What is “The Character of Fashion”?

THE CHARACTER OF FASHION – A unique new book by Simon Ward, former COO of the British Fashion Council

DESIGN, clothing, fashion … they are strewn through the Bible: from the act of Creation to Adam and Eve’s first wardrobe; from the design of the tabernacle to the first priestly robes; from multiple imagery illustrating key principles underlying the life of faith, to the radiant garments clothing Christ in glory. Any suggestions that God and fashion simply don’t mix seem entirely off the mark.

In fact, quite the opposite: I would be so bold as to suggest that God loves fashion, with all the complexities surrounding it. And, yes, I think He revels in the challenges fashion throws up, as they test our ability to combine individual creativity with teamwork to achieve goals that can transform the lives of millions across the globe … with benefit to all, if we can get it right.

The stories shared in this book reveal that there are many paths leading into fashion, and this is reflected in the rich diversity of talented people involved. Forget the lazy stereotype of an industry inhabited solely by champagne luvvies and social media addicts who spend their entire lives swapping notes on the latest micro trend, unconcerned by how the rest of the world may be affected.There are a great many involved in the world of fashion who recognise, full well, that fashion isn’t everything, yet pour their best efforts into creating and selling clothes that can focus and convey identity, enhance individuality and help bring out inner beauty.

Is it an industry I would recommend to a youngster looking for a vibrant and challenging career? Absolutely. There
is much opportunity for those who are prepared to give it their best shot.

And as consumers we can be involved – are involved – through our purchasing decisions. We are all part of fashion.

YET … speaking to a range of people working in and around the industry, along with my own 35 years’ experience, it’s clear there are many ways of doing things that fall foul of what I believe to be God’s underlying heart for all human activity:

“What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)

The idea that consumers can enjoy endless cheap clothes, without it impacting the livelihoods of those working along the supply chain, and the planet we share, is ridiculous. Where’s the justice there?

The idea that stylists creating looks for the catwalks and magazines, which idealise looks completely unobtainable by the vast majority of the massive audiences they reach, is irresponsibility on an industrial scale. Where’s the mercy in that?

The idea that fashion might somehow be unreachable for the average Jo/e, drawing purely from the educated or privileged is folly, Anyone heard of humility?

The idea that people can be used as human fodder to work all hours, often without pay, or be spat out, is as insulting
as it is short-sighted. How does that display love for my neighbour?

There is much that is good and great in fashion, and that must be celebrated. However, behind much of that which is wrong lie two false gods: money and self. Fast fashion, sweat-shop labour, unpaid internships, unsustainable use of the planet’s resources, the sexualisation (through age inappropriate clothing) of children, unhealthy body images, drivenness and extended long hours, disdain for those outside the “in crowd” … all these have their roots in an uncaring accumulation of wealth and disregard for others’ welfare and opportunity. Unsurprising that many would consider fashion to be a brutal, exploitative and narcissistic industry.

This book does not seek to sort out all these issues, although it explores a number of them. What it does is to conclude that the thing God might be most concerned about is the character of the industry and those involved with it as employees and consumers.

It also suggests that Christians, standing alongside all those, regardless of faith, who care about our fellow occupants of this precious planet, should be at the forefront, working tirelessly to see that justice and mercy prevail over greed
and exploitation.