1st January 2019

Planetary systems are under threat. Fashion and clothing products and activities contribute to the destruction of these systems. They also contribute to the increasing disconnection between humans and Earth.

We, the Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion, recognise that the response of the fashion sector to the intensifying ecological crisis has been – and continues to be – over-simplified, fragmented and obstructed by the growth logic of capitalist business models as they are currently realized and practiced. Further we recognize that uncritical research findings, duplication of research, reduction and misuse of scientific and technical knowledge reinforces and speeds up this over-simplified condition in the fashion industry.

It is our view that concerned fashion and clothing researchers can no longer remain uninvolved or complacent and that as researchers, we need to conduct ourselves in new ways. We call on fashion researchers to unite for concerted action and leadership over the use of scientific and artistic knowledge that is more relevant to and commensurate with the multiple crises we face. For us this action requires both that something fundamental is disrupted and something significantly different is offered. We are committed to examining and accelerating the uptake of diverse ‘other ways’ in the fashion sector.

The Union of Concerned Researchers proposes to:

  1. Create an ‘activist knowledge ecology’, that is, to develop a system of knowledge about fashion sustainability that is concerned with how knowledge is organised and shared as well as the data points themselves, and to direct such a system purposefully towards fostering change;
  2. Advocate for whole systems and paradigm change, beyond current norms and business-as-usual. This includes rejecting overly-cautious economic, legislative and policy frameworks;
  3. Diversify the voices within fashion and sustainability discourse, to reflect multiple perspectives beyond the dominant business approaches presented, including but not limited to the global south and indigenous communities;
  4. Express our determined opposition to ill-advised and destructive fashion projects;
  5. Formulate visions—and corresponding research practices—that allow for the possibility of enacting new relationships between humans and Earth in the context of fashion;
  6. Take a leadership role in debating existing and new ideas and creating action around fashion-sustainability themes, especially in areas where the generation of new knowledge is of actual or potential significance;
  7. Devise means for turning research applications towards the underlying root causes of pressing environmental and social problems, including but not limited to climate change, wealth inequality, biodiversity loss, and plastic pollution;
  8. Organise, when determined desirable and feasible, fashion researchers to translate radical step change into effective political, and other, action;
  9. Review and revise, when deemed necessary, this manifesto.

Sign the manifesto here.

Local Assembly Vancouver

Blogroll / Local Assemblies

UCRF is delighted to announce the forthcoming student-led Local Assembly ‘Local Fibers : Local Futures’ in Vancouver, BC, bringing together students, faculty, researchers and industry to engage in critical conversations around improving policies for sustainable textile practices.

Event Name: Local Fibres / Local Futures

When: Nov 30, 2019, 1-4pm.

Where: IMS Studio, Emily Carr University, 520 E 1st Ave, Vancouver, BC V5T 0H2, Canada.

The event is free. But registration is strongly suggested due to capacity. Register here

Aligned with the Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion (UCRF), the goal of Local Fibres : Local Futures is to create a space where a diverse group of individuals can connect to and discover their part in creating resilient communities and better business futures. This event will include a series of activities that are designed to provoke and capture collaborative discussions around the pressing issues related to fashion and clothing production and sustainability.

This event is fuelled by a new course which brings together Simon Fraser University and Emily Carr University of Art + Design students to connect with and discover possibilities for a more sustainable local textile industry in BC. This class is a partnership between The Beedie School of Business and SIAT at SFU, as well as The Shumka Centre for Creative Entrepreneurship and Textile Adaptations Research Program (TARP) at Emily Carr University. This course is co-led by Emily SmithStephanie Ostler, and Helene Day Fraser.

Response to Karl-Johan Persson, CEO of H&M

Blogroll / Uncategorized

On October 28th, 2019, H&M boss Karl-Johan Persson was interviewed by Bloomberg and made a series of statements which appear to justify the fast fashion business model on ethical grounds. In the interview, Persson warns of the risks of ‘terrible social consequences’ if fast fashion is not upheld. Unsurprisingly his statements have drawn widespread censure. Labour Behind The Label for instance lambasted his claims about the ‘social consequences’ for workers in low labour cost countries, highlighting instead poverty wages and poor working conditions within many factories producing fast fashion for brands including H&M. UCRF also finds Persson’s statements unconscionable.

