Let’s face it: fashion is among the most ageist industries on the planet. We are used to seeing models in their early teens gracing the catwalk, designers in their twenties taking on major fashion brands, and those in their thirties being referred to as veterans of the industry.
When I started this blog at the ripe old age of 33, I questioned whether I was, frankly, past my ‘sell-by date’. After all, it is not uncommon for women my age to call it a day and settle for nondescript middle-age department store clothes, or instead to go down the path of ‘mutton dressing as lamb’, blindly following the latest trends made with prepubescent girls in mind.
Should we condemn the fashion industry for its blatant ageism or does its youthfulness hold the promise for a better, more sustainable, future?
In recent years, the industry encountered a major force to be reckoned with: the so-called Facebook generation. These new consumers in their late teens and early twenties are much more fashionable – and networked – than any generation before them. While they are quite partial to logos and brands as a means of identifying their ‘tribe’, they also expect the industry to up the ante on sustainability. They have the power to ask brands the tough questions, and they are not afraid to use it, according to The Regeneration Roadmap.
Supermodel Gisele Bündchen was just shy of her 30th birthday when she became a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Programme, in recognition of her commitment to protecting the environment in her native Brazil. Several other models, including Daria Werbowy, Lily Cole, Miranda Kerr and Coco Rocha have also lend their name to sustainable causes.
Celebrity twins Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen established THE ROW in 2006, at the age of 20, with a mission to support high-end fashion manufacturing in the US. Way before Bangladesh factories were making headlines, the sisters signed a pledge to allow full maternity leave to all the workers that sew their line of clothing in that country, a move lauded by the Bangladeshi National Labour Committee. In 2012, The Council of Fashion Designers of America named Ashley and Mary-Kate as Womenswear Designers of The Year.
Established by brothers Mart and Rob Drake-Knight in early 2008 with £200 of savings, Rapanui was the youngest company to win the Sustainable Business Awards in May 2010, and to receive numerous other accolades ever since. The company’s motto is to “make eco-fashion cool”, which it does with gusto by producing organic and fully traceable clothes in a wind-powered factory on the Isle of Wight.
These examples demonstrate that, in an industry obsessed with age, young role models can not only make sustainable fashion hip and trendy, but influence the fashion industry more broadly to become more responsible. After all, sustainability is all about caring about future generations, and it is the young people who are meant to be the risk-takers, the status quo shatterers, the innovators. And perhaps the new generation of sustainable fashionistas has indeed come of age.