High-End Fashion is a Hoax!

Graphic by Mariam Diakite/Graphics center

High-end fashion brands are aligning themselves with social movements to attract larger audiences, yet their output is insulting to the communities they are supposedly representing. While major brands receive attention and money, true activists fight for a level playing field.

We as consumers must divert our attention and money from corporations that are: reinforcing racist tropes, destroying the environment, and doing so all the while claiming to be forward-thinking.

RACIST TROPES

According to brand executives themselves, Banana Republic was initially created as an imagined, exotic place, “like Shangri-La, Middle Earth, Westeros, or Wakanda,” as stated in their 2021 rebrand campaign. The inspirations and descriptors of the new fashion line included aesthetics such as “safari meets tuxedo,” according to the brand. Even Banana Republic’s name is rooted in the colonization of Latin American and African countries according to Fast Company. The fetishized appeal of the “safari” seeps from the dark history of imperialism into the modern day.

In their 2024 advertising, you will find only two Black models and two Asian models sandwiched between their five white counterparts—a lacking attempt at promoting racial diversity. Companies are utilizing these models merely to place them in an imagined exotic world, tokenizing them based on their race.

It extends beyond Banana Republic. De Beers Jewellers tokenized Lupita Nyong’o, a Mexican-Kenyan actor, as a model for their “Where it Begins” campaign. The name of said campaign is “a visual nod to De Beers’s South African origins … and ongoing mining activities in Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa,” states Nancy Friedman in an article exploring the company’s history. Notably, none of those countries are Kenya.

LACK OF TRANSPARENCY

The De Beers Diamond Co. and Marc Jacobs neglect to consistently update their codes of ethics in terms of resource extraction. Both companies follow the UK Modern Slavery Act, as posted on their websites under their codes of ethics. The 2015 legislation aims to make provisions “about slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory human labour and about human trafficking,” according to the bill.  

While adhering to this legislation is admirable, it is not enough to claim compliance and then not consistently update consumers on ethical sourcing of materials in areas known to exploit laborers. Recent updates regarding these brands’ ethics are not available. De Beers’ last statement was in 2022, and Marc Jacobs’ was in 2018. 

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT 

While sustainability in fashion can be possible, current industry business models are resistant to it. The industry’s lack of transparency makes assessing sustainability difficult. According to the Harvard Business Review of unsustainable fashion practices, most corporate social responsibility reports “do not accurately quantify the full carbon emissions profile of fashion brands.” Further, attempts at sustainable fashion have struggled in the existing business models which prioritize rapid-consumerism..

The McKinsey Global Fashion Index has tracked “a burst of pent-up consumer demand,” boosting global industry revenues up between 6-21% in the years 2021 and 2022. This boost is paralleled by the rise in the fashion industry’s “carbon impact range” by 6%, according to the Harvard Business Review. While corporations continue to prosper, our planet is dying in the name of trends.

DIVESTMENT

We must boycott brands that preach values of transparency they do not practice, brands that exoticize and fetishize models as representation and diversity, and brands that put money towards the oppression of other humans. Luckily there are tools to help us with this.

One of my go-to models for sustainable consumerism is Nabihah Ahmad. A student at Columbia University, Ahmad is a “Bangladeshi-Muslim American from Queens, NY,” as described in her Instagram post. Her startup, SSQRD, is focused on remodeling modern fashion and hosts the website Ethos, which filters for ethical brands and products.

Functioning under values of transparency and community, the startup is “a movement aimed at breaking down the barriers created by traditional corporations,” according to the Ethos website. Ahmad comes from a family of garment workers in Bangladesh, and is motivated to create change on behalf of her family.

With a wide list of fashion, skincare, makeup and fragrances, many products are tagged as “Black-owned,” “Palestinian owned,” or other notable identifiers, encouraging consumers to support sustainable businesses and marginalized business owners. 

There is an added layer of transparency with the “Caution” label, identifying products and brands with problematic elements, such as alleged forced labor practices and fiscal support of Israel. Ethical consumption of fashion and beauty is possible, by supporting transparent, ethical brands and entrepreneurs. Ahmad is just one example of fashion moguls whose values align with the greater community. SSQRD is a great way to promote and support brands and businesses that operate on humanitarian principles, not just profit.

Editor-in-Chief: Megan Robertson, Chief Copy Editor: Sophia Siegel, Managing Editor: Jordan Premmer, Opinion Editor: Chisom Okorafor

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