Firstly, Persson’s statements are not unique. They are typical for proponents of a so-called ‘new environmentalism’ based on an ideology of green growth. In this view, rather than being the cause of resource depletion, pollution effects and worker abuses; industrial activity and economic growth are prescribed as the ‘solutions’ to these impacts. This type of have-it-all environmentalism, achieved through market forces and satisfying growing consumer yearnings, is wholly incompatible with the reality of biophysical planetary limits. Persson suggests that workers would suffer under ‘de-growth’ or ‘don’t buy’ conditions. The reality is that the business model Persson promotes, which is utterly dependent upon extracting, processing and wasting natural resources at increasingly greater volumes, would suffer. It is a physically untenable model that will eventually undermine itself, as exemplified by the recent demise of the brand Forever 21.

Secondly, Persson’s statements are cynical and perpetuate environmental injustice. As environmental degradation accelerates, the same people whose cheap labour and long working hours Persson profits from, will be the victims of climate change and associated problems long before the business leaders. Likewise the ecological habitats affected by environmental degradation are concentrated in countries which bear the heavy impact of industrial pollution. The biospheres and local communities in cheap labour countries are typically not safeguarded by either environmental or labour-laws Persson takes for granted when applied to his own employees, family and country. In fact, it would be illegal to produce the goods he does within his home biosphere and country – even though it is not illegal to import said goods. 

UCRF seeks to further problematize the association between low-cost fashion goods and ‘social consequences’. Fast fashion perpetuates and creates new forms of elitism and divisions including between groups of consumers, where the poorer population is blamed for un-environmental shopping behaviour while an elite, despite being able to afford to make environmentally better choices, escapes the same level of criticism. Yet Persson’s hypocrisy is not uncommon, as fast fashion brands and consumers are regularly targeted and perhaps receive a disproportionate level of condemnation in the current crisis. High levels of in- and out-flow through walk-in closets are deeply problematic, in whichever population they appear. 

UCRF wishes to emphasize that a single-handed focus on ‘slow’ fashion (as opposed to fast fashion) will not solve the social problems amplified by consumerism, labour exploitation and resource extraction. In neoliberal consumer societies, the act of consumption is one of the few creative outlets with room for aspiration and dreaming available to the working poor, and fast fashion is one of these outlets. As systemic de-growth must take place, it must be proportionate, so there is room for the weakest to have access to a fair share of resources and partake in meaningful activities. A discourse focussed on frugality, preached from the top, hits the poorest unevenly, starving and excluding them from leisure culture and the fruits of their hard labor. It is the case however that the current model of a brand like H&M offers few to no avenues for people with less means to engage in aspirational dreaming beyond the mere act of acquiring cheap and unsustainable goods. 

UCRF supports visions for wider systemic change, a fashion system that both employs people in well paying jobs and restores the environment, while also making user-engagements with fashion more than about acquiring more goods. This new vision sees the fashion industry as a hive of activity, it’s just that the activities themselves are different, and the user’s engagement with fashion more sensorially rich and meaningful. If Persson is serious about his concern for ‘terrible social consequences’, he should stand up and be a leader for business models that allow workers to keep and thrive on work that contributes to creating healthy living conditions, prosperous communities and meaningful engagements with fashion. UCRF calls upon H&M to take on this challenge and looks forward to seeing Persson put his resources to work towards such a goal.

UCRF recognised with an award

About the Union / Blogroll

The Union of Concerned Researchers in Fashion (UCRF) has been recognised by the Green Carpet Fashion Awards in the ‘North Star’ category for its groundbreaking work. The Union is grateful for the opportunity to highlight the urgency of systemic change in the fashion sector. 

In less than a year, UCRF and its radical manifesto that promotes practices which put earth first and calls out the growth logic as a key underlying problem preventing the transformation of the fashion system, has attracted 441 signatories spread across 55 countries. UCRF regards this as a signal that people in positions of power do care and that they are ready to do the work of systemic change. 

Kate Fletcher and Mathilda Tham and placard. Image courtesy of EcoAge