Welcome to the ‘Fashion, Nature and Media’ Method, a spotlight on the relationship between fashion, media and communications. The Method is structured into five sections:
Section 1: An introduction to what media and communications are, and why they’re important to fashion and nature.
Section 2: An ‘in conversation’ podcast with Vogue Business and CSF focusing on journalism’s role in sustainability.
Section 3: A look at five different ways media and communications can support living nature through fashion.
Section 4: Industry examples of how fashion media and communications are addressing nature.
Section 5: Some critical questions to help you starting thinking about valuing nature in your own fashion practice.
This Method will help you begin to:
Understand the relationship between fashion, media and nature.
Recognise challenges, gaps and opportunities in how fashion media and communications can impact and support nature.
Gain insight into the work done by Vogue Business, Condé Nast, and other organisations in this area.
Understand how you can begin to value nature through your own fashion media work and practice.
“What we perceive as modern, relevant and aspirational defines the world we live in. These intentions, played out through our decisions, also determine our futures.
Fashion elicits more curiosity and scrutiny from the media than any other element of humanity. How, why and with what we adorn our bodies has intrigued us since we took our first steps on earth. Everything in fashion comes from nature, yet this intimate connection, which we wear next to and sometimes into our skins, has, in many places, lost this understanding and thereby its elemental value.
The decisions we make when we sketch, write about, photograph, purchase, wear or otherwise engage in fashion are dependent on what we consider significant. Yet, such consideration rests upon connection, so it’s vital that we look deeply into what’s really going on in and through fashion.
What we stand up in should reflect what we stand up for. It’s time to question whether we are being well represented, along with being well presented. Don’t start with the problems of fashion production, of polluted rivers; these are the symptoms of a modern dis-ease, a grasping to consume. In order to resolve these symptoms, start with critically considering what it is that we aspire to, what really is of value? Then, we can create a new era of beauty and style borne out of an understanding and intimate connection with our most precious asset; the earth, the greatest designer the world has ever known.”
— Professor Dilys Williams, Director, Centre for Sustainable Fashion
1.1 What are media and communications?
‘Fashion’ is not just the things we wear – clothing, jewellery, footwear, cosmetics, accessories – but a “powerful social and cultural force that enables creative expression and communication among individuals, communities, and whole nations” (1). The ways we engage with fashion aren’t limited to our wardrobes. We do so through our style icons, window shopping, making and craft practices, even people we notice on the street in a striking outfit. And many of these fashion experiences take place through media and communication.
But what is media? What is communication?
At their simplest, media and communications are stories. Storytelling is an age-old way of communicating beliefs, ideas and understandings, including those that reference the relationship between people and nature. These are shared through an endless variety of ways – song, dance, oral histories, painting, and in more contemporary parlance, poetry, performance and visual art.
For example, the Ngadju people of Western Australia share fire knowledge through story and song, passing on the practices for looking after Country (land management) and ensuring new growth is cultivated, resources are protected, and keeping land clear.(2) The First Nations Nuu-chah-nulth peoples’ haa-huu-pah, “teaching stories or sacred living histories”(3), solidify their connections to place, and share experiential knowledge, lived histories and values to future generations. Indigenous storytelling has been recognised as an important tool for fostering connections to the land, encouraging inclusive dialogues between groups, and enhancing diverse understandings of biodiversity and conservation.(4)
In the context of contemporary fashion, as Johannes Reponen explains, media is ‘the channel’ or the ‘medium’, and communication is the ‘action’. We use media (like images, performance, words, social media, broadcast news, videos, podcasts, illustration, articles, magazines and films, among others) to communicate messages to an audience. Within the sphere of fashion, our most commonly-used media – aside from the clothes themselves – include images, videos and writing. As for the messages we communicate, these are as diverse as fashion itself.
1.2 Why are they important to fashion and nature?
So, what does this mean for fashion and nature?
Fashion media and communication have a different relationship to nature than design and technology, the two other fields that make up the Fashion Values programme. While design and technology often have clear, directly attributable impacts – both positive and negative – on our environment(5), communication has a more nebulous cause-and-effect. This section looks at two of the key ways media and communication affect our planet.
Contributing to consumerist cultures
Much of fashion communication, from magazine editorials to brand campaigns, is designed to sell more clothing. The fashion industry currently runs on a ‘push’ model, where companies follow growth logic(6) – they need to grow their profit every year to be considered successful, and the easiest way of doing this is to sell more products. In order to help sell more product, they stimulate more demand.
