“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.
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)