Manifesting intentions through fashion

Manifesting intentions through fashion

Manifesting intentions through fashion
Artwork from Ben Okri and Rosemary Cluney’s Firedreams exhibit.

For those able to vote in the UK, the time is now to speak to your MP about the world that you wish an elected government to champion. The UK’s political parties are, I hope, reflecting on their histories, the circumstances and ambitions that joined them together, and what this could look like in the present and mean in the future. It is the job of governments to balance their immediate concerns with those of their constituents, and to understand the cause and effect of their actions. The political parties are preparing to say what they stand up for and would seek to implement in terms of policy if elected to govern. It’s a critical time to call them to account.

There is much that we can do in this respect through fashion. Centre for Sustainable Fashion demonstrates this, from my work as an advisor on the UNFCCC Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action, and acting as a Special Advisor to the All Party Parliamentary Group in the House of Lords, to Helen Storey and Francesco Mazzarella working with UAL’s Kate Pelen and Froi Legaspi on the Citizens UK campaign to stop child detention’s inclusion in the new migration bill.

a group of children holding up hearts and signs, with a main banner that reads "children belong in classrooms, not detention centres."
‘Freedom to Play’. Photo by Michaela Ajani, Citizens UK.

“Fashion makes interactive action and can creatively contribute to policy making. But we have a long way to go before action becomes policy change at the level that is needed for climate and social justice to become part of the UK government’s commitments.”

Thanks to Fashion Round Table, of which I am a trustee, there is a delegation from the fashion sector speaking with ministers as they frame their manifestos. Watch this space for more about what we are saying and who is involved!

We know that the UK voting system is flawed by definition, as it is based on a short-term cycle where politicians focus on the immediate imperatives of acquiring enough seats to gain or keep power. Added to that, the vast number of voices impacted by UK government policies do not get to vote or decide on policies that influence and impact their lives.

“For those eligible to vote, we do so not only as ourselves, but as connected bodies and minds through the interdependencies between people across the world, and between humans and more than human life.”


Those with voting cards can do well to remember that the elements that sustain all life – clean air, fresh water, ecological balance, and bonds of allyship – are not represented, unless and until we find ways to understand how these elements would vote and be present at the ballot box. Living systems are not attached to a constituency or other man-made borders, and the borders that humans created have severed vital flows in these systems.

The time is now to make the most of the upcoming election, with all its flaws and frustrations. To influence political party manifestos in ways that, in the words of UAL’s Kate Pelen, ‘make climate and social justice irresistible’. We must speak truth to power. Identifying and pulling levers for change towards a thriving fashion system in ecological, social, cultural and economic terms, is integral to how we manifest our declaration at Centre for Sustainable Fashion.

“We seek ways in which to demonstrate that immediate concerns are symptoms of historical decisions.True leadership involves linking our histories of extraction, exploitation, ingenuity and conviviality, withour present climate, economic, societal crisis and the possibilities of living well together, to make decisions that enable sustainability futures that all can aspire to.”

We need to do so in ways that garner the support of current voters for sure. The binary of good and bad, right and wrong has not served us. We need to develop our social capabilities and use our visual, conceptual, practical artistry to switch from anthropocentric to ecozoic understandings of ourselves in the world.

Our social capabilities and the power of our decisions lies beyond the ballot box too. Our worldviews as designers, wearers, suppliers, and retailers of fashion are manifest through fashion’s material, cultural, economic, political and social forms. Votes are cast by people through what and how they wear and care for the elements of adornment they choose and cherish. It’s the time for fashion proclamations that attract attention and represent life as we understand and imagine it. The fashion sector spans a spectrum between those whose worldview, as described by Darcia Narvaez in a recent interview, is “a sense of oneness with the universe… We enter that sense when we’re in the natural world and are paying attention and mindful”. The spectrum lands at the other end with a sense of disconnection, where the pull of extraction, newness, technology, and hierarchy prevents people from developing “receptive intelligence…to enter that sense of common self.”

Let’s amplify and support the best that fashion can be, and of what governments can be. In the words of Angela Davis, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” Join in.


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