The coolest industry in the world, filled with nothing but glitz and glamour. If you know which industry I am referring to, please let me know as I really have no clue. Because this is certainly not the fashion industry. Or at least, not all of it.
Fashion, to me, is a powerful way of expression. You can tell a story, play around with your style, show different sides of your personality with each outfit or decide to take on the personality of someone else through your choice of clothing. It’s fun, comforting, liberating. The outfit you wear always reveals something about you and your personality but you will still be able to keep things hidden. And that’s the exact same thing with the fashion industry; behind all that glitz and glamour you will find a huge industry filled with businesses trying to make the highest revenue by saving as many costs as possible.
I’ve had my highs and lows with the fashion industry:
High: Falling in love with all the amazing designs and haute couture.
Low: Learning about all that money that goes into branding.
High: Being able to afford a shopping spree on a somewhat low budget.
Low: Learning about the effects of fast fashion.
High: Getting the opportunity to study Fashion Management.
Low: Learning more and more about the unethical and unsustainable side of fashion.
High: Becoming part of the sustainable fashion community.
There are many people who are still very naïve about the industry; all they see is the initial glamour. And in those cases, ignorance is bliss. You can’t unlearn what you have learned, you can’t unsee what you have seen. The industry is known for its environmental damage and for bad working conditions. The more I learn about it, the more I want to walk away from it. Why would you want to work for an industry, that creates so much damage? What is the real worth behind it? In a way, fashion seems so trivial; you can’t save anyone working in fashion and you can only do so much to change the world.
Anyone who is in the industry would agree with me in a heartbeat that the working conditions are terrible. And I am not even referring to production in the third-world. I am referring to finding internship and full-time jobs. Because the sad truth is, there are more unpaid positions out there than paid ones. And it doesn’t matter if you look at small brands or big brands if it’s design, buying, merchandising or marketing. It hardly makes a difference. Sure, when it comes to start-ups that are still trying to sustain their business that makes perfect sense. And that, unfortunately, also applies to most sustainable brands. Still, it is somewhat understandable. But when it comes to established brands and especially luxury labels, why do they have to save money when it comes to their own team? What happened to investing in their own brand? How is it acceptable to offer someone free clothing but no food and housing? How can you live with yourself, knowing that someone is putting all their effort, time and energy into their work but struggling to be able to do it financially?
And from a sustainability point of view, how is anyone supposed to make the world and the industry a better place if they’re not paid for their job?
No matter how great I become at writing, working with photoshop, creating newsletters, growing followers and likes, translating, helping customers out, doing photoshoots; no matter how much I love what I am doing, how can I sustain when I don’t get paid?
It’s not about earning big numbers. But in today’s capitalistic world, you have to have money. You can’t live without it.
I wish I could work for free. I wish I could work exclusively for sustainable brands. But I can’t afford it. How am I supposed to help other people if I can’t even live independently on my own? How can I make the world a better place? The sad truth is that my aspirations make me poor and set limits that I can’t afford.
How is it an argument that interns can’t be supported financially with their rent because there are “so many other interns that want the internship and would do it for free”? How is it acceptable as a sustainable company to not pay their interns and only give them “monthly gift vouchers” so that they can look fabulous while starving and being homeless? How is it not questionable to retail in luxury and “only provide lunch but no payment”? How is it okay to exploit people that put so much effort into contributing, taking initiative and working their butts off?
I was dreaming of an international career, getting to experience different markets, living in different countries, improving my language skills. Let me tell you, it doesn’t matter if it’s Paris, Berlin, London, Brussels or Amsterdam; the problem is everywhere, across different levels and markets.
Would I want to work for a sustainable company? Ideally, yes. Because that is where I feel at home. That is where I know that people share the same values that I have. Would I work for an ‘unsustainable’ company? Absolutely. Because they are not per se the bad wolves. In the end, brands are not powerful and extraordinary businesses. Behind every oh so powerful brand, you have a bunch of people that just try their best to make the right choices to keep the company alive and growing. They are people, normal human beings. They screw up sometimes. But they all give their best. And they can change. And when people can change, businesses can change. I still believe that unsustainability can be changed to sustainability. I believe that it’s possible.
And somewhere, between all this mess, I am still in love with the fashion industry.
All it takes for me is to discover a new brand or collection, visit a vintage store or watch an haute couture show. Clothing is functional, fashion is art and style shows passion. And the truth is, walking away would be the easy way out. But leaving an amazing industry behind because of all the problems it causes doesn’t solve any problems. To solve problems, you need to step up and act.
I guess in the end, I am just another fashion slave.
I am a fashion slave, because I am too passionate about the industry. Because I truly love fashion in every sense. I am a fashion slave because I’ve set my heart on an industry that has many, many flaws and that is just not functioning right. I am a fashion slave because I care too much about all the aspects behind it; all the people that depend on those jobs in the most horrible working conditions; all the lakes that slowly disappearing off, all the waste that is generated with every minute.
But more importantly, I am a fashion lover.
I am a fashion lover that wants to fix things instead of blindly walking away from it. I am a fashion lover because I want to be able to celebrate talent, creativity and craftsmanship. I am a fashion lover because I do still believe that there can be a beautiful and thriving industry behind that layer of glamour.