifted and collectively, we can all do more. Our communities, both locally and globally have never been more essential, and it’s important to recognise the positive impact fashion has on global communities.

“As well as the role, skills and craftsmanship it can play in sustaining local livelihoods. Especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic.”

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