‘Yes, Vogue is a powerful and influential platform for influencing consumers and promoting sustainability, but do you find that there is a conflict with trying to achieve this whilst also accepting large amounts of revenue in advertising from unsustainable companies?’ I put the microphone down. I felt my cheeks flush. My genuine question seemed to translate over the microphone into thinly veiled disdain. The Editor of Vogue India turned to see the author of such an audacious question.
Let me offer a little context. I had spent the last ten days following the cotton supply chain in North Western India to find out where our clothes really come from and the effect our mass consumption of fast-fashion in particular was having upon the environment. The trip had been fast-paced, often invigorating and often draining. On reaching the end of the supply chain we ended up in a conversation with the Editor of Vogue India in Mumbai. Having seen the effects of the largely cotton induced drought in Gujarat and the conditions in cotton ginning factories (which I will explore throughout this series), my usual deference for a senior figure like an Editor at such an established publication like Vogue seemed to fly out of the sparkly clean window.
The irony of discussing environmental sustainability in the single most air-conditioned room I’ve ever sat in, was not lost upon me. Perhaps this was because the luxury of air-con after a predominantly air-conless trip wasn’t lost on me; or perhaps it was because my whole existence felt ironic at the culmination of my travels in India. Flying thousands of miles to discuss sustainability; observing gruelling poverty to then eat a sumptuous restaurant dinner courtesy of the university, to see the effects of debilitating drought only to return to our hotel and have a drink by the superfluous swimming pool.
Whilst I can’t claim to be a religious reader of Vogue I am aware that the majority of articles are not focused on sustainability and exposing fashion’s dirty secrets nor are the majority of their advertisements. So to hear the Editor and journalists speak of using Vogue as a platform for influencing consumers and promoting sustainable brands such as Boheco, the Bombay Hemp Company (I’ll be considering Hemp as the possible future next week) had to be questioned. Vogue’s business is supported by taking extraordinary amounts of money in advertising from brands like Burberry that recently burnt £28 million worth of stock for completely indefensible reasons. The Editor’s response to my question was eloquent and had an air of preparation: that in order for a platform like Vogue to exist its business model is dependent on advertisement revenue. Without the platform they could not promote sustainability or feature sustainable companies that could not otherwise afford to advertise with their publication.
Whilst understandable and clearly a sound corporate answer, it is still clear the publication could be doing more as an influencer to promote sustainability. But after all, fashion is built on the consumerist ideal that encourages the individual to buy what they desire, but do not actually need. Brands business models are founded on growth that asks the consumer to buy more, not less with a smug air of contentment with what they have, but to be unsatisfied and desire more. Publications like Vogue promote this desire with their glossy seductive magazines featuring ‘must-have essentials’ that the reader is seduced into thinking they need. Vogue could be doing more to promote sustainability, but this is really just skirting around the edges of the ice-rink perched at the very top of an industry that is melting our planet at a rate that, even if we put down our silky magazines, or looked up from our ASOS apps, we can barely get our heads around. Major reform is needed from companies and consumers alike, in which we, the consumers, all re-consider ‘need’ in our purchasing.
It remains to be said, my irony did an awfully good job of remaining intact as I sought out the Editor after the panel discussion to thank her for answering my questions so directly. I also skipped back to my table, ironically, yes, with a business card.