With London Fashion Week upon us, industry critics – and the independent inquiry set up by the fashion industry to deflect criticism – are both active. But the ethical challenges faced by the industry seem to be getting sharper, across the political spectrum.
The final report of the UK’s ‘independent model health inquiry’, chaired by Baroness Kingsmill and partly funded by the fashion industry, proposes medicals to make sure that models are fit to work, and the enforcement of bans on under-16s working as models in London. The intention is to protect the vulnerable young in a largely unregulated industry, but the British Fashion Council will need more resources to implement this. Will Hutton of the Work Foundation, who contributed funding to the inquiry, welcomed steps to reduce exploitation of young people. The inquiry stopped short of the initiatives in Spain and Italy which involve measuring models’ body mass index – usually a clue to their level of anorexia.
With perfect timing, in Australia the Gold Coast found itself in flak – not least from the prime minister John Howard – after choosing Maddison Gabriel (who turned 13 at the weekend) as the ‘face’ of the inaugural Gold Coast fashion week. Howard said “We do have to preserve some notion of innocence in our society”. There were also criticisms from the Labout leader Kevin Rudd. The age restrictions proposed in London were mentioned.
At the same time the Labour Behind the Label campaign – an alliance of advocacy groups and trades unions – released it’s “Let’s Clean Up Fashion” report on wages and conditions in the garment trades in the countries (clue: they’re dreadful).
If I were sitting anywhere in the fashion industry, this combination of ethical trading (and concern about exploitation of vulnerable workers) and public and political concern about exploitation of the young starts to look like an overwhelming combination, not matter how nice the dresses look. Regulation looks inevitable.