Fashion communication has a key role to play in increasing consumer demand. Fashion editorials, while being an important form of creative expression, also act as a media-sanctioned advertisement for the brands that are featured – showcasing new trends and new objects of desire. Brand campaigns do this more directly, targeting customers with products that promise to be more fulfilling than what we already own. Fashion has linked itself with a rapid cycle of novelty and obsolescence, using trend as a way to keep selling to consumers even when their wardrobes are full.(7)
In an investigation of over 1000 UK media artefacts, academic Anastasia Denisova found that both print and online media encourage high consumption, as do Instagram influencers – and that fast fashion is “presented as a fix for psychological problems.”(8) The study noted that media creates this demand through a variety of ways, including language (such as ‘must-have’ and ‘upgrade your wardrobe’, ‘just do it’, including affiliated links, creating unrealistic situations to sell a dream, and using celebrity power or influence.
Experiencing fashion beyond clothing
As we noted above, wearing fashion is only one way of experiencing it. Media and communications offer us a wealth of ways to engage with fashion without clothing (and the heavy environmental footprint that comes with it). Many fashion lovers have memories of poring over magazines as a young person, and social media has opened up new opportunities to connect with like-minded fashion communities – from makers, designers and craft groups to style tribes and collectives – that share diverse fashion practices and inspire other fashion loves across the world.
But while these fashion experiences may not have the same ecological impacts that clothing does, they are not completely immaterial. Physical media, like magazines, use environmental resources in printing and distribution. Fashion journalists increase carbon emissions by travelling all over the planet to shows and events. Even the images and videos we share digitally or on social media have a planetary impact – networks and data centres (the technology infrastructures that transmit, process and store this data) collectively use 50% of the IT sector’s electricity consumption.(9) Social media is one of the biggest drivers of consumer data consumption, in particular due to real-time video streaming services like Instagram Live.
1.3 What does nature need from media and communication?
“The stories we tell through fashion are of an evolving manifestation of who we are, and this has always been the case. But this cannot be limited to the acquisition of more and more clothes. In fact, where there is less access to shopping, necessity is often the mother of creative invention. Fashion is so much more than a financial transaction, as restorative practices from different cultures, geographic locations and belief systems bear out.” — Professor Dilys Williams, Director, Centre for Sustainable Fashion
We need to re-orient sustainability mindsets from ‘doing less bad’ to ‘doing good’, shifting fashion’s relationship with nature from extractive to regenerative. This approach re-orients our priorities to ask, what does nature need from fashion? And what can media and communications do to meet those needs?
In order to shift away from the consumerist cultures that fashion media helps to perpetuate, we need to instead ask what nature needs from our communications. What messages can we share and how can we engage audiences in a way that helps to restore our relationship with the planet? The below points detail a few of the ways media and communications can act in advocacy for nature: a common language for sustainability, awareness raising, and creative storytelling.
A common language for sustainability
Without clear definitions and a shared understanding of key terms, concepts and issues, the fashion industry is at risk of greenwashing. Brands often market products with terms such as ‘sustainable’, ‘circular’, ‘natural’, and without defined standards to back these claims up it’s not easy for consumers to determine what’s truly making a positive impact, and what is claiming to do so.
Fashion media has the opportunity to clarify these terms, align them with research and fact-based definitions, and propagate their widespread use across the entire fashion system.(10) Work in this area includes the Sustainable Fashion Glossary, an authoritative global resource for understanding sustainable fashion and the fashion industry’s role in the climate emergency. The product of a partnership between Condé Nast and CSF, the Glossary is freely accessible, updated annually and is open for all to use.
Raising awareness on key issues
The reason we’re aware of fashion’s impacts on the planet and people is in no small part due to the work of fashion journalism, activism and campaigns. The communications work from organisations and media publications has brought to light some of fashion’s most horrific practices and their consequences, from factory collapses to wildfires. Some of these include Anti-slavery International, Club of Rome, Fashion Revolution, Greenpeace, Labour behind the Label, Minderoo Foundation, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), World Wildlife Fund, Grist, The Conversation, The Guardian and The New York Times among others.
One of the reasons this kind of communication is so vital is that can directly impact consumer behaviour – a weak point for brands, as it affects their profitability. The 1990s global boycott campaign of Nike after advocacy groups and journalists broadcast its use of slave labour and sweatshops, and its subsequent changes in supply chain practice,(11)(12) is an example of how media can create action in support of sustainability.
