The 27th Graduate Fashion Week kicked off on Sunday, providing a four day platform for fashion graduates from 36 UK and 51 international universities to exhibit collections, share knowledge and meet mentors, press and recruiters.
Sustainability promises to be high on the agenda, with an all-new Considered Design Showcase taking place on the last day and three prizes for sustainable ideas to be awards, including the Considered Design Award, the Vivienne Westwood Sustainable and Ethical Award and the Swarovski Sustainable Accessories competition.
“I want to offer a workshop that concentrates on the resilience of students to take their ethics forwards.”
This year also sees the launch of a new workshop, courtesy of Professor Caryn Franklin MBE, on the importance of emotional intelligence in fashion – offering fashion students practical ways to operate in an industry that, on the whole, remains pretty indifferent to the plight of people, animals and planet.
It’s a hard place to work if you do care and Franklin should know. In between presenting, writing, editing and styling, the former Clothes Show presenter campaigns vigorously in the areas of diversity and mental health. In 2009, she launched All Walks Beyond The Catwalk, promoting diversity on the catwalk.
“Universities and colleges are implementing sustainability modules under a wider reaching umbrella of ethics,” she points out. “But it’s no good saying [to students], we need to implement [these values] into an industry that doesn’t really seem to care without giving them the mental skills to keep themselves safe.”
“I want to offer a workshop that concentrates on the resilience of students to take their ethics forwards,” says the long term GFW Global Ambassador. “Increasingly, we need to give them the sense that they’re on a journey in which their life skills and their ability to read people and help shift things are part of their creativity.”
They are also part of students’ ability to advocate for change. And, as anyone who has stuck up for their ethical values in the face of denial and opposition will know, this is a tough call – particularly if, in the fashion industry, certain factors stay in place.
First in the firing line is the white, Eurocentric perspective that continues to dominate the industry, even overseas; second, a widespread culture of oppressive influence that has seen operators such as Terry Richardson in control for too long.
Lastly, it is the current notion of success, which advocates unrelenting, exponential growth. “It’s so testosterone-charged,” says Franklin, bitterly. “Unless you’ve got yachts, and flagships, and stores all over the world, you’re not [considered] successful.
“That model of capitalism is so abhorrent. It has to be seen as an old school version of success that doesn’t benefit the individual.”
“We know the truth: [how] you have to keep on expanding for journalists to be interested in the next story and for retailers to see you’re still current. But we need to look at that career trajectory and wonder whether that’s where we want to send people.”
“Create your own definition of success.”
Franklin will be heading two talks, titled Thrive & Survive, in the GFW Live! Space tomorrow Tuesday June 5th. “In Part 1 [at 12pm], I’ll be talking about the tools I’ve discovered – and that I use – and giving examples of breakthroughs, how I was trying to change things and survive,” she says.
Part II invites a panel comprised of Charlotte Gush, fashion editor at Refinery 29, Omi of ethical fashion label Vin & Omi, photographer Jermain Francis, and art director Natalia Hasseck – all very familiar in challenging the foibles of fashion – to do the same.
Any spoilers? ‘I’ve always, maybe naively, thought why can’t we make a business that is local, where we know who we’re supplying to, enjoy what we’re doing, take enough out to pay our bills and keep the cycle going,” says Franklin, wistfully. “So what I will be saying to students is create your own definition of success.”
As ethical awareness continues to blossom in the millennial audience, amongst the fashion designers of the future, calls to action like Franklin’s will have added weight. It’s time to sit up and take notice.