Category Archives: Pop Culture

Fashion Under Capitalism: Inequality In The Meritocratic Ideal

The fashion industry has been labelled many things – shallow, exploitative, unsustainable, unethical – the list goes on and on. But where do these labels come from, and does fashion truly deserve these names?

In an environment revering limited edition pieces for the price of an arm and leg, it’s no wonder that fashion gets a bad rap. How can the average consumer afford a $500 shirt from Vetements, or a Supreme hoodie at an even higher price point, when that amount could easily feed a family for a month? The show of affluence through fashion has been a practice for centuries, if not since the beginning of fashion itself. And it makes sense; if you have it, why not flaunt it? The underlying problem though, is not this display of wealth, but the glaring inequalities that are showcased through it by the capitalist system it represents.

Image: Reuters / Lucas Jackson 

Although capitalism has mostly been referenced as a political or economic model, it goes without saying that it affects even the most private areas of our lives. Without being consciously aware of it, our values, needs and wants are heavily influenced by capitalist ideals. The emphasis on independence and innovation as drivers for success has given people the hope that they too can change the circumstances of where they began in life. It’s a system awarding an individual’s ability based on merit regardless of their social background, proving that anyone and everyone can ‘make it big’. Finally, all are seen to have equal opportunities, as success is causally linked to hard work and perseverance. This meritocratic ideal has since been idolized, throwing success stories of people going from ‘rags to riches’ into the limelight and praising the underdogs of our century for their relatability. But how equal are our opportunities really?

Image: The Guardian 

The idea of meritocracy is appealing for obvious reasons. To be able to move beyond what we are born into solely by dint of talent and effort gives the illusion of a fair playground for all, and spits in the face of social immobility that prevailed until the 1800’s. But this utopian system of fairness is just another way to disguise inequality, making it acceptable, even praised. Meritocracy disregards certain privileges people are born into, reiterating the idea that if you just worked hard enough, you would be able to get to where you want to be. Jo Littler discussed this topic in her article, saying that, “those who could not draw on existing reservoirs of privilege were told to work harder to catch up.” Not only is the same level of success expected from everyone, but the failure to reach this level is the fault of the individual rather than external factors they can’t control. Merit is undoubtedly manipulated to benefit the wealthy, feeding society with the idea that everyone begins at the same starting line when certain opportunities are only presented to those with privileged backgrounds.

Image: Heroine

This quite obviously permeates into the fashion industry. Our obsession with owning high end fashion pieces began with meritocracy, as it is a symbol of social status, proof that anyone able to indulge in luxury can move up the social ladder. It also legitimises social inequalities by completely disregarding the structural conditions of opportunity. When we hear of the ‘self-made man/woman’ in fashion, they usually revolve around those of the top tier, publicised in a way to perpetuate the illusion of an open society. Not everyone can spring up out of nowhere without a push in the right direction. Knowing the right people and having a pool of resources all contribute to becoming noticed. Of course, talent and hard work makes a big difference and shouldn’t be disregarded, but privilege works much like a stack of dominoes. A little help in the beginning will continue to open up doors of opportunity, always placing those coming from privilege one step ahead of the average person.

Image: Teen Vogue

Take the runway as an example. Gigi and Bella Hadid have exploded all over the media in recent years, seemingly out of the blue. With a mixture of winning the genetic lottery, charisma and hard work, they have become household names and respected models in their own right. However, far from the typical tale of the underdog rising to success, the sisters already came from an affluent background, with a mother previously working in the modelling industry – a definite advantage leading to their success.

Image: Heroine

Then there’s Kendall Jenner, rising to equal fame with the support of her family’s social media reach. It’s obvious that, although these women worked for their coveted positions, they were given opportunities any average person would not have access to. Whilst the modelling world has moved away from aristocratic roots, its portrayal of the down to earth, girl-next-door that anyone can become is a far cry from reality. Picking models who are seemingly normal may appeal to meritocratic values, but it is only a mask for the ingrained elitism still prevalent in fashion, when these models are clearly selected from a homogenous pool of wealthy families.

