Designing In Vain
Public scrutiny comes part and parcel with celebridom. Whether one is famous for singing, designing, acting or even famous for being famous, the impact and weight even just a name carries when the green light is shone upon it can have serious impact, positive or negative. So when a celebrity designs a charity clothing line, am I right to dissect this as being a self-promotion of good graces, the Angelina factor if you will, or am I just too accustomed to ragging on the rags and have become too critical?
Take Emma Watson’s recent announcement that she is going to be doing a line for the Fairtrade label People Tree. Granted this is great promotion for the company, which produces its garments in developing countries, educating thousands of young girls via access to its ethical fashion, I go back to an article in Vanity Fair. In it, the now grown up star claims she has no ambitions of entering the fashion world as she is not a designer and she would never do anything for her own ego. Should she be held accountable for her hypocritical turn or does the fact that her designs help alleviate poverty in the developing world outweigh this? With a Burberry campaign and praise by Karl Lagerfeld under her belt, her positioning as a fashion darling has been set, so the self-promotion of this line is unnecessary in that sense. She is obviously an intelligent girl, she will be heading to the Ivy League Brown University this fall. Perhaps her knowledge of the destruction the fashion industry can cause throughout the supply chain has lead her to People Tree, or a good PR team that knows this will bump up her cred as an all around great gal.
One celebrity that doesn’t need the added props from the fashion world in terms of her own designs is Stella McCartney. Having graduated from Central St. Martins and made her way onto the catwalks through her talent and not relying on her name, McCartney has been able to integrate sustainable practices into her business while establishing herself as high street, bonafied talent. Never putting herself out there as a fully ‘ethical designer’, she has created capsule collections utilizing organic materials and special projects with alternative sourcing and new designs. Earlier this year, in a special line for TKMaxx, for Comic Relief, McCartney unveiled tshirts with cheeky red-nosed designs using Fairtrade cotton from Senegal. A noble cause, and a great success, for both TKMaxx, (who claim to be passionate about integrity and responsibility), and Comic Relief, (who say that proceeds from the shirts will be going towards people in desperate need), but is this good deed transparently beneficial at its core? The tops each cost £15, and £8 went ambiguously towards the cause, and obviously some of the money being paid to the certified farmers where the cotton was farmed, so how much was left for the wages of the people that sewed? A step in the right direction in development by providing the farmers with work, but as only a capsule collection and one that does not provide for the entire supply chain, does this really make that much of a sustainable impact?
Not every one can afford to donate the majority of the proceeds from a collection or use its funds to enable a sustained supply chain, but when a celebrity who makes their dollas hustling in the movie industry decides to lend their mighty powers to an ethical or charitable clothing line, does it make just sense that they retain earnings? ZoeTee is a French brand that uses some organic blends in their wares. A collaboration with Gwyneth Paltrow designing a self-proclaimed 70’s glamour with a rock twist seven look capsule collection has been released. Paltrow will be donating all the profits from the line to London’s Kids Company, who provide practical, emotional and educational support to vulnerable inner-city children and young people. Previously the actress, and Goop blogger, has lent her visage, (and a pretty good one too considering she has dated Brad Pitt and Ben Affleck, back when he was hot of course), to KeepAChildAlive.org, which is dedicated to helping Africa’s poor, encouraging the public to donate money to pay for lifesaving AIDS drugs. A dignified act that didn’t cost her any thing, putting her efforts into a clothing line though does: not only for her ‘designing’ but as well for those making the garments. Albeit she is not putting this out there as a sustainable collection, the fact that she can donate all of her earnings from it demonstrates her power and wealth and perhaps could have been spread out to more elements of this venture.
Celebrity lines that fully encompass the notion of ethical fashion in its entirety: people, planet, profit, are as rare as an un-photo shopped picture in a glossy magazine. There have been, however some lines that attempt to encompass this. Jimima Khan Ltd. was launched in 1998 by, wow, you guessed it, Hugh Grant’s ex-flame and former Kate Moss lip-locker, Jimima Khan. The label was a tool for Khan to unleash her design aspirations while potentially employing 1000 Pakistani women, many of whom were married to heroin addicts and with profits from the company donated to the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital. The aesthetic for the line was western in design while using classic eastern handiwork and was sold in London and New York. In 2002, due to the cited reasonings of a worsening economy post 9/11 the company went defunct and ended up putting 800 women out of work, most of whom were the principal breadwinners in their family. This staggering figure demonstrates the power a fashion label, especially one with a celebrity, (or celebutant,, whatever definition you choose to utilize in this particular case), backing has on achieving true sustainable development and fostering a dynamic ethical fashion industry. Knowing this, I question Khan’s involvement with French design house Azzaro for their Spring 2009 line. It has been reported that she donated her fee to UNICEF, but not to a specific project with direct impact, nor about where the profits from the line will be channeled, and especially no mention of the process to which the line was manufactured.
Shedding light and drawing the public’s eye to a good cause, a movement and to all around generally educating them about the world that exists beyond the pages of Hello, and well beyond the façade of magazines like Vogue, is in essence a brilliant concept. ‘Aint nothin wrong with a little celebrity clout to help some children in Africa, that is for sure, but when it is used as a PR vehicle without fully embracing the notion of why the line, or campaign, exists, well then it becomes confusing, and in my opinion, unfortunately a little nauseating. We are well passed the days of a society mentality ruled by religion and have moved on from the era of war heroes. Today’s idols and role models are the indefinite celebrities: sing, dance, act, produce, direct or just pose for the paps. Their power and influence is immense, so when standing behind a cause, while essentially promoting ones self, I believe it vital to embrace the totality of it, dot all your t’s and cross your x’s and truly make a different in every facet.