A Life in Fashion – part 2
The world of fashion
So fashion it was to be. I didn’t choose it; it appears to have chosen me! “A passion for fashion” is a hugely overused phrase bandied about by many who want to have a bit of fun with frocks, and it can give the impression that fashion is inhabited by a one size fits all “luvvie” who thinks that the world revolves around hem lines. On the whole, though, it is an industry that draws in enthusiastic, interesting and creative people with a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds. I like clothes and I care about how I look, but it is this mix of people, the pursuit of creativity and a striving for excellence that I find attractive.
However, a lot of people have a very negative view of fashion, associating it with child labour, sweat shops, skinny models, sexual exploitation, vanity … the list goes on. I too am uncomfortable with these aspects of fashion, and if this were the whole story, I would long since have walked away. But I’m not planning on going anywhere, as (a) there’s a very different perspective and (b) I believe God has put me here.
Fashion and creativity are scattered throughout the Bible. “In the beginning God created”. He didn’t do a risk assessment or write a business plan, He created the world and everything in it, including enormous variety and regularly changing seasons. The first time we hear of the Holy Spirit being given to a person is to Bezalel in Exodus 31 as he designed and made the Tent of Meeting. Then there are several chapters devoted to the design, make and deportment of the clothing to be worn by the priests. The first person in Europe to respond to the gospel is Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. And so on. Fashion is strewn across the pages of the Bible, seeming therefore to be part of God’s plan for the world and reflecting the creativity of The Maker Himself.
Fashion is one of the UK’s biggest industries. With a turnover of £21bn, it is 15th out of 81 industrial sectors employing not far short of a million people, predominantly women, particularly in inner cities and with a hugely diverse ethnic mix. And there is a wide range of jobs from designers to models, stylists to journalists, machinists to merchandisers, jobs for all types and levels of skill. It’s a key part of our economy and is also one of the first industries to be taken up by developing countries, so plays an important role in emerging economies.
Fashion is extremely high profile, with media coverage of London Fashion Week alone worth more than most international news and sporting events. This gives Fashion huge power of communication. But it’s also a place to whip up controversy, as witnessed by the skinny model story of a few years back. More recently fashion has found itself at the forefront of adverse coverage about unpaid internships as a result of the taxman choosing to make an example of fashion to try and change a widespread practice across many sectors.
Fashion is something at which Britain leads the world. We’ve got the most envied high streets; our colleges are undisputedly the best, attracting students from every continent; and our designers attract an international following that brings a spotlight on Britain. What goes on in the UK fashion industry has global significance.
Fashion is hugely important to a substantial proportion of the population. If you don’t understand how this can be, you must be a man (!) so can I suggest you think “football for women” and that may help. Fashion affects how people see themselves and each other and is therefore a significant aspect of identity.
Drawing all this together, I believe that fashion presents a huge opportunity for the gospel.
However, in the aggressively secular environment prevalent in the creative world, making headway will require industry-wide vision, bold action, and a framework of organised prayer and support. Under the leadership of my friend Chrissie Abbott, Client Development Director at Burberry, a Fashion Group has been set up under the auspices of Holy Trinity Brompton. This now has an international Facebook network of over 300 members and growing.
At the February 2012 London Fashion Week (LFW), a day of prayer was held in the appropriately named Salt Room at LFW’s HQ at Somerset House. This was a hugely encouraging day when several pictures were received indicating that spiritual walls had come down and the land was ready to be taken. The day ended with the launch, at the Royal Courts of Justice, of a new label by my friend and prayer warrior Nicole Robyn, who has been designing and making bags with women in India who have been rescued from sex trafficking. I was privileged to sing “God of Justice” and “Amazing Grace” immediately outside the Lord Chief Justice’s court where the abolition of the slave trade had been brought to fruition centuries earlier. Those coincidences again.
Immediately prior to LFW, I had sketched out a plan of some issues I thought might be on God’s heart for Fashion. Here is a 10-Point Plan for Fashion:
- For all those working in the industry to be paid for their work
- For Opportunities to work in fashion to be extended to all those with the ability and desire, regardless of background
- For particular emphasis to be placed on access for school leavers and young people with the introduction of a new framework of apprenticeships and other support schemes
- Ethically sound sources of production, whether in the UK or globally, to become the norm within 3 years
- For attitudes within the industry to be given a complete overhaul, with the elimination of all snobbery, backbiting and unkindness
- Immediate attention to be paid to the effect of the industry on the wider community, including attitudes to “beauty” and body shape and their impact on young people
- Global recycling schemes to be introduced to ensure used clothing is easily and quickly moved to areas of need around the world
- Social ownership schemes, whereby employees have a greater say in the business for which they work to become the norm
- A review of Sunday trading laws to be undertaken
- British fashion to become a leading force for good in the UK and around the world
Let me focus on two of these. Access to school leavers shouldn’t be rocket science, but it’s often who you know that opens doors. Within a fortnight of having sketched out the Plan, I found myself invited to lead a working group looking at apprenticeships, internships and fair access to not just fashion, but the whole of the creative industries. Is this God at work … opening doors? I’d like to think so, but a lot of hard work is now needed to change the prevailing culture and give young people from all backgrounds the opportunity to work in a field they have a passion for.
Changing attitudes will be a considerable challenge, but a lot of the other points flow from it, so there it was and into it we prayed. We shouldn’t be surprised, therefore, when the most talked about feature of the newly launched London men’s fashion week (“London Collections: Men”) in June 2012 was the amazing friendliness and co-operation throughout the three-day event. Do we have the confidence to believe that a similar transformation can take place at its big sister, London Fashion Week … and across a whole industry?