The fashion industry, with its global reach and influential platform, possesses a unique opportunity to contribute to peace and unity. Yet, like many businesses and industries, it remains largely concerned with its bottom line.
Beyond its aesthetic value, fashion can serve as a powerful vehicle for promoting inclusivity, cultural understanding and sustainable practices. There are multifaceted ways in which the fashion industry can be an agent of positive change, from embracing ethical sourcing and sustainable initiatives to fostering cross-cultural collaborations and supporting communities affected by conflict. As brands increasingly recognize their responsibility to address pressing global issues, the intersection of fashion and global crises emerges as a compelling arena for meaningful contributions towards a more harmonious and united world.
While good intentions may be visible, most brands are entrenched in a fiercely competitive market driven by shareholder expectations and economic pressures. The relentless pursuit of short-term financial goals, coupled with a consumer demand for newness, exclusivity and traditional business models centered on sales, can eclipse efforts to engage in genuine meaningful endeavours.
In a landscape where shareholder confidence, quarterly performance, and consumer expectations are paramount, luxury brands may lean towards strategies that more directly impact revenue, viewing peace initiatives as secondary. While some brands do embrace sustainability and social responsibility, the delicate balance between financial success and broader societal contributions continues to be a challenge for the luxury industry.
Here are seven ways the fashion industry can be change agents for peace:
Brands can foster peace by engaging in cultural collaborations that celebrate diversity and promote understanding. Instead of releasing theme-led campaigns, such as Chinese New Year collections, which mostly do not celebrate genuine traditions, but are born out of boosting sales, collaborations between designers from different regions or cultures can showcase the beauty of shared creativity, breaking down stereotypes and fostering unity.
Sustainability as a shared issue
Embracing sustainable and ethical practices has been a hot topic for much of the last decade. Yet for all the progress there are still many that continue to suffer for the production of new clothing garments. Brands focusing on eco-friendly materials, fair labour practices, and reducing their carbon footprint demonstrate a commitment to global well-being, but only if it is genuine, data-backed and at the core of a brand’s modus operandi.
Fashion brands can use their platforms to spread messages of peace and unity. By incorporating positive and inclusive messaging in their advertising campaigns, brands contribute to shaping a culture that values harmony and understanding. In the era of call-out culture, where everybody on social media can be a judge, many brands prefer to remain neutral, for fear of being canceled.
Some fashion brands engage in partnerships with humanitarian organisations to address the impact of conflicts on communities. These partnerships may involve fundraising initiatives, providing aid, or supporting education and employment opportunities in conflict-affected areas. Fashion brands can also empower communities affected by conflict by investing in local artisans and traditional craftsmanship. By providing economic opportunities and preserving cultural heritage, these brands contribute to the restoration of stability and peace.
Fashion for diplomacy
Some fashion initiatives aim to bridge political gaps and foster understanding between nations. Diplomatic fashion exchanges, where designers from conflicting regions collaborate on collections, serve as a powerful symbol of unity and shared creativity. At London Fashion Week, Ukrainian designers have been in the spotlight since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, giving local brands and designers a platform to continue to showcase their collections, despite challenging circumstances at home.
Education and awareness campaigns
Brands can actively engage in educating consumers about global conflicts and promoting peace-building initiatives. Fashion shows, social media campaigns, and collaborations with peace organizations can raise awareness and inspire positive action. The iconic Benetton advertisements of the 80s and 90s are an example where fashion became synonymous with championing peace, unity, and social awareness.
Created by photographer Oliviero Toscani, groundbreaking campaigns were characterised by their bold use of vivid colours, striking imagery, and thought-provoking messages that transcended typical fashion advertising. The "United Colors of Benetton" campaigns were known for addressing social and political issues, promoting diversity, and advocating for peace.
Fashion for peace
Where the music industry had Live Aid, a global benefit concert held in 1985, fashion brands have yet to collectively come together to promote peace and unity. Smaller events, like Naomi Campbell’s "Fashion for Relief" campaign, have raised funds for humanitarian causes and charters like the United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion aim to promote inclusivity and ethical practices within the fashion industry. Independent labels like Katharine Hamnett have never been shy of being a change agent for peace, justice and sustainability, but designers like Ms Hamnett are rare.
In recent years, there has been a notable surge in prioritising diversity and inclusion within the fashion industry, marked by brands and organizations launching campaigns that celebrate body positivity. However, during times of conflict, the fashion industry often chooses to remain silent, observing from the sidelines to avoid disrupting the revenue stream. The hesitancy to take a stance stems from the fear that aligning with a particular side may provoke a commercial backlash, leading brands to tread cautiously.
Yet these are precisely the times we need fashion leaders to use their platforms and be the change agents the world so desperately needs.