How Can Fashion Become A Force For Good?

Image: Wibes

We all engage with fashion on a daily basis, but how can we turn this into a tool for change? Raia Gomez looks into how the fashion industry can benefit those who need it most, as well as the different charity initiatives that brands are helping to support.  

We all know that fashion is very visual and quite often, superficial. We look at a garment’s cut, its color, how the fabric falls, how it photographs, and ultimately, how a person looks while wearing it. We see countless images of ad campaigns and magazines with stunning models dressed in beautiful outfits, styled to perfection. Thankfully, over the years, these have begun to be more inclusive and diverse.

While I grew up always having a particularly keen interest in fashion, probably more than the average child, I never really considered clothing beyond how it looked. I was enthralled by their design, the images they conjured and how they could make you feel. It wasn’t until years later that I considered more than just outside appearances and how fashion can have so much more meaning beyond the surface level.

Remember when Ralph Lauren first released the Pink Pony collection to support the fight against breast cancer back in 2000? Or the Product(Red) brand collaborations that launched over a decade ago? Of course, brands and designers supported meaningful causes way before that. However, for me, those were among the early instances that I specifically remember of wearing something that had significance beyond its personal meaning to me. 

Images: Muzungu Sisters, Warby Parker

Fashion can truly be transformative. I don’t just mean for the person wearing it and how it’s a means of personal expression that can simultaneously elevate her or his disposition and self-confidence. Fashion can be transformative well beyond the wearer when it positively impacts other communities, as well as our planet.

These days, we all hear so much about sustainability, which we often immediately relate to a garment’s supply chain and environmental footprint. These are, of course, incredibly important. It’s crucial to ask: Who made my clothes? Where was it made? What is it made from? How long will I be able to use this? However, fashion can also be a force for good even beyond its sustainable and ethical origins. Why should I buy this? It’s another question that we should ask, and one that many brands now have positive answers to. 

We all want to look good. The great news is that today, looking good can also mean doing good. It’s been said by so many that we have so much power as consumers and that we can vote for the world we want to live in by what we choose to buy. Vote with your dollar, they’ve said. It’s about ethics and sustainability but beyond that, it’s also about our choices and what we decide to do, or more specifically, what we decide to wear. Fashion is far from just frivolous. Clothing and accessories can be the catalysts for positive impact from the moment we buy them and even afterwards. “How?” you may ask.

Image: State Bags

We should consider where we buy our clothes and accessories from. Shopping not just from local brands but from brands that actually produce locally means purchasing with a lower carbon footprint. It’s clearly better for our environment and also helps your local economy. Another option is buying from the many incredible female-founded brands. It means empowering not just the founders, but also the women they work with from all over the world. Mara Hoffman, Muzungu Sisters, Bayou with Love, Rafa and By Sarah London are just a few of the sustainable brands that are also female-founded.

We can also choose to buy from brands and retailers that work with nonprofits or partner with government agencies towards social and environmental initiatives. At Relevé Fashion, not only do you support sustainable brands but we also contribute to your chosen nonprofit partner with your every single purchase and at no extra cost. We’ve worked with charities including Big Change, Nest and Global Citizen, and are currently supporting the nonprofit FCancer. Now, when you make a purchase, you’re also helping cancer patients and their caregivers during the most difficult time of their lives. Our goal is to make your shopping experience even more meaningful. Other platforms, like Olivela, also support incredible organisations, including the Malala Fund and the We Organization.

We must also pay attention to what brands do after we’ve made a purchase. There’s a ripple effect when we support socially conscious companies. Toms was among the first to popularize the One for One™ model by donating a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes the brand sells. A number of other fashion companies have adapted this in various iterations. Warby Parker famously has their own Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program, with over five million pairs of glasses distributed to date. The shoe brand Wibes, on the other hand, provides a day of school for a girl in need with every pair of trainers sold. State Bags also donates fully-packed backpacks to children and families in need for every bag you purchase. It’s guilt-free shopping when you purchase with purpose.

Images: Fashion for Relief, Nest

Beyond donations, there are also fashion brands that focus on doing good through their products’ lifecycle. Some brands, including Eileen Fisher and Mud Jeans, offer take back or resale schemes in order to reduce the amount of clothes that end up in landfills and to upcycle the fabrics. Patagonia is another incredible brand that not only offers customers repair services but also has a Worn Wear initiative, where you can purchase pre-loved Patagonia garments that the brand has collected and cleaned.

Supermodel Naomi Campbell has been uniting the fashion industry into a force for good since she launched Fashion for Relief in 2005. The organisation is dedicated to improving the lives of those living in adversity by hosting fashion shows, galas and pop ups, among other fashion events, to raise funds for their charitable partners. It has done so to much success, raising over £15 million to date.

In a similar vein, red carpet fashion and celebrity style are also being transformed into a force for good thanks to organisations like the recently launched RAD aka Red Carpet Advocacy. Founded by celebrity stylist and costume designer Arianne Phillips and luxury fashion veteran Carineh Martin, RAD uses the red carpet as a platform to connect brands, artists and philanthropies. They are ultimately raising funds and raising awareness for important causes, through the brand’s marketing budget and the artist’s social influence. Now that truly is the best dressed. 

How fashion can be a force for good greatly depends on our own decisions. There are so many ways and options for us to wear our values. We can elevate our own style by wearing clothes that have a positive impact, that tell a story and then creating our own stories while wearing them. Fashion stylist and entrepreneur Rachel Zoe has famously said, “Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.” Now, it’s also a way to do good and to say what you stand for.