Changing fashion?

Changing fashion?

Faith in Fashion

“Christianity is not only historical in that it is based on historical facts; it is an interpretation of history and committed to involvement in history” (Bevans, 1992:121).

Do you view yourself as being committed to involvement in history? We constantly have the power to create change and influence, and we can do this withinin the Fashion Retail Industry. Our buying choices can have a major impact on the industry, whether this be choosing to sell Fairtrade products in their stores or deciding to pay a higher wage to all of their employees.

However, when a Christian does try to enter the Retail Industry, it is not always met with praise. Forever 21, a company with openly Christian owners, is not exempt from criticism just because it places ‘John 3:16’ on their bags. Rather, it attracts attention as to whether or not the company practices Christian values and whether it is ethical. If the countercultural model of contextual theology was applied to a company such as Forever 21, it could be argued that  the owners are using the language of the culture, which Newbigin (1989:141) highlighted as being important. They choose to be committed to share the good news of Jesus Christ by attaching a Bible verse to each bag, meaning that everyone who shops in one of their stores may have a chance to hear about Jesus. This may be a subliminal message that often goes unnoticed, but the willingness to try and make an impact is demonstrated. However, ethically Forever 21 have been challenged over conditions for factory workers producing their clothes, which does not represent Christian values taught from the Bible. And it is important to note that during an interview with The Guardian Linda Chang (Wiseman, 2011), the marketing manager for Forever 21, made this statement: “The faith of the founders is separate to the brand – the bag is simply a statement of faith”. This appears to announce a separation between faith and business.

Clearly much of the Fashion Retail Industry struggles to remain ethical. Questions arise regarding the exploitation of other people and the consequences of wanting cheap labour to create lower prices and larger profits. Often, the question goes unasked about where the clothes come from. It is something that Smith (2009:101) states is ‘hidden and invisible’, which reveals that “this way of life is unsustainable and selfishly lives off of the backs of the majority of the world”. Christians are not immune to this. People benefit from not asking challenging questions of the brands that create our identities. Siegel (2013) wrote, for the Guardian, “For the past decade, the world’s most famous brands have been flirting with disaster. Every month brings a fresh tragedy to the world’s garment districts, usually through a factory fire or collapse”.

This should be a real concern, that people lose their lives in order to create the brands that we love. How then could a Christian support these brands while still living out the commandment of Jesus to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Matt 22:38), if people are being put in danger and not being treated properly? Having studied Bevans and Newbigin, it is clear that Christians must face these questions and seek Christ’s transformational power and guidance. Newbigin (1978:110) notes that “We are conscious of the oppression of others, and unconscious of the ways in which we oppress”. Newbigin realised that as humans we have a tendency to have some form of understanding that oppression happens, yet it is harder for us to acknowledge that we play a part in it. This is particularly true of the Fashion Retail Industry; people would rather not admit they are playing a part in the oppression of others simply in order to own cheap and fashionable clothing. On the other hand, it could be argued that by purchasing these products people are creating jobs for others, which gives them money. However, these people are often not paid enough and they work long hours that are not ethical. This needs to be changed, as there should be equality for all. Although this is easier said than done, Christians must live in hope that Christ can transform this culture.

Do you ever think about where your clothes come from and who makes them? Hopefully this blog will begin to help you think about that and the small changes you can make. I know that I have been personally affected by researching this.

Elyse Mackinnon
Former student president

Bevans SB, 1992 Models of Contextual Theology New York: Orbis
Newbigin L, 1989 The Gospel in a Pluralist Society Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co
Wiseman E, 2011 ‘The Gospel According to Forever 21’ The Guardian Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2011/jul/17/forever-21-fast-fashion-america (accessed 16/05/15)
Smith J, 2009 Desiring the Kingdom Michigan: Baker Academic
Siegel L, 2013 ‘Ethical Shopping: how the high street fashion stores rate’ The Guardian Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2013/may/17/ethical-shopping-high-street-fashion (accessed 16/05/15)

 

 

Who are you wearing?

Who are you wearing?

Faith in Fashion

Have you ever watched ‘Live from the Red Carpet’? If not, I’ll quickly fill you in. At any major awards event such as The Oscars or The Grammys, there will be loads of journalists lined up along the red carpet, patiently waiting to ask one important question to the celebrities – ‘Who are you wearing?’.

Brands capitalise on this opportunity to use famous people, because you are almost guaranteed for a sell-out item if someone popular is seen wearing your design. Recently, there has been shift away from high-end brands to high-street stores, shown through celebrities choosing to endorse them (Beyonce for Topshop, Rihanna for River Island). The high street is great for consumers as it allows them to change their image constantly, and the latest styles ultimately impact upon their identity.

Beyonce’s Ivy Park [i] collection in Topshop recently caused a stir when it was released – it was a sell out!! However, an article was released shortly afterwards, claiming that it is “reportedly made by Sri Lankan factory workers earning just £4.30 a day… less than half the average Sri Lankan wage” [ii]. The most expensive item Beyonce has to offer is £160, so why are the workers earning so little?! This raises some serious questions about our response as Christians. Should we be buying clothing like this and supporting it, what does the Bible say, and should we become involved?

I will look at Stephen Bevans countercultural model in order to reach an appropriate response. Bevans (1992:117) states that the countercultural model “takes context (experience, culture, social location, and social change) with utmost seriousness. If the gospel is to truly take root within a people’s context, it needs to challenge and purify that context”.

