Monday, September 24, 2007

I’ve been trying to write about charity and fashion for the last few days but I keep moving into the topic of consumerism rather than clothing. The two issues are entwined with each other, particularly in the case of Red, the charity founded by Bono and a number of other people. His work with Red is a perfect example of the move towards ethical charities that work within the consumer market and use fashion and celebrity as a means to an end. Gap, American Express and Apple all produce items that allow sales proceeds to go to the charity and appear to be engaging in these activities to show that they understand these problems while going about their daily practice in every other area. Bono also has other ties with ethical fair trade consumerism and the fashion industry.

Charity and fashion is a complicated subject because the vast majority of questions that arise from it can only be directed at individuals. The motivation behind fashion and celebrity involvement with these issues is often unclear, it’s rarely explained in interviews and the cause tends to be the focus. It can be argued that individual’s motives don’t matter and yet it would probably bring it home that people live in a global rather than local environment. Charities need to make money, people don't give enough on the street, they often don't stop for people with clipboards but they do use American Express cards, they buy T-shirts. Generally if people are getting something they'll give something. Everyone who gives to charity admits other people need help but they're exercising their judgement about who to help, I don't necessarily think the right to choose a cause is realistic, would prefer it if funds were more centralised but we live in a society that currently needs charitable donation. Every tool may as well be used to achieve those donations.

The first real utilisation of the fashion industry in charity circles that I can recall was the big PETA campaign. Most people in the western world will be able to recall either seeing one of the anti-fur ads featuring a supermodel or if not then reading about the campaign. There has been a huge amount of criticism of models stating that they were anti-fur and then wearing fur years later on the catwalk. I don't have to approve of my workplace and its actions to work there, very few people actually work in line with their ethics so it's difficult to criticise without talking to a specific model about their motivation.

My desire to write about charity has been motivated by The Fashion for Relief campaign espoused by Naomi Campbell. It is perhaps the least complicated example of the fashion industry raising money for people in difficult circumstances. Its methods of raising money are quite straightforward and less branded than most of the recent charitable causes that I've mentioned, despite a T-shirt design by Christopher Bailey, the Creative Director of Burberry, however the lack of involvement of huge monolithic companies makes it easier to think about from a moral point of view. It seems like the simplest thing on earth to use fashion to make people's lives better and yet in a sense it doesn't create awareness. Very few people like the speech that comes before a concert or the ethical advice that is printed on a CD sleeve because it mixes art, pleasure and guilt. If you acknowledge the cause it takes the art and fun away to an extent, if you don't acknowledge the cause you're wilfully ignoring the origin of the product. In a sense it also makes ethical work out of the ordinary when the ethics shouldn't be something that need to be emphasized. Designers, labels that make so much money should be sourcing their products and working in such a way by default.

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