The Most Influential Ethical Fashion Campaigns
By Alexa Scott-Dalgleish
Fashion can be a form of art and expression, of protest and resistance, or famously for Alexander McQueen, a form of escapism. Nearly all of these have something in common, however, in that they communicate a message to those who view it, telling a story, uniting a community, revealing an identity or evoking an emotion.
Below, we take a look at some of the brands using this non-verbal voice to raise awareness of the world’s most pressing issues which include vanishing ecosystems, unethical labour treatment and excessive textile waste. They do not shy away from courting controversy or jeopardising profit margins but instead tackle the issues head-on, in an effort to educate on the fashion industry’s social and environmental impact and grow the number of conscious consumers.
Fashion Revolution: #WhoMadeMyClothes
#WhoMadeMyClothes took the world of social media by storm when it launched in 2014. The brainchild of Fashion Revolution’s co-founders, Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro, it became the number one global trend on Twitter at the time and to date, has received over 156 million impressions online. The movement was conceived following the collapse of a garment factory the previous year in Bangladesh, which left 1,134 dead and a further 2,500 injured. Along with many others in the industry, Somers and de Castro were intent on ensuring that the tragic event would come to stand for something more, marking a turning point for workers’ rights, supply chain transparency and company accountability.
The concept compelled customers to ask brands and retailers #whomademyclothes? – a seemingly innocuous question which spoke volumes when it came to those that kept quiet. After all, “the industry is built on secrecy, elitism, closed doors and unavailability,” says de Castro. However, more than 3,800 global brands responded to the question on social media with the hashtag #imadeyourclothes plus real information on their suppliers and workers, signifying the beginning of a global conversation around transparency that continues to gain momentum.
Vivienne Westwood: Ethical Fashion Africa
Friends of the Earth, Amnesty International and War Child are just a handful of the campaigns that Dame Vivienne Westwood has put her name to, and Autumn/Winter 2012 saw the launch of one of her most influential – Ethical Fashion Africa – in association with the International Trade Centre’s Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI). The collection debuted a range of handbags made from recycled materials such as electric cables, canvas safari tents and roadside signs, made by community groups of Kenyan women under ethical labour conditions.
The motto of the campaign was ‘Not Charity, But Work’, with Westwood saying “this project gives people control over their lives – charity doesn’t give control, it does the opposite, it makes them dependant.” The EFI’s founder, Simone Cipriani, explained that the project also enabled disadvantaged communities and artisans to enter the international fashion value chain and allowed designers who wanted to source ethically, to do so knowing that their collaborators in the slums of Nairobi were being paid a fair wage. Since its beginning, the scheme has grown from a team of just 30 to that of 2,600 in 2020, with Westwood stating that the bags made in Kenyan are still her favourites.
PETA: I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur
Fur is on the out, with London Fashion Week going completely fur-free in 2018, a slew of top designers renouncing their use of it, and shops such as Selfridges refusing to sell it. This is owed, in large part, to the success of PETA’s ‘I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur’ campaign which first launched in 1990 and saw high-profile individuals strip off to various states of undress to lobby against animal cruelty in the fur industry.
The campaign, which ended its three-decade run in 2020, achieved global renown with everyone from Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell to Dennis Rodman, Wendy Williams and Gillian Anderson appearing on billboards to raise awareness of the issue. The slogan’s retirement came after PETA decided that it had served its purpose and would instead be turning its attention to wool and leather. The dawn of ‘I’d Rather Bare Skin Than Wear Skin’ is here.
Patagonia: Don't Buy This Jacket
‘Counterintuitive’ might be the word that springs to mind when you see Patagonia’s famous hashtag, being a company that relies entirely on profits for its continued existence. The campaign kicked off with a full page in the 2011 New York Times’ Black Friday Edition showing its best-selling jacket along with the words ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’. Below were the reasons why, which included the use of 36 gallons of water in the jacket’s production (enough to fill the daily needs of 45 people), the emission of 20 pounds of carbon dioxide (24 times the weight of the jacket) and the creation of two-thirds of its weight in waste. The message was an eye-opener to the effects of consumerism on the environment and an appeal for buyers to consider ‘need’ over ‘want’.
The campaign, however, didn’t work, which is to say it worked perfectly. Revenues jumped by 30% to $543 million (approx. £396 million) in 2012, a further 5% in 2013, and by 2017 the company reached $1 billion (approx. £730 million) in sales, which brand founder, Yvon Chouinard, puts down to a growth in new customers buying Patagonia for the first time as opposed to returning customers.
Stella McCartney: #ThereSheGrows
Stella McCartney is a regular on the conscious fashion scene and famed for her rigorous sustainability measures that include using organic cotton, protecting endangered forests, and reducing her use of oil-based synthetics. Her Autumn/Winter 2019 catwalk saw her launch the impactful #ThereSheGrows Instagram campaign, designed to rally support for the protection of the Ancient Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia. The 6.5 million-acre expanse is under extreme threat from palm oil, rubber, and logging practices, shrinking the last place on earth where orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers co-exist in the wild.
The campaign called on participants to dedicate a tree and a message to someone special, with McCartney pledging a donation to the environmental not-for-profit organisation, Canopy, and its mission to save the Leuser Ecosystem with each person that joined the movement. Gwyneth Paltrow, Drew Barrymore, Pink, Selma Blair and Jimmy Fallon were just a handful of those who got involved, with McCartney assuring that “this is the first step in the #ThereSheGrows initiative, so stay tuned. There’s much more to come”.
Jigsaw: For Life Not Landfill
Jigsaw’s 2015 ‘For Life, Not Landfill’ tagline called on buyers to extend the lifespan of their clothes in a bid to reduce the estimated 350,000 tonnes that end up in landfill in the UK every year. The campaign took over the tube station of London’s Oxford Street – the hub of fast fashion giants – and showed brightly coloured photographs of Jigsaw’s 2015 collection with vintage pieces from the 1990s donated by customers.
The message – that Jigsaw clothes are made to last and are as wearable today as they were the day they were bought – was a powerful one, made even more so by the contrasting photos of landfill that appeared as a backdrop. The campaign gained plenty of support online for being a much-needed antidote to the “Buy, Dispose, Repeat” mentality, as well as for its effort to challenge advertising stereotypes in fashion.
Image Source: For Life Not Landfill Campaign
In the same move as Patagonia, Jigsaw asked buyers to stop and think before buying their products, but is this as counterintuitive as it seems? According to a study by Accenture, the answer is ‘no’, with 63% of surveyed global consumers preferring to buy from companies that stand for a purpose aligned with their own values and beliefs, over those that don’t. However, there is a fine line between brand activism and the newly-coined phrase ’woke-washing’ (denoting the act of preying on customers’ social awareness to drive sales), with consumer awareness of being marketed to increasing rapidly, whilst brand trust heads in the opposite direction. Instead, authenticity is key, with the most successful campaigns such as those above demonstrating that values must infiltrate every level of the company, from the marketing department to the founders themselves.
Alexa is the Content Manager at Talia Collective. Previously, she worked for a top travel PR firm with a focus on sustainability in London, before moving to Madrid to learn Spanish and cut her teeth as a freelance travel copywriter and PR consultant.