When applying this model to the Fashion Retail Industry, Christians must be willing to not abandon the industry but seek for ways in which to transform it from within – possibly by working with companies to improve working conditions and pay in all aspects of the brand. If this is done correctly, it will allow for the gospel to change the context. It could be said that this industry has nothing to do with the gospel; rather the industry appears to be about exploitation and money making. However, the gospel has the ability to challenge any culture through its ‘liberation and healing power’ (Bevans, 1992:118). Newbigin (1989:141) highlights that the gospel must use the language of the culture it is trying to transform and use the tools the culture provides. In order for the gospel to effectively use the language of the fashion retail industry, Christians must be prepared to interact with the industry at all levels, using biblical principles as a basis for decision making. Newbigin (1989:142) continues stating: ‘But of course the truth is that every communication of the gospel is already conditioned’, making it easier for the Christian to respond to this industry.

We have the tools, let’s use them. Next month I will explore this in more depth.

Elyse Mackinnon
Former student president

References
Bevans SB, 1992, Models of Contextual Theology, New York: Orbis
Newbigin L, 1989, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans
[i] http://www.topshop.com/en/tsuk/category/brands-4210405/ivy-park-5481806
[ii] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3591350/Beyonce-s-new-Topshop-sportswear-range-workers-earning-just-44p-HOUR-d-work-month-buy-100-pair-leggings.html

Who am I? And will this piece of clothing help me to express that?

Who am I? And will this piece of clothing help me to express that?

Faith in Fashion

Before I start wondering if the fashion retail industry is ethical, I want to begin with the question of personal identity.

Where does your identity come from? I know some of you will already have ideas about this. However, I want you to start thinking about how our clothes make up our identity. Once we have established this, it will help us to understand our own viewpoint of the Fashion Retail Industry and whether or not we truly practice what we preach about ethics.

Within this industry there is a large focus upon identity and who people are. Rittenhouse (2013:44) argues that “In consumerism, personal identity is spatially and temporally discontinuous”.  There is a sense, from Rittenhouse’s argument, that it is possible to lose one’s true identity as identity is sought from elsewhere, which can be revealed (or created) through wearing certain brands or copying another’s style. As Tiplady (2003:35) states, “This is the key theme of much marketing in the West – whatever suits ‘you’. Personal individuality, and customization to that individuality, is the order of the day”.

People long to create an image that is different to everyone else’s. Today, it appears, people have control of their identity. They can choose what brands they wear and how to wear them. Individuals should be able to create an identity that differs to everyone else, but when a large group of people are exposed to the same marketing campaign, it often appears that their identities overlap with various similarities. Smith (2009:99) states, regarding shopping, that “we come with a sense of need (given our failure to measure up to its iconic ideals), and the mall promises something to address that”. What people understand as being missing in their life, they can purchase within a store. What happens we a large number of people buy the same thing? Have we lost our own individual identities?

I am not going to lie. I love certain brands and when a new product is released I am there ordering it. They are a key player when it comes to identity – especially within Western Society. Today most products come with a branded name and this name is often what influences a person on whether or not they should buy a particular item (Thompson, 2014:26).

Chan (2010:188) states “Young people perceive people with a lot of branded goods as happy and having more friends”, which highlights that young people are potentially most at risk of becoming consumed with defining an identity through brands. For young people growing up within this generation, Behrer and Van den Bergh (2011:95) understand that young people want cool brands and that their choice of brand is influenced through “friends, TV, magazines, advertising and music festivals”, and they continue by emphasising that “Music artists are much cooler than movie actors”. I understand how easy it is to be influenced by what our favourite celebrity is wearing, and which shops they endorse.

Identity is important and the clothes we wear reveal something about us to other people. How do we therefore respond to this industry that has such an impact on our own identity, without compromising our ethical values? Over the next few months I will be looking at  a few of Stephen Bevans Models of Contextual Theology to come up with an appropriate response.

Elyse Mackinnon
Former student president

Behrer M and Van den Bergh J (eds), 2011, How Cool Brands Stay Hot: Branding to Generation Y, London: Kogan Page
Chan KKW, 2010, Youth and Consumption, Kowloon: City University of Hong Kong Press
Rittenhouse BP, 2013, Shopping for Meaningful Lives: The Religious Motive of Consumerism, Oregon: Cascade Books
Smith J, 2009, Desiring the Kingdom, Michigan: Baker Academic
Thompson D, 2014, ‘Turning Customers into Cultists’, in Atlantic Vol. 315, Issue 5, pp.26-32.
Tiplady R, 2003, World of Difference, Cumbria: Paternoster Press

 

A Christian take on the fashion industry

A Christian take on the fashion industry

Faith in Fashion

Top: Forever 21
Faux Leather Moto Vest: Forever 21
Jeans: Zara
Bag: Carvela, Kurt Geiger
Boots: Office

fashion

There are thousands of bloggers online who make it their duty to tell us how to wear certain clothes, which brands to wear, and which type of clothing suits our body shapes. Many go through the process of how I started this blog, especially because followers of these blogs love a bit of inspiration! Normally they also post links of where exactly you can buy them. Like it or not, everyone has an opinion on fashion. What you choose to wear tells another person something about you – even if you are trying your very best to avoid this.

The Fashion Retail Industry is arguably one of the biggest industries within the United Kingdom and Western society. It is simple: people need clothes, so they go to the shops (or go online) and purchase them. But what does this ultimately cost? As I go through the next few months, I hope to come up with an appropriate Christian response regarding Consumerism in the Fashion Retail Industry.

For the last five years I have worked in retail, so I come with experience of being within this industry. I have loved my job, but I look forward to my time in retail coming to an end when I won’t go through an internal battle of “is this right?”.  Yes, we need clothes, but what about the people who make the clothes and earn little money, while the people in charge are pocketing millions of pounds each year? I find myself asking: “Is it right to play a small part in this industry, should Christians interact with it, or does it promote negative ethical values?”.

Each of these questions are important to be asked when looking for an appropriate response, and once we have a response I hope I appear to be more at ease with this industry. Watch this space.

Elyse Mackinnon
Former student president

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