Creative and emotive storytelling
Fashion is an emotive, compelling force, whether in the form of clothing, style, or image. A real strength of media and communication is to engage audiences with fashion in a way that the physical object isn’t always able to – for example by expressing a creative vision or telling a personal fashion story.
Denisova notes that much of today’s fashion consumption is motivated by psychological reasons, including for enhancing or protecting our self-worth. She makes a call for “more stories to be written on realising and fulfilling one’s psychological needs without shopping”.(13)
A clear imperative for fashion and sustainability is to move away from the cycle of novelty and obsolescence, creating a culture in which fulfilment is found through fashion experiences other than buying new products. Media and communication can use its powerful influence to contribute to this culture shift, sharing practices of care, repair and longevity, developing creative sustainability narratives, and building visual identities and aesthetics for sustainability.
2. Vogue Business, Fashion and Nature: In Conversation
In this podcast, Dr Mila Burcikova, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Centre for Sustainable Fashion and co-author of the Sustainable Fashion Glossary, speaks with Rachel Cernansky, Senior Sustainability Editor at Vogue Business on the Vogue Business approach to sustainability and fashion journalism.
Watch now to hear more about Rachel’s insights, ambitions and advice for learners.
3. Fashion Media and Communications to Support Nature
In this section, we build on the question ‘what does nature need from fashion media’ across three different fields: fashion journalism; creative direction and image-making; and brand and organisational communications.
3.1 Fashion journalism
As we noted above, fashion journalism plays a vital role in raising public awareness, sharing progress and advancing the conversation around sustainability. Fashion journalism can:
Update readers on news stories, innovations and events.
Increase public awareness and engagement with key topics.
Offer a critical point of view, especially in relation to industry greenwashing.
Provide an in-depth, investigative, or educational focus on sustainability topics (such as the approach used by Vogue Business in the podcast above).
Explore positive stories and narratives that explore fashion beyond consumption.
We spoke to media educators and journalists to get their expert perspectives on how fashion journalism can better support nature.
In-depth, investigative sustainability journalism is often published by business-to-business (B2B) platforms that target fashion companies and industry audiences, usually focusing on industry perspectives rather than personal ones. Emily Chan, Sustainability Editor at Vogue Global Network, creates articles that offer an accessible, engaging look at sustainability for readers and fashion followers from all walks of life. Her piece below looks at the ways journalism can support nature in an editorial context:
First and foremost, fashion media has a vital role in educating readers on the huge impact the fashion industry has on the natural world and the climate crisiswe're facing. Over the years, many of us have become disconnected from the origin of our clothes, not considering how the fibres they're made from weregrown in a field, taken from trees, or derived from fossil fuels, in the case of synthetics like polyester.
Fashion media can help influence consumption habits, creating cultural change, as well as holding the industry to account. It should highlight the work of brands and designers that are making efforts to reduce their impact on nature – including using more sustainably -sourced materials, cutting CO2 emissions and adopting regenerative practices, to encourage change throughout the industry.
It's crucial that journalists help readers to navigate greenwashing within fashion and decipher the often complex language used around sustainability, with the Conde Nast's Sustainability Glossary (created in partnership with the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, London College of Fashion) laying the foundation for this.
Fashion has always been aspirational, and can therefore play an important role in shaping the narrative on the relationship we have with nature. We must highlight the ways in which fashion can have a positive impact on our planet, offering a hopeful – but achievable - vision for the future.
Johannes Reponen, Programme Director of MA Fashion Media Practice at Condé Nast College of Fashion and Design, introduces an alternative way journalism can engage readers with another side of sustainability: fashion that exists outside of consumption.
"If the contents of one's wardrobe are in any way the manifestation of one's inner self ..., then mine was a rag-tag bundle of other people's identities, assembled into something of my own. All those second-hand clothes are gone now, abandoned or lost or fallen apart, and I mourn none of them, not deeply, except the wedding dress. I feel that in losing it, the past is eluding me; as if I have lost a piece of my heart"
In the way that the smell of madeleines triggered a feeling of nostalgia in Marcel Proust, British novelist and fashion writer Justine Picardie describes the connection that she formed with her past through the materiality of one piece of clothing. Whilst her essay, titled “My Mother's Wedding Dress, is perhaps not what one might initially describe as fashion journalism, nor does it appear to be about sustainability, but it does something that connects with both of these concepts.
