Should fashion journalists be doing more to call out the climate crisis?

Pardon! magazine’s Fashion and Beauty Editor Zara Afthab discusses how publications can create conversations around the fashion industry's impact on our environment


By Ally Faughnan


For our alternative fashion week takeover, The Gallyry is spotlighting sustainability in the fashion industry, from inspiring creatives and designers, to innovative organisations and brands.


“Fashion is killing the planet!” This is not only a brutally true statement about the harmful impact the fashion industry, but the title of an insightful article by Zara Afthab for Pardon! magazine. Highlighting the increasing damage that comes from rising consumerism and fast fashion, as well as the nuances of boycotting fashion week, Zara dives into many of the problems we all seem to be aware of in the fashion industry, yet still choose to ignore.


As the Fashion and Beauty Editor at Pardon!, Zara has also become a small part of the massive media frenzy around sustainability. But should journalists be doing more to ignite actual change rather than just jumping on the buzzword bandwagon? Read on to hear Zara talk about the technological shift in fashion journalism, why journalists should be more conscious of who they are promoting, and some publications to check out who are creating more meaningful conversations on the topic of climate change.



How do you think journalism is impacting the fashion industry?


It’s difficult to answer that factually. As I’ve started to be more conscious of how, as someone who is an advocate for recycled and slow fashion, the articles I read and the videos I watch reflect the same values. It’s hard to escape the echo chamber that we create within the media we consume. It's a tricky one as collections from the past fashion month (Spring/Summer 2020) were all about eco-bragging rights from set design to the actual garments, some more genuine than others, fashion embraced the climate crisis to sell us more things we don’t necessarily need. Consequently, a lot of the articles I read about the collections focused on ‘sustainability’ (which is a word that, in my opinion, needs a clear definition and certain yardsticks that qualify anything to be sustainable, but I digress).


"Strong writing and stances taken on by media companies against government policies surrounding garment incineration and brands that outsource slave labour can shake up the industry and demand more substantial change." – Zara Afthab

Beyond fashion week, a lot of the writing on eco fashion shifts the blame to the consumer rather than criticising fashion conglomerates, the government at large, or influencers that have normalised this ridiculous consumer culture, rattling of a list of things that we as shoppers can do. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, consumers hold a lot of power and I can say that more people are conscious of the fatal flaws of fast fashion than ever now but strong writing and stances taken on by media companies against government policies surrounding garment incineration and brands that outsource slave labour can shake up the industry and demand more substantial change.



Do you think there has been a shift in the way journalists talk about fashion in the media?


Fashion journalism in 2020 is less articles, more Instagram posts and tweets, it's why journalists from the New York Times report on fashion week via twitter and Man Repeller craft excellent Instagram stories for NYFW via their staff; it's the new and more personal model. In a broad sense, the big leagues of fashion journalism, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar etc., have been reduced to soundbites that regurgitate press releases and show notes rather than hard-hitting journalism that dares to critique and challenge. However, these magazines and online sites have nothing on Instagram. It’s the new way we talk about fashion, a constant stream of more and more and more.


It’s not all bad, Instagram (which in my opinion is the gen-z/millennial equivalent to newspapers) has a LOT of activists and influencers promoting eco-consciousness but it definitely pales in comparison to the sheer scale of Fashion Nova promoters.


"I hope independent writers and editors, and younger and cooler publications are more critical in the way they talk about fashion." – Zara Afthab

Should fashion editors be more conscious of who they are promoting?


I think it would stupid of them not to. In a way, I believe that the big league editors of fashion centric magazines want to be more conscious, I am an optimist after all. But magazines are dying, they rely on ad sales to keep afloat. Editors are in a difficult position, they’re in essence making deals with the devil to keep their publication alive. I don’t know, it’s a hard one; I hope independent writers and editors, and younger and cooler publications are more critical in the way they talk about fashion; tons of them already are. Tori West, the editor of BRICKS magazine, boycotted LFW two seasons ago and has now been invited to hold a panel discussion on the opening day of LFW surrounding the importance of sustainability, proof that radical acts lead to radical change.


Honestly, it’s time to shake up the industry and declare that business as usual just won’t suffice but I don’t think the Vogue’s of the world are the answer to the solution.




Have you recently read any interesting fashion-related content or publications who are doing their bit to call out the climate crisis?


Oh tons!! This is when the echo chamber comes in handy. I’ve already mentioned Tori but beyond that, I love everything that the Slow Factory and it’s founder Celine Semann writes. She talks about climate consciousness through an intersectional lens focusing on the role of indigenous communities and people of colour have had in the fight against the climate crisis. She also hosts an annual fashion/sustainability event Study Hall, where she brings people within the fashion industry who practice sustainability to talk about climate change.


There are live streams from previous events available to view online, this one is from the most recent summit held in January in New York; I would highly recommend checking it out. Beyond that, I also enjoyed Robin Givhan's article on fashion in the age of climate change; it’s a good example of how you can continue to remain objective whilst talking about sustainability within a larger publication.