Image: IMG Model News

The result then, is an overshadowing of less prominent models who have equal potential but are at an obvious disadvantage to those born into wealth. As Martin Lerma says in his article, “There are countless stories they can help tell, campaigns they can front, catwalks they can traverse and young people they can inspire, but fewer and fewer people are interested in developing those nascent talents into professionals.” Fighting for a place in fashion is made so much harder when there’s an identical expectation of success for everyone, in an industry still uninterested in the average individual.

Maybe the meritocratic ideal is not so fair after all.

 

Written by Tiffany Ko

References:
https://www.heroine.com/the-editorial/Model-Meritocracy
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/20/meritocracy-inequality-theresa-may-donald-trump

Nars Has Taken A Big Step Backward In The Beauty World

It’s become an issue that many people nowadays look for when purchasing beauty products. It can be the defining factor to whether we will purchase that foundation we’ve been wanting to buy forever or not. NARS announced that it would be going back to their old ways and begin testing on animals again. Why? Because they are looking to enter the Chinese market to make more sales. Talk about putting profit over principles. This is one of the most popular and respected beauty brands in the world, so are there more reasons as to why they have made such a negative decision? China law makes it mandatory for cosmetic companies to test on animals. Fans have reacted to this news with unhappy posts, comments and even creating negative hashtags like #boycottnars, #stopanimalcruelty and #saynotoanimaltesting.

Image: Instagram

NARS has long been known as a cruelty-free brand, but as of June 2017, they have announced that they are no longer apart of the revolution. Making a statement despite all the backlash, the company has stated to shoppers that they still believe that the elimination of animal testing needs to happen, but their decision had to be made to ‘comply with the local laws’. The company has been extremely popular worldwide, which has received mostly positive reviews from their light-weight, natural base products. Products were selling millions through stores such as Sephora, MECCA and David Jones etc. but now face a boycott from customers who believe and support the ‘say no to animal testing’ campaign. This affects their brand name, collaboration projects and major sales in countries such as Australia, Europe, New Zealand, India and America.

So, who is to blame for this decision? I assume not everyone who works within the brand is happy or agrees with this decision. Essentially, Shiseido, who owns NARS made the decision to make the brand available in China to expand its reach and keep up with competitors (typical), like MAC, which is owned by Estee Lauder. Whilst they also sell in China, both corporations have stated they only conduct animal testing due to the requirement.

Image: Instagram

Although this has been shocking news in the recent times, there are still beauty brands out there that will keep their word and won’t entertain the idea of animal testing. The Body Shop has recently teamed up with Cruelty Free International (CFI) on a campaign called Forever Against Animal Testing which is calling for the United Nations to introduce and international convention regarding the issue. Be sure to go to thebodyshop.com.au to sign their petition to help support the cause.

Image: The Body Shop

While big profit non-cruelty free brands such as Estee Lauder recently bought up another beauty company, Deciem, they have confirmed that this one won’t be venturing into the Chinese market until the laws are changed. I think NARS has taught many brands a lesson as to why the industry needs to change for the better. So, until China takes action and starts truly believing in the animal testing boycott, here are some of the best cruelty free companies that actually include some NARS dupes of their own that are available right now;

If you loved the NARS blushes you should try:
Tarte
Silk Naturals

If you were obsessed with their base products you should try:
Cover FX
Kat Von D
The Ordinary

Other AMAZING Cruelty -free brands that are worth every cent include:
The Body Shop
The Organic Pharmacy
Tata Harper
Sigma
e.l.f cosmetics
Hourglass
Inglot
John Russo
Saturday Skin
The Balm
Trust Fund Beauty

 

Written by: Darcey Weaven

Artist Archive: River Phoenix

Reading his name, you’d get the feeling that River Phoenix was super influential and an independent person. He was only 23 when he passed away in 1993, but before then he had committed himself to supporting animal rights and environmentalism. Being so young and voicing his opinions on these types of issues was almost unknown in the early Hollywood industry. His life, artistry, passion, influence and personality were things to be treasured in the future ahead.