Often, sustainability as a topic appears in articles relating to business of fashion with the emphasis on facts and figures. It is written for people working in and around the industry or for those who are already heavily invested in the topic. Yet, what Justine Picardie archives in her essay, where the author explores her own biography through clothing, isto provide an example of a way in which fashion journalists can help to promote sustainable mindsets through the art of language. Instead of encouraging consumption by promoting new trends or by focusing on fashion as a mere visual phenomena, the emphasis is on the personal, the evocative and the embodied. Picardie asks us to consider clothing in relation to meaning and feeling, as part of our, as well as others, life stories. And with that, she helps us in forming a language to explain the personal, precious relationships we have with our clothing.
B2B fashion platforms Vogue Business and Business of Fashion publish coverage of news, investigative pieces and other sustainability pieces. (note many articles are member-only. Business of Fashion offers a free membership open to all students and educators, while Vogue Business offers a free membership to students through selected universities, including University of the Arts London – check with your library).
The Conversation is a publication that brings together academic rigour with journalism.
Independent media non-profit Grist focuses on climate justice and solutions.
This article from Input Magazine looks at social media influencers who use their platform to speak about sustainability and fashion topics.
Film production company Kontentreal creates visually striking videos to bring educational topics such as the Sustainable Development Goals to life.
Writer and artist Emily Spivak has collected the memories of clothing from contributors including Marina Abramovic and Rosanne Cash through her book Worn Stories, and has developed a Netflix series by the same name.
How can others start this process?
For students, graduates and early career professionals:
Social media enables us to platform our own voices and reach new audiences. Use online spaces (like Twitter, LinkedIn, Clubhouse, Medium, Wordpress, Instagram, Wix and Tumblr) to publish your sustainability-focused thought pieces, blogs, write-ups, podcasts or articles and develop your journalistic practice with readers from all over the world.
Grist offers a fellowship to help early-career journalists to develop their practice and deepen their sustainability knowledge and reporting.
For fashion media professionals:
Expand your sustainability literacy through open-access resources such as the Sustainable Fashion Glossary (targeted at fashion editors), Slow Factory Foundation, the other Methods on our site, and our new open online course Fashion Values: Nature. What are the issues, mindsets or topics you feel most strongly about? How will those shape the work that you produce?
Develop narratives for encouraging fashion wearers to look within their own wardrobes rather than at new purchases for fulfilment.(14)
Make sure you’re up to date on the current sustainability discourse, and spread awareness through your channels and communications.
Use your platform to amplify the voices of experts on fashion, climate and nature through interviews or contributions. Look to research, read and otherwise draw from the perspectives and work of students, indigenous communities, scientists, politicians, NGOs, artisans, farmers, creatives, councils, and activists. If you engage with them directly (such as through a profile or interview), ensure you are doing so with a clear purpose and informed consent. Climate Reframe is a useful reference for UK speakers.
Identify ways you can action the suggestions above, from updating readers to exploring fashion beyond consumption. How can your work support fashion and nature?
3.2 Creative direction and image-making
Fashion and sustainability communications are heavily reliant on words to get their meaning across, as images can be difficult to convey the complex issues involved. Sustainability messages in imagery are often literal – for example Steven Meisel’s oil-covered editorial for Vogue Italia or Stella McCartney’s 2017 campaign shot on location at a landfill site – and in these cases focus on raising awareness for environmental issues.
But fashion imagery and its creative practices – from photography to illustration to 3D design to styling to art direction to graphic design to animation to sculpture to film-making or moving image, and so on – are not limited to the obvious. Images have the power to convey or provoke emotion and other intangible elements of sustainability, and reflect or document social changes.
Other ways creative direction and image-making can support nature include:
Considering how shoots and image-making practices can lessen their environmental footprint.
Platforming sustainability movements, brands, craft, clothing or innovations in a creative way.
Engaging visually-oriented audiences with sustainability topics, provoking conversations or raising awareness.
Making sustainability beautiful: create a visual narrative, identity or language for sustainability.
Eliciting emotional responses to fashion and nature.
Offering re-styling advice for existing pieces, in contrast to encouraging new purchases.(15)
Helping to socialise sustainable alternatives over conventional or harmful options, by making them accessible and more widely accepted.
