The Ethical Agenda is a blog/ online magazine about ethical business, ethical living and ethical thinking with interviews with people doing amazing things to set the agenda for a sustainable way of being…
Safia opens THE ETHICAL AGENDA with an interview with Fashion commentator & campaigner, Caryn Franklin.
How does fashion have to change to become more humane and ethical? Is it about brands, consumers, government or media taking the initiative?
I have chosen to work with the next generation of young creatives to empower them to challenge old systems and find new answers. There are many amazing educators out there that believe as I do that we can encourage emerging designers, journalists, art directors, PRs, image-makers etc, to channel their own anger and frustration at what we have now, into an authentic force for positive change. We all need passion in our lives and it’s these emotions that drive us to act. What I say to my students is don’t suppress it, express it look at how you can contribute even by bringing about the tiniest shift in another’s attitude. I’m always learning too and I really understand that finding the courage to speak, is a very hard step for some. But when you love an industry you can see its faults too and helping to make our industry better is my mission. I call myself a Disruptive Fashion Lover!
Why have you chosen to focus on body image and psychological well being?
The fashion industry is a powerful taste leadership energy in people’s lives, and with the ability to influence comes with accountability. Fashion must acknowledge that the promotion of unachievable body ideals and lack of appearance diversity is not good for the mental health of girls and women and increasingly boys and men. Studies show that we engage in social comparison to elevate our sense of self but if we feel our body type or appearance is not measuring up to idealized fashion imagery then this affects our perception of ourselves in a negative way.
In short… thin white models should not be the only type of appearance promotion, there are many visions for humanity and many others that deserve visibility too. In seeing them celebrated, we become more visible too. There are incentives for companies to engage with a broader spectrum of appearance. Diverse models can enhance the bond that the consumer will make with the model in the sales appeal and studies show this leads to increased intention to purchase by 300%.
The routine sexualisation of women in imagery is also problematic. This normalizes consumption of femininity as sexually available and objectified. Studies show we de-personalise both men and women who are sexually objectified in imagery. This has very negative effects on gender perception but also very negative outcomes for women who are far more frequently objectified in our media whether it be as a passive and perfected exterior, a coathanger for fashion or a sexualized fembot. Women who internalize these messages for their own femininity, also are more likely to go on to self-objectify. This does huge damage to self- esteem and can lead to depression and self-harm. I’ve been able to work with organisations such as The Women’s Equality Party, The Advertising Standards Authority, Graduate Fashion Week, The Age of No Retirement and many others to help disrupt thinking and belief systems.
3. How do we bring about the reduced rate of consumption?
I think many women and increasingly men, are trapped in a cycle of medicating low self-esteem with quick fix clothing buys. I say this because I link the proliferation of false realities in advertising, (dependent upon the unachievable body ideal and the perfected self) to rising rates of body image dissatisfaction and low self worth. To my mind, we have to address the way the repetition and ubiquity of these images can influence mental health. I studied an MSc in applied psychology, to be able to find the studies to make these claims and I feel very strongly that we must begin to break the hold fashion has on the viewer’s perception of self.
This can be done through realistic casting, diverse appearance ideals in race, size and age, body difference and of course disruption of gender norms. This is something I encourage my students to investigate. Creating a situation where we want to buy better quality and therefore less because we want to celebrate ourselves as individuals rather than clamouring to belong to a short lived trend that keeps on changing, could mean we begin to feel really good about ourselves as authentic beings. And this means choosing clothes to express who we are not who fashion thinks we should be. Studies show that our clothing can effect our cognitions – in other words what we are wearing affects how we feel as well as how we process information. It’s early days but I do feel excited by the things I am learning through psychology research.
4. Can you tell us about projects that you are working on and what impact you are expecting this to have? Is collaboration important?
I have just come out of a very tiring few weeks and I am hopeful that the cultural shift that we are currently observing will have long lasting impact. No one can have missed the debate around sexual assault in the workplace and the accusations about Harvey Weinstein that led to his immediate dismissal. I decided to use this film producer’s behaviour as a reason to re-visit protests I have made over the years, about fashion photographer Terry Richardson – also a predator. I wrote a piece for Refinery29 about my attempts to speak out and stop him from working with young women (this included writing for national press and giving an interview on Channel 4 news back in 2013 as well as continued initiatives through out the years). A few days after the Refinery 29 piece, the Sunday Times quoted me in their feature and in a very short space of time, brands were distancing themselves from him. I’ve made it sound very simple and it hasn’t been…I only started being vocal in 2013 after reading about him but other women and industry voices have been protesting for much longer. I’ve never written so many pieces this last week or given so many interviews. I’ve been glued to my social networking platforms because everyone wanted information and quotes. I’ve just done quite a few back-to-back 18 hour days spent in my PJs because as soon as I got up it started all over again! It’s been a revelation that this time round everything changed when this man had previously seemed untouchable. But that in itself has also been a wonderful education. Keep speaking out don’t let it drop!
5. Can you share with us the one positive phrase/ inspiring words or vision that keeps you motivated and moving the agenda forward?
Psychologist Hamira Riaz recently wrote “I used to keep a lot to myself, expressing opinions brings the risk of being judged. However, such reticence born of fear is the ultimate betrayal of one’s ability to affect change,” This really resonated with me. Perhaps everyone is waiting for some very big powerful initiatives to create change when all the time they could be actively involved by using their voice. I just try and use my voice is all – sometimes it leads to a shift.
6. What are you wearing in these lovely photographs we took of you and why did you choose the Stormtrooper boots? Aren’t they the bad guys? 😉
Love those boots so comfortable and sleek.
I am enjoying what I am wearing because every garment embraces sustainability. It makes me feel nice to think about clothes this way.
2. Which book is a ‘must read’ to help understand the issues in your field?
One of my favourite books recently has been Dorothy Rowe’s Beyond Fear. As a noted psychologist Rowe explains how, when we begin to observe the stories we tell ourselves, we can move beyond the fear we all feel about life, unknown outcomes, death and humiliation. Well you asked!!! I really recommend it she’s a brilliant writer.
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