Before becoming the Hollywood star he was, Phoenix and his parents lived in poverty, travelling around the States in a van. He never received any schooling and often sang on the side of the road to get change for his ever-growing family. Once his mother returned to working as a receptionist in Hollywood, she got in contact with an agent for River and his sibling in order to gain extra money for the family.

 

Image: Getty

After growing up on the big screen, he became one of the biggest child actors and began to find himself amongst all the pressure and publicity. At the age of 15, he began to live a vegan lifestyle when he became upset seeing fisherman each killing their catch. He then influenced his family of seven to also become vegans. Before then, an eight-year-old Phoenix persuaded his parents to give up milk and eggs. He realised the chickens that lay eggs were frustrated and that there was no sunlight in the egg farms. From this day he fought issues regarding animal rights, environmentalism and politics. At 18 became the spokesperson for PETA, a well-known animal rights campaign company, who honoured him with its Humanitarian Award in 1992.

Phoenix’s Family / Image: Getty

Although he was a phenomenal actor and activist, this did not sum up his personality. He was liked by all and became one of the youngest actors to be nominated for an Academy Award. He influenced the world and chose to educate them on his work and choices. He openly spoke out about the animal cruelty affected the fashion world as was trendy to wear fur and leather on red carpets. He was educated in his own sense and understood more than an average teenager would. For Earth Day, 1990, he wrote an environmental essay aimed at his younger fanbase, which was printed in Seventeen magazine.

Image: Lance Staedler/ Corbis Outline

After his success in the industry and after buying his family a house in Florida, he bought 800 acres of endangered rain forest in Costa Rica. All around he was perceived as a squeaky-clean teenager from his activism and movie roles, which evidently was not the case.

The sad truth shocked Hollywood when news came out that the young actor had passed away out the front of the Viper Room. At such a young age he had so much more to offer and his passion was one that truly inspired others. Animal rights and environmentalism are becoming more spoken about in this day, but it took courage and power for Phoenix to speak so openly about the topic even though it was a more taboo subject.

 

Written by: Darcey Weaven

References:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_Phoenix#Activism
https://www.nytimes.com/1989/01/05/movies/river-phoenix-ranks-acting-below-animal-rights-and-music.html
http://celebratingriverphoenix.weebly.com/activist.html

H&M: Planet or Profit Conscious?

Old candlesticks and sea-worn rope fishing nets may not instantly inspire thoughts of glamorous high fashion, but according to Ann-Sofie Johansson, creative advisor at H&M, they represent a new way forward for the industry.

“The way the materials feature in our Conscious Exclusive collection shows how the latest technology can be incorporated with time-honoured techniques for spectacular results.” Johansson says of the fast-fashion giant’s newest ‘eco-positive’ undertaking.

Inspired by the early 20th century Arts and Craft movement, the 2018 Conscious Exclusive collection features rich emeralds, dusky blues and neutral tones, showcasing the unusual recycled materials.

Image: H&M

The Conscious Exclusive line was spawned several years ago when the company recognised growing social pressure to change their unsustainable practices. “Our size, scale and influence mean we have both a responsibility to do the right thing and an opportunity to create real lasting change.” acknowledges Anna Gedda, the head of sustainability.

Recycling-focused Conscious Exclusive was their solution. Now on their seventh collection, the line has garnered a sizeable following with celebs and eco-minded customers.

The move was met with such a success, in fact, that the company announced in December a brand new progressive range, lauded by designer Petra Smeds as ‘the way forward’ for fashion.
The big innovation? Activewear, made -wait for it- from recycled materials. And of course, we can’t forget H&M’s October sustainability initiative “Close The Loop”: cutting edge, state of the art denim looks… made from recycled materials.

Image: H&M

To quote The Devil Wears Prada: groundbreaking.

It seems H&M have found a niche that ticks all the boxes in moving away from their damaging ‘ruthless fast-fashion mill’ image. But is this really the revolution they claim it to be? The prices in the ‘exquisite, premium’ Conscious line, as H&M’s website describes it, are drastically higher from the stores usual offerings — on average retailing around $200-$400AUD. Meanwhile, a run-of-the-mill, non-‘eco’ t-shirt will still only set you back little more than $5.