Below, our second piece from Johannes Reponen (Condé Nast College) expands on these points to look at how fashion images already engage with sustainability and sustainable practices.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words but can a fashion image talk about sustainability? With a limited vocabulary that usually consists of models, clothing, props and set design, fashion images are often the results of aesthetic impulses. Perhaps the message is about trends - 'think pink!' - or a certain attitude that stems from the themes explored in the latest runway shows. These images, that fill the pages of most fashion magazines, that otherwise have so much to say about the prevailing zeitgeist, struggle to say something, anything, about sustainability. But that does not mean it's impossible, you just have to find the right tools for it.
Whilst images can't explain to us how a garment was made or where the materials come from, they can evoke an emotive response in us or to help us see things differently. Think about styling practices that utilise second-hand, vintage or archival garments to illustrate the beauty of the pre-loved and to celebrate long-lasting relationships, steering the conversation away from promoting the new and the next. British stylist Bay Garnett is perhaps the best example of someone who champions this approach in the photoshoots she creates for Vogue and 10 Magazine. Or what about approaching styling like a bricolage that promotes DIY attitude by creating work with materials that are on hand and around you. Stylist Ray Petri who created iconic images for magazines such as The Face and i-D in the 1980's embodied this attitude in his work by mixing charity shop finds with curiosities and de- as well as reconstructing garments in order to find alternative aesthetics.
These approaches are perhaps not traditionally categorized under 'sustainability' yet they play an important role in mediating fashion in a way that has sustainability at its heart.
Publications Atelier Å Journal and LISSOME explore “aesthetics with ethics” and “holistic sustainability” respectively, using images to build new narratives for sustainable fashion and celebrate a harmonious relationship with nature. More or Less Magazine explores similar topics, with a further focus on fashion decoupled from consumption, and a re-orienting of luxury as creativity.
Artists like Yinka Shonibare and Ackroyd & Harvey use fashion (clothing, textiles and materials) to address sustainability agendas including activism, globalisation, ecology, post-colonialism, race and class, and the climate emergency.
Stylists such as Ib Kamara and Laura Sophie Cox platform emerging designers and artists, showcase more sustainable brands, make use of thrifted, upcycled or self-made pieces, and create visual narratives around fashion culture and identity.
Project Earth from UK retailer Selfridges uses editorials, campaigns and stories to engage audiences with their sustainability-focused initiatives such as rental, resale and repair services. Their approach includes interviews with sustainability advocates and shoots featuring products available for rent.
Transdisciplinary research collective Post Carbon Lab investigates the ways graphic design and packaging can be ‘hacked’ to change the way we consume.
The Emergence Network uses image-making and curation to develop projects “that nurture senses of the otherwise via practices that trouble the traditional boundaries of agency and possibility.”
The (unrelated) Emergence Magazine is an online and print publication sharing stories that weave images, writing and audio to explore ecology, culture and spirituality in an aesthetically arresting way.
While not fashion-specific, dis.art – a streaming platform for learning and entertainment – curates videos that “propose something — a solution, a question — a way to think about our shifting reality.”
How can others start this process?
For students, graduates and fashion media professionals:
Brainstorm how your work currently draws from nature – physically and aesthetically. What are the clothes you feature made from, and how are they transported? What energy does your laptop, camera or equipment run on? Where are your sketchbooks from? And is there anything you can do to lighten the environmental footprint of your work?
List the causes, topics or issues you feel most connected to or passionate about, and explore how to communicate them visually – not only the issue itself but the way you feel about it. How can you embed your personal relationship with nature through your work?
Make sustainability the rule, not the exception – how will your practice change if you move from an extractive to a restorative relationship with nature?
Showcase more sustainable brands, designers and makers who represent a diversity of perspectives. Consumer guides like Good on You, Compare Ethics, collectives like Black Fashion Fair, Not Just a Label, and Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto or the more sustainable edit of fashion retailers (for example Net-a-Porter), can provide a starting point for finding new sources.
Explore how you can represent sustainability through images – for example by challenging consumerist cultures or colonial fashion narratives; by connecting people emotionally with fashion and nature; or by communicating climate emergency issues.
3.3 Brand and organisation communications
Brand and organisation communications are the messaging and media shared by brands, retailers, designers, non-profits, advocacy groups and other companies and organisations. These might include campaigns, editorials, advertisements, social media, blogs, reports and newsletters, among others.
Communications are likely to be shaped by the organisation’s strategy and purpose – for a brand, most communications will aim to sell products or services; for NGOs they will aim to engage people with a particular cause.
From a sustainability perspective, brand and organisational communications can:
Communicate sustainability impacts, ambitions and core brand values.
