Fashion, the Ultimate Illusion: Buying in to the Ideology of Ethical Brands

Salmanpour, Maral
Palmer, Fleur; Smitheram, Miranda
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Master of Design
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Auckland University of Technology

This research examines how the idea of ‘ethical’ fashion perpetuates an exploitative system. This research examines the way ethical fashion brands use the skills and time of garment workers, and relabels commodities to expand and create further investment opportunities to generate profit. This practice is based on capitalist mechanisms that are unethical in the way they exploit workers. Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer’s (1972) theory of the culture industry is used to argue that the fashion industry finds new ways to continue its domination and control of artisans and garment workers by commodifying the culture and crafts of marginalised communities. This commodification and appropriation is framed as an honourable practice but, in reality, it alienates indigenous cultures. Propaganda is spread by advertising collaborations with celebrities to enforce a hegemonic ideology through a philanthropic mask to elevate fair trade fashion in consumer society. Ciara Cremin’s (2011) theory of the culture of crisis industry and guilt fetishism is used to argue that fashion uses crisis to generate panic, anxiety and feelings of guilt in consumers to manipulate consumer behaviour and stimulate the fetishisation of ethically labelled garments. Consumers are sold on the promise that poverty, exploitation and social and ecological problems will be positively changed through their consumption habits. This sedates the critical questioning of the fashion industry and offers consumers a convenient solution that enables them to continue to feed their consumerist desires, while reducing their feelings of guilt associated with ecological and social harms.

Fair trade , Ethical fashion , Logic of capital , The culture industry , Cultural appropriation , Repressive tolerance , The culture of crisis industry , Guilt fetishism , Desire , Ideology
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