By Jess Staufenberg
Fashion designers, politicians and residents packed the Sallis Benney Theatre to hear panellists debate a sustainable and ethical future for the fashion industry.
The Drop-Dead Gorgeous Sustain Debate touched on what being ethical and making profit should mean as Brighton Fashion Week neared its conclusion.
The debate yesterday (Friday 11 October) opened with a story about clothing performed on a spotlit stage by Izzie Roffe-Silvester, a creative designer in Brighton.
She asked: “Who made your clothes? A fashion label or a human being?
“And you think you can throw that T-shirt away. But ‘away’ doesn’t exist.”
Panellists were welcomed to the floor to discuss issues ranging from the collapse of Rena Plaza in Bangladesh killing 1,368 textile workers to the Newhaven incinerator outside Brighton which burns polyester.
Purna Sen, Labour candidate for Brighton Pavilion at the next general election, said that the voices of the workers, 68 per cent of whom are women and mostly not white, need to be heard.
She said: “The Nestlé boycott was great. But most people you ask on the street won’t know what Rena Plaza was.”
Director of ethical underwear company Pants to Poverty Ben Ramsden agreed we are wrapped up in apathy.
But he said acting like a martyr won’t work and campaigners must make people laugh before they listen.
Mr Ramsden said: “We can’t make the victim of consumerism feel guilty. And I don’t believe politicians control the world. It’s shareholders and companies we must hold to account.”
Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, argued government involvement is needed to empower workers’ unions and make ethical clothing for poorer people in the UK more affordable.
She said: “There is a reason Primark do so well. For all this we need that bottom line of government regulation.”
She called the upcoming Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the European Union and the United States “hideous” for reducing government power over giant corporations.
Tamsin Lejeune, CEO of the Ethical Fashion Forum, agreed lower prices for clothes are not more democratic but a lucrative business model that actually encourages people to buy and replace more often.
She said positive messages and creative enterprise will give young people the tools to make the change they want to see.
Mrs Lejeune said: “It’s amazing we don’t have celebrities taking this up yet but we will.
“Since Rena Plaza the elephant in the room has got bigger.”
To sum up, Carry Somers, founder of Fashion Revolution and Pachacuti, urged the audience to change the way they think about consuming.
She said: “To spark a conversation at the bar tonight, wear your clothes inside out.
“Someone will ask you why and you can talk about who made your clothes.”
A number of ethical clothes and lobby groups against landfill and incineration in Brighton, as well as fashion students and designers, were in the audience.
After the debate guests moved on to the Brighton Fashion Show catwalk, Zeitgesit, at the Old Ship Hotel.