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Author skewers fashion myths

12 August 2016

PA

In their stride: models on the catwalk during the Oliver Spencer London Collections SS17 show at BFC Show Space, London, in June

In their stride: models on the catwalk during the Oliver Spencer London Collections SS17 show at BFC Show Space, London, in June

SUGGESTIONS about what Jesus might wear today, a list of Beatitudes for fashion, and ten commandments, including “the elimination of all snobbery, backbiting, and unkindness” feature in a new book on faith and fashion by the former chief operating officer of the British Fashion Council, Simon Ward.

In The Character of Fashion, Mr Ward challenges the “lazy stereotype” of “champagne luvvies and social-media addicts . . . unconcerned by how the rest of the world may be affected”, and argues that Christians should be working to ensure that fashion becomes a “global force for the good of all”.

Part of a planned series, Multi-talented God — in which Mr Ward will explore “If God was boss where I work, how might he run things?” — the book argues that, while God would have “some very different priorities” for fashion, he would find much to “endorse and applaud”. Passages about design, clothing, and fashion appear throughout the Bible, he argues, and “the natural world points to something more beautiful, with more glorious potential than just the bare minimum”.

Mr Ward acknowledges that many industry practices are “well off the mark”, including sweatshop labour, unpaid internships, unsustainable use of resources, the sexualisation of children, and unhealthy body images. It is, he says, “unsurprising that many would consider fashion to be a brutal, exploitative, and narcissistic industry”. Christians should be at the forefront of changing its character, he argues. His ten commandments include fair pay and ethically sound sources of production.

Brought up in a Christian family, Mr Ward ended up in fashion “purely by mistake”, after being rejected by the army and pursuing a singing career, he said last week. “I am not an out-and-out fashionista. I never felt it had me in its claws, so that places me quite well to have a reasonably objective view on this industry.”

The book, which features testimonies from Christians in the industry, includes the story of the Rana Plaza disaster, in which 1134 people working in a garment manufacturing factory in Bangladesh were killed, and suggests ways in which consumers can challenge unethical practices through purchasing decisions.

It also recalls the two South American models who died from causes linked to eating disorders. Mr Ward gave the example of establishing an inquiry on eating disorders as an example of where his faith had informed his work at the British Fashion Council, as well as challenging firms that did not pay their interns (“Quite often most creative are those from less well-off backgrounds.”)

His book includes challenges for consumers based on his belief that it is “making purchasing decisions that will change things, not people pontificating”.

There are “many great people working in fashion”, he writes, “but there are also those trapped by the (false) notion that fashion is the most important thing in the world”. He notes, too, that “fashion is not an easy place to talk openly about the Christian faith.” After admitting that he has “singularly failed” to evangelise his fellow workers, he observes that Christianity has a “poor reputation” in the average workplace, and argues that “traditional ‘evangelism’ may not be the most effective way to share God’s love. Rather than focusing so much resource on trying to bring people to church, should not churches be empowering people in their day to day work?”

Confronting people at work “out of the blue” was “unfair”, and likely to result in being regarded as a “weirdo”, he said last week. But God wanted people in the fashion industry, where they could “champion issues that flow out of that [faith], based on justice, compassion, fairness, humility.” He hopes that the book will lead to conversations in the workplace. Conversely, he sees himself as an ambassador for fashion to Christians, “to say, sorry, the Church has got it wrong. There is some stuff that needs fixing . . . but fashion and clothing are a significant part of who we are. . . There is no reason why it shouldn’t become a global force for good of all.”

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