Increase brand awareness in relation to sustainability.
Drive audience engagement with sustainability initiatives.
Platform sustainability practices, products, campaigns, collaborations or innovations in a creative way.
These communications must work towards restoring nature as we outlined in the first section: by creating a common language for sustainability, raising awareness, and engaging audiences with creative, emotive storytelling.
UK-based fashion brand Story mfg. worked with mycologist Cristina Aranda Garzon and photographer Hollie Fernando to create a time-lapse video of their linen footwear growing mushrooms, a creative way to remind audiences of the shoes’ plant-based origins and the natural cycles of decomposition that fashion can also follow.
Extinction Rebellion’s Fashion in Action campaign utilises communications to call for climate action from the fashion industry – not only from brands but from media. Their platform includes clear messaging on fashion’s ecological impact, downloadable posters, open letters and visual assets for anyone to use, and videos of the protest actions they’ve taken.
Patagonia’s famous ‘Don’t Buy this Jacket’ campaign aimed to raise awareness on the need for fashion to lighten its environmental footprint, and to encourage customers to think before they buy. However, the campaign has received criticism for placing the onus on individuals rather than brands to reduce consumption and creating an elitist narrative around sustainability.(16)
Stella McCartney’s materials & innovation portfolio creates a luxury aesthetic for their lower-impact fibres. Fighting against the perception of sustainable materials as second-rate or unsuited for the high-end market, their imagery presents a tactile, nature-focused narrative for materials including faux fur, recycle cashmere and vegetarian leather.
London-based fashion brand Birdsong have developed a ‘Slow Shopping Guide’, helping their customers to fully consider their buying decisions and reducing waste by ensuring purchase made are truly wanted.
UK knitwear brand Sheep Inc. offers carbon-negative pieces with a fully traceable provenance story – each product has an NCF tag that gives digital access to its manufacture from farm to finishing, engaging the buyer with the full process.
How can others start this process?
For students, graduates, designers and smaller brands:
Be honest about where you are in your sustainability practice. Rather than trying to have all the answers, share the commitments and changes you’re going to make. Be transparent about your challenges and successes.
Select nature-focused projects or initiatives you’re particularly proud of and look at interesting ways you can communicate them to your audiences.
Take a creative aesthetic approach to sustainability-focused campaigns and editorials. How can sustainability be communicated in an emotive, unconventional way?
Use the Sustainable Fashion Glossary to check you’re using any environmental terms accurately.
The Fostering Sustainable Practices online hub provides resources for fashion micro and small enterprises (MSEs), including case studies, videos and guidebooks. Check out the work of the designers and brands to see how they approach communications from an Earth-first perspective.
For fashion industry professionals:
Be honest and transparent about where you are in your sustainability practice. Greenwashing can be more of a reputational risk than not saying anything – sustainability should not be used as a way to sell products.
Use accurate, clear and understandable language when speaking about how your work support nature. Terms like ‘conscious’, ‘responsible’ and even ‘sustainable’ are not clearly defined, and are often used by brands to obfuscate substandard sustainability practices. Use the Sustainable Fashion Glossary to check you’re using terms accurately, and be specific about exactly how your work benefits the planet and people.
Take a creative aesthetic approach to sustainability-focused campaigns and editorials. How can sustainability be communicated in an emotive, unconventional way?
For those in need of support to change the business before you’re comfortable speaking in depth about your sustainability work, the Council of Fashion Designers America (CDFA) Sustainable Strategies Toolkit for designers and businesses can help to start this work.
The Fostering Sustainable Practices guidebook helps organisations supporting small fashion brands (like incubators, accelerators or Fashion Weeks) to improve sustainability practice, including communications and culture-shifting. Check the resource out for in-depth guidance.
4. Fashion Media to Support Nature: Industry Examples
This section of the Method introduces you to a selection of industry cases that demonstrate different ways to help to strengthen fashion’s relationship with nature and support more sustainable practices. We’ve included short examples for each category: fashion journalism, creative direction and image-making, and brand and organisational communications.
4.1 Fashion journalism
The True Cost is a 2015 documentary film directed by Andrew Morgan about the ‘true cost’ of fast fashion. Developed in response to the 2013 Rana Plaza tragedy in which over 1000 garment workers died in the collapse of an unsafe factory, the film poses the question – exactly who pays the price for cheap clothing?