When we look past the novelty factor of clothes made from fishing nets, it begs the question: what is being done to address the very real and very unsustainable production practices that enable such appealing low prices?

H&M defends its use of developing countries for production, arguing the company is ‘supporting’ growth through ‘mutually prosperous partnerships’. Furthermore, H&M attests that “We only allow our products to be manufactured by suppliers and factories that commit to our values and sign our strict code of conduct”.

Image: H&M

However, H&M concedes that suppliers have often broken their ‘strict code of conduct’ in the past. A Cambodian production factory rated ‘Gold’ standard by H&M revealed 8000 of their workers had collapsed of malnutrition since 2010. Most recently, the brand made news in February when an exposé alleged a major supplier to H&M used Chinese prisoners as labour to make packaging for the brand, paying them just $19USD a month. Meanwhile, the same amount could buy Aussie customers a nice H&M top.

Not only are at-risk workers losing out in this race for volume, but so is the planet. H&M proudly boasts it has been certified as the world’s No.1 user of organic cotton; a fact that distracts from the reality that H&M is one of the biggest consumers of cotton, period. Cotton crops, organic or not, require colossal amounts of water and energy in their production: it takes 20,000 litres to produce enough cotton for a single t-shirt.

Image: H&M

H&M’s intentions seem undeniably noble, taking measures toward production transparency and conscientiousness far beyond those of their fast-fashion competitors. However, the issue lies in mass fashion retailers’ driving motivation: ‘quantity, quantity, quantity’.

Whilst this remains the ethos of these brands, sustainability will never be achievable, and author of To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? Lucy Siegle advises we take so-called “green or ethical collections” with a pinch of salt.

“The biggest of the fast fashion brands are keen to show us that they are not just cleaning up but leading the charge. But behind the scenes the business model remains intact, predicated on producing ever-increasing volumes at lower prices and faster speeds.” She says.

Image: H&M

It may seem as though all hope is lost for a sustainable future for the industry as long as the appeal of trendy, cheap fashion reigns supreme. But Siegle has one solution for budget-conscious consumers who can’t afford the eco-friendly boutiques but still want to make a difference. “Buy fast fashion for slow reasons.” She implores; “Keep [it] in your wardrobe for as long as possible and commit to wearing until it’s fit for dusters”.

So next time you feel tempted by that $5 shirt destined to be thrown out in your next spring clean, or are drawn to that magic green sticker that makes you look great AND feel good, stop and think: what’s the real cost here?

 

Written by: Kate Nightingale

Sources:
http://money.cnn.com/2018/02/22/news/companies/hm-3m-ca-china-prison-labor-allegations/index.html
http://www.businessinsider.com/hm-vows-to-improve-working-conditions-in-its-factories-in-cambodia-and-india-2016-5?IR=T
https://www.vogue.com.au/fashion/trends/how-your-fast-fashion-habit-is-harming-more-than-the-earth/news-story/b67985de72be083a05570255ee8bdc2c
https://www.vogue.com.au/gamechangers/Fashion-and-Culture/hm-are-set-to-launch-their-latest-sustainable-conscious-exclusive-collection/news-story/9bf78e608fe81a61dffee840b523073b
https://www.worldwildlife.org/industries/cotton
http://about.hm.com/en/sustainability.html

Art For Veganism

In 2018, everybody is scrolling past content that is infinite. Sharing information on the internet and social media has become the norm. Among that information, opinions, ideas and beliefs are riddled within cyberspace for anybody to find. Movements are started with hashtags and art becomes a mouthpiece for communities.

With over 600 posts on Instagram, CJ Jacobs (@cynical_coyote) uses her talent to spread awareness about the oppression of animals to non-vegans. Based in Albany, New York, the artist creates striking images detailing the harsh reality of animals raised and slaughtered for human consumption. Jacobs began incorporating the theme of veganism into her artwork a short time after she began the vegan diet herself.

Image: Cynical Coyote

“I felt an urge to talk about everything I’d learned. I’m not well spoken so art was the natural outlet, and it became an addiction.”

