Tuesday 21st April

| BY Chekii Harling

Hot Mess: Checkii Harling Imagines Fashion’s Future In The Year 2040

2040, London, 10 years since the blast had passed. Life was very different post the collapse. Countries had lost their spot on the map, fashion was rebuilding a future for all. The young, the old, the fat, the tall. Beauty was found in what was already there – change no longer just in the air. The fight to sustain life on Earth was now commonplace. Advertising no longer existed and the mass production of food, resources and fashion remained firmly in the past. Collectively, we hadn’t done enough to stop climate change, yet hope remained that some people could survive, with creativity and technology by our side.

By 2030, several countries had dried up – Colombia, Australia, Brazil – and parts of Africa had become as dry as stale biscuits, with cannibalism now rife. The mass extinction we’d been warned about by The Rebels, who were now considered The Heroes, had officially commenced. Parts of Asia and North America had been wiped out by brutal natural disasters and England’s coastal towns had begun to disappear. This period was going down in the history books as the Third World War, but we weren’t fighting each other, it was us versus the Earth. The damage we had caused to the place we were still calling home had come back to bite us on the bottom. We were no longer watching the world go by but simply watching the world go – piece by piece, chunk by chunk. Our everyday existence had become a hot mess.

Post-Blast (PB) was a bizarre yet revolutionary period for the fashion industry. The invention of the digital wardrobe had created a visible distinction between fashion’s elite and ordinary citizens. Textile “waste” had become a valuable resource and branding had been abolished. “Fast fashion” now defined the process of AirDropping friends and family new digitally crafted garments and accessories for special occasions. Children born PB looked perplexed when their parents spoke about life before the collapse: “What on Earth is Boohoo, Mummy? Why did Old McDonald have a farm?”

Shopping meccas up and down the country had been transformed into rows of well-curated, item-specific charity shops. This meant we bought only what we needed and much of the profit went into rebuilding the remaining nations that had been heavily affected by the Blast. The mass consumption of previous decades was something we wanted to forget. Buying clothing, however, had become an exhilarating experience for all. As a society, we found joy in pieces that had been made yonks ago. Each shop contained rails upon rails of garments arranged by era. The older the item, the more expensive and sought after they were – these were the items favoured by the rich. Fashion’s past had become a way to communicate your status and age – imperfections had become the new logo.

The gender pay gap had been obliterated and, with this, had came a freer approach to dressing. Fitted pleated shirts, originally worn by men in the Victorian era, and silk trousers had become wardrobe staples for heavily accessorised working women. Both husband and wife pottered around in hand-embroidered kimonos, while teenagers were often spotted wearing trainers made from recycled fabric and swagalicious mink coats. Shaming people for wearing leather and fur was no longer a thing because we needed to make use of everything that existed. Middle-aged trust-fund babies mooched around in vibrant, sculptural creations, while young City boys went about their business in crushed-velvet blazers, pencil skirts and chunky 1950s “foot holders”.

Retail destinations were not just where you would buy, but one-stop shops for all your fashion needs: swapping and repairing garments were now common practices. Seamstresses worked away at these locations all over the nation and Thursdays had become “demo day”, where people would gather to learn a range of repairs from these professionals. They had become weekly social events where you could sink a cold one while listening to DJs blast out bangers. Household sewing machines were on everyone’s wish lists and the true trendsetters were those who could transform old garments into new ones at home. People gazed with both admiration and jealousy when members of this set hit the streets – what looks!

Shoppers always felt a sense of guilt when their eyes settled on the sections containing the clothing that had been referred to, pre-Blast, as “mass-produced fashion”. The countries and regions that had manufactured the majority of these pieces were among the first and worst to take the hit; India and South East Asia had been affected particularly badly. Millions had died, while thousands had fled to the remains of their neighbouring nations, and those who continued to be garment workers used pre-existing items to create new pieces for fashionable locals. They were paid a fair price for their work and had discovered that the profession could, in fact, be creative and fulfilling. Many were actually eschewing sewing machines, because traditional handcrafts were making a comeback.

The companies who used to own a hench slice of the fashion industry no longer traded – after all, branding didn’t exist PB. The former CEOs of the major designer and high-street labels were living in fear in plush underground bunkers. One of the things the Blast had revealed was that those in the global north had turned a blind eye to the victims of modern slavery in the developing south. The way the super-rich had exploited the super-poor was finally considered inhumane and, because of this, Brits didn’t want to be seen wearing the fast fashion of the past. Yet have no fear, Britain’s fashion designers are here! These modern magic-makers had been transforming mass-produced crap into gorgeous garms. Design studios received daily deliveries of what couldn’t be sold in stores. London’s best fashion schools continued to churn out graduates, meaning ideas and creativity were never in short supply. Pioneers of this way of working taught the next generation how to work wonders with waste, while some studios were dedicated solely to crafting digital pieces, which were being bought by celebrities and the flashiest editors.