The documentary calls attention to the destructive practices of the industry, from working conditions to environmental devastation to acceleration of the climate emergency. It provides an accessible examination of these practices for viewers of all backgrounds and levels of knowledge, targeted at anyone who wears clothes. This increases awareness for audiences, encouraging them to change their own consumption habits, hold brands accountable, and call for change on an industry-wide scale.
The True Cost offers sharp counterpoint to other widely-watched documentary films about fashion, such as Dior and I (2014), McQueen (2018), The September Issue (2009) or Bill Cunningham New York (2010) which focus on a designer, image-maker or publication and their singular vision. In contrast to their glamorous visuals or explorations of fashion as art, the film is arresting for other reasons – it showcases the ugliness behind the beauty, helping to shift the depiction of fashion from one of aesthetics to one of waste, destruction and inequity.
This article, entitled 7 Major Sustainable Fashion Trends To Propel The Industry Forward in 2021, is an example of how we can engage a typical Vogue reader, whose primary concern may not necessarily be sustainability. While the piece is about current trends we want to last, this framing helps capture the attention of the reader.
Setting the context for readers is important, so the introduction of the piece breaks down exactly why fashion is detrimental to nature, and what developments experts are hoping to see this year: namely concrete action from brands.
The piece then breaks down key concepts that may not already be familiar to readers - such as regenerative agriculture, climate positivity and biodiversity - in a way that's easy to understand, as well as giving examples of brands that are doing work in these areas.
By highlighting positive developments within the industry, we want to build an exciting narrative around sustainability and help signpost what our readers should be looking out for. Given the influence that Vogue has within the industry, we hope articles such as these also inspire wider change within fashion.
Our second piece from Emily Chan, Vogue Global Network, outlines a piece that engages wide audiences with key sustainability topics. She gives us a behind-the-scenes perspective on the article:
4.2 Creative direction and image-making
Climate Visuals is a website and image library run by UK charity Climate Outreach which provides a database of over 1,000 images that visualise climate change. In their own words, “imagery needs to embody people-centred narratives and positive solutions, and must resonate with the identity and values of the viewer – not just environmentalists. Only then can we truly drive engagement and promote positive action against climate change.”(17) The library’s aim is to ensure climate images have the strongest impact possible on viewers, and to avoid overexposure of widely-used images (like melting ice caps).
Their approach is based on seven core principles for communicating climate change:(18)
1. Show real people
2. Tell new stories
3. Show climate change causes at scale
4. Show emotionally powerful impacts
5. Understand your audience
6. Show local (but serious) impacts
7. Be careful with protest imagery
This code is not only valuable for the visuals in the library itself, but also for the creation, selection, editing or commissioning of climate-focused images more generally. Climate Visuals has also partnered with Getty Images to further develop guidelines for visualising sustainability more broadly:(19)
Sustainable must be an intersectional objective
Visualise new sustainable concepts
Connect to aspirations about the future
Bring it back to the individual
These frameworks provide a guide for image-making that the fashion industry can learn from – for example, the principles could be used to develop a creative brief, or to inspire a photographic series, or to evaluate how images are currently used in a fashion publication. They can help to shape visual sustainability narratives that are emotional, personal and compelling – rather than overwhelming, unempowering or clichéd.
4.3 Brand and organisational communications
Who Made My Clothes – Fashion Revolution Week
Who Made My Clothes is a global campaign lead by fashion activism group Fashion Revolution in response to the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster, and bringing together the voices of thousands of fashion wearers, makers and customers. The campaign calls for greater transparency and accountability from fashion brands and businesses, focusing on the human rights of garment workers and the conditions in which our clothes are made.
The campaign makes use of social media, creating an online movement via the hashtags #whomademyclothes, #whatsinmyclothes and #Imadeyourclothes. Fashion wearers take a photo of their garment and tag the brand in question with the query – who made my clothes? – creating a direct link between citizens and brands. In 2020, 61.7k posts were made using these during Fashion Revolution Week. (20)
The ‘what’s in my clothes?’ hashtag focuses more specifically on the harmful substances used in the fashion industry, asking brands to be transparent about the materials and chemicals they use, and increasing demand for materials with a lower negative impact on the planet.
Fashion Revolution provides open-access resources for those who take part, including guides, posters, educational resources, and visual assets – ensuring unified messaging across tens of thousands of participants. The campaign is a collective voice for people all over the world, creating a narrative that is democratic, diverse, and citizen-led.