Jacobs encourages anyone who visits her account to ask questions they may want answered about veganism. The artist also allows others to share her art, believing that if she were in the animals’ position, she’d hope that the few who did know the extent of her abuse would speak out about it.

“I want to be the person who I would listen to when I was not vegan, and I want to share the information I believe is hidden.”

Image: Cynical Coyote

Jacobs describes the account as an obligation to the vegan activist community. By interacting with the commenters on her paintings, conversations are ignited, encouragement is given and the argument for veganism gains more momentum.

“It’s important we all do out part to spread awareness to counteract campaigns companies can afford to run.”

Image: Cynical Coyote

The account is thought-provoking and yearns for empathy from whoever visits. Jacobs’ creations are sure to extract emotions from their viewers – the pieces do not shy from colour and are bold and confident in their messages. Although the vegan population around the world is the minority, Jacobs’ message to her followers is to stay hopeful.

“I think it’s important to not only accept negative realities but the hope to change them.”

 

Written by: Celina Foong

Select works can be purchased here

Sudara: Bringing An End To Sex Trafficking, One Step At A Time

Sex trafficking – such a small phrase with so much behind it. It’s easy to dismiss it as something unrelated to us, when we are cocooned in our small, safe world. But it’s a reality for many young girls and women who are forced into prostitution of their own free will. It’s hard to say how many people exactly have been affected this way, but according to Equality Now, more than 20.9 million people worldwide are victims of trafficking, with 54% of them being exploited for sex. This is more than just discomforting, when we think of slavery as a thing of the past – but the truth is that victims of sex trafficking are victims of slavery.

Image: Guardian Liberty Voice

So why is this still happening around the world today? Although trafficking of all kinds has been criminalised in 158 countries, it continues to be a prevailing issue, especially in developing countries where young girls are easily coerced into the trade, with false promises of a brighter future. Sometimes it is not the young children who are lured into prostitution, but their own families who sell them into the sex trade, seeing no other alternative for financial support. But how can we help? We may know all the statistics behind this horrifying truth, but what is knowledge without action? Thankfully, the answer to this question is not as hard as we may think. Shannon Keith, founder of Sudara, has created a clothing brand which supports women who have been sexually exploited, teaching them skills which enable them to support themselves and move away from the sex industry.

Image: Sudara

Keith recounts her visit to India in 2005 which propelled her into establishing Sudara; she had heard story upon story about women being coerced into the sex trade, through no fault of their own. Many girls came from rural areas, and only had knowledge in the agricultural field. However, as a result of natural disasters, this future no longer became an option for them, and their lack of education and skills in other areas set them up at high risk to be picked up by local pimps or even to enter the industry themselves as they saw no other choice.

Keith decided to set out to partner with sewing centres in India, which could provide victims with the basic skills a seamstress needed, as well as a safe environment where they could earn a stable income for themselves and their families. That was how the Punjammies® line was born. The classic yet cute loungewear has all been lovingly sewn by victimised women, and since its beginnings more than ten years ago, Sudara has been empowering women to live a life free from sexual exploitation. Women are able to gain back their confidence and self-esteem, and some have even moved on to start their own business with the skills they have learnt, or have found meaningful jobs where they can re-build their lives.

Image: Sudara

By purchasing from Sudara, we can also help battle against sex trafficking and support the livelihood of these victimised individuals. If you would like to go one step further, donations are welcome when checking out on the website. All donations go towards the Sudara Freedom Fund, a not-for-profit branch which creates a pathway for the women and girls to get back into school or a training program that can equip them for the future. The fund also goes into providing education for the children of the women, as well as safe housing for those escaping abuse, and services for the mental and physical wellbeing of the women.

Sex trafficking is still a massive issue and may at times seem overwhelming, but by taking small steps even in the way we purchase, we can battle it together and bring awareness to the cause. And maybe, even one day, it will end. For good.

 

Written by: Tiffany Ko

Sources:

https://www.equalitynow.org/sex-trafficking-fact-sheet
https://www.sudara.org/pages/our-story
https://www.newsdeeply.com/womenandgirls/articles/2017/05/08/breaking-the-cycle-of-human-trafficking-in-india-with-education