LONDON, 2019. BACK TO LIFE, BACK TO REALITY

A world where fashionistas are queuing to collect their Bodyism smoothies while wearing digital pieces may, for now, only exist in my imaginary future, but what the industry does need to do is utilise technology for the greater good. Dear digital, let’s expose murky supply chains and invest in technology that can split existing garments made from different fibres. Dearest digital, please give fashion the means to clean up its hot mess.

Blockchain technology provides us with a glimmer of hope. A great example of how this innovation could become integrated within everyday shopping was recently showcased in the V&A’s exhibition Food: Bigger than the Plate. Visitors were able to watch videos of supermarket shoppers scanning food items and having information about their provenance, including the fields where the crops were grown, sent to their mobile phones. These users were informed whether individuals in the supply chain were receiving a fair wage. Attendees also discovered that a single banana travels 8,800km and passes through 33 pairs of hands before it reaches the UK.

It’s a similar story for fashion. If people could scan clothing labels today, the average Tom, Dick or Sally would be shocked to discover what clothes are actually made from and how many people have suffered during their manufacture. We need a tech labelling system that would make people see these harrowing images. This, I hope, would alter consumer behaviour and make sure brands are open about their supply chains. A combination of strict legislation and consumer pressure would force them to clean up, and authentic transparency is the beginning of us building a happier future for all.

Yet before blockchain technology becomes mainstream, clothing labels should feature similar warnings to those found on cigarette packets, while the material content should be as clear as the ingredients lists on food packaging. After all, high-street-chain labels do not read: “Mass-produced clothing can cause a slow and painful death for those who make it.” If fashion’s eco-warriors had their way, transparency would triumph and a label on a polyester-cotton T-shirt would read something like this: “The polyester in this T-shirt is made from toxic fossil fuels. The cotton originates from a field in Uzbekistan that was treated with chemicals and is picked by children pulled out of school (slave labour is sponsored by the state here). The cotton farmers (and children) are now at risk of pesticide poisoning, which often leads to death.

Next stop, Bangladesh. The woman who stitched your item together was paid 35p an hour while being physically abused to meet targets, all while sleeping on the factory floor next to her newborn baby. Plus, when you wash this garment, plastic microfibres are released into the oceans. This is killing our sea life. This plastic could even end up in your belly, having been swallowed by that fish you are now eating for supper.”

Fashion needs to rein in production, localise manufacturing and stop shipping clothing across the globe in fossil-fuel-powered boats. Of course, jobs are going to be lost, but brands are churning out as many as several hundred garments a minute. If the planet continues to get hotter, there will be no suitable fields left to grow food or fashion – simples! We need legislation, maybe even rationing. This kind of change will sadly, yet inevitably, affect many people’s livelihoods.

Patagonia may not be the grooviest brand on the block, but they sure know a thing or two about recycling. The label used 69% recycled materials for their latest line and they aim to use only recycled or renewable fabrics by 2025 – good stuff. The rest of the fashion industry should be following suit, yet sadly, many CEOs still seem only interested in talking cash, so global laws and financial incentives are needed to catalyse this transition. Introducing colossal taxes for businesses that are reluctant to comply isn’t a silly place to start: we have to hit ’em where it hurts.

Patagonia have B Corporation status, as do The Body Shop and plant-based drinks company Rebel Kitchen. To be given this stamp of approval, the organisation’s entire operation must have a positive impact in every area of the business, from how it’s run to the treatment of its workers and its relationship with the environment. And these companies are required to re-certify every three years, so there is always room for improvement. A B Corp business is what all brands (fashion or otherwise) should be striving to B.

My utopia, where we treasure fashion’s past, go digital and work wonders with “waste”, may seem like a far-fetched future, yet the social shopping app Depop has muscled into central London hotspots through Selfridges and Ralph Lauren, and the secondhand-clothing market is thriving. The Scandinavian retailer Carlings is flogging digital items of clothing to bloggers and Lucy Yeomans recently founded Drest, fashion’s first interactive digital dressing-up game. And all while young, innovative fashion designers are transforming trash into items to treasure.

Illustration by Charles Jeffrey. Taken from Issue 64 – BEST, FOOT, FORWARD – which is on newsstands now.

@trash4gold