5. Critical questions
In this section you’ll explore some questions that relate this Method back to your own practice, whether you’re a student, graduate, fashion or media professional. We’ve touched briefly on how you might begin to support nature through media and communications – now it’s time to think about how these can be explored in greater depth. How can you foster a greater sense of connection with nature through fashion?
So, to get you started, use the following prompt questions (aligned with our three programme perspectives: design, media and tech) to reflect on your practice.
Design focus: how can media and communications support fashion products, services and systems with nature in mind?
How can you communicate new approaches to fashion design (including products, services and systems)? How can you showcase alternative ways to engage with fashion outside of buying new things?
How can you collaborate with designers and makers to create a new narrative for fashion and sustainability? How can you represent sustainability as a creative opportunity for all, rather than a limitation or elitist field?
From the perspective of a designer or product developer, how can you to contribute to creating new sustainable narratives for fashion? How can you communicate more effectively about your sustainability work?
Media focus: how can your work help to support fashion and nature?
This Method has looked at different ways media can better support fashion and sustainability, helping to reframe fashion’s relationship with nature, and there are suggestions on how to start this process in your practice listed in Section 3. But how can you make this shift on a personal level?
What does nature need from you? What are the environmental issues that you feel most passionate about, and what skills do you have that could address these?
What area of communications expertise do you have that you feel is unexplored by the fashion industry? How can you apply this expertise to fashion and nature specifically? How will you ‘re-brand’ sustainability to represent your perspective?
What are your ambitions for fashion, media and sustainability? What goals can you set to help set a course for these ambitions?
How can you engage your readers, viewers, followers or audiences with fashion and nature? How can you elicit an emotional response from them in relation to these issues? How can you bring fashion and nature to life for them?
Technology focus: how can technologies help to communicate about fashion and nature?
Technologies can be a huge influence on fashion and sustainability (check out our ‘Fashion, Nature and Technology’ Method for more information). It also provides a source for creative expression and social connection, for example with cameras, digital software and social media.
How can you harness social media and other online platforms to engage wider audiences on fashion and nature? How can you use technology and media to connect with people, or create communities with a focus on sustainability?
How can media and technology work together to create a clearer picture of fashion’s impact on nature? How can you make new innovations, scientific findings or sustainable developments accessible and understandable? Compare Ethics is a great example of this – they use technology to score sustainability work, then communicate those scores in understandable ways with potential customers.
How can you use creative software or image-making technologies to develop new narratives around fashion and sustainability? How can these technologies be co-opted to create fashion that doesn’t require physical resources? For example, DIGI-GXL is a global network of womxn, intersex, trans and non-binary creatives who specialise in 3D and animation – including immaterial fashion.
2. Prober SM, Yuen E, O’Connor MH, Schultz L (2013). Ngadju kala: Ngadju fire knowledge and contemporary fire management in the Great Western Woodlands. CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences, Floreat, WA, p. 11 – 14. https://publications.csiro.au/rpr/download?pid=csiro:EP135694&dsid=DS4
3. Corntassel, J., Chaw-win-is, & T’lakwadzi. (2009). Indigenous storytelling, truth-telling, and community approaches to reconciliation. English Studies in Canada, 35(1), 137–159. P. 137. http://www.corntassel.net/IndigenousStorytelling%202009.pdf
4. Fernández-Llamazares, Á., and M. Cabeza. 2018. Rediscovering the potential of indigenous storytelling for conservation practice. Conservation Letters 11: e12398. https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12398.
5. See section 1.2 of the Fashion, Nature and Technology Method and section 1.4 of the Fashion and Biodiversity Method for an introduction to these ecological impacts.
7. Fletcher, K. (2014). Sustainable Fashion and Textiles: Design Journeys (2nd ed.) London: Routledge.
8. Denisova, A. (2021). Fashion Media and Sustainability: Encouraging Ethical Consumption via Journalism and Influencers. London: University of Westminster Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16997/book50. P.
9. Greenpeace. (2017). Clicking Clean: Who is winning the race to build a green Internet? New York: Greenpeace.
10. Denisova, A. (2021). Fashion Media and Sustainability: Encouraging Ethical Consumption via Journalism and Influencers. London: University of Westminster Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16997/book50.
13. Denisova, A. (2021). Fashion Media and Sustainability: Encouraging Ethical Consumption via Journalism and Influencers. London: University of Westminster Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16997/book50. P. 30.
16. The New Republic (2015, November 15). Don’t Buy this Jacket.
20. Fashion Revolution. (2020).2020 Impact Report.