Thurs, 13th Feb 2020

Sustainability and Inclusion in Fashion: An Interview with the St Andrews Fashion Show Executive Director

Text by: 

Alisa Matyunina

Photo by: 
Lightbox

In the jolly 1500s, Queen Elizabeth I put in place a series of laws that made it illegal to wear certain clothes depending on your social class. 500 years on and what we wear is just as powerful a social statement, whether it be a Barbour jacket or Adidas joggers. For some, fashion shows have become associated with this social divide, presenting an elitist and hyper-sexualised male gaze. When I meet with Daniel Craig, the Executive Director of FS (a student-run fashion show in St Andrews held annually for 28 years) he speaks openly about the controversies and somewhat conflicting tendencies in the fashion industry.

This year’s FS presents an imaginary escapist setting, the Playhaus, inside which there are different rooms that form the structure of the show. So whilst Craig says that this year presents a shift in FS from a serious theme to a kind of self-satire in which people can just ‘have a good time for 90 minutes’, he is aware of fashion shows’ often problematic presentation of social realities, their impact on the environment, and how the event seeks to recognise and mitigate these issues.

The show’s focus on sustainability has presented challenges to the organisers, from plastic water bottles to sustainable brands. The directors were in immediate concord on the need to address the environmental impact of the fashion industry and the urgent need for a cultural shift in how we approach what we wear. We spoke about the stigma around second-hand clothing, the staggering cost of some sustainable brands, and the dangerous precedent set by fast fashion. While it seems like it will be a long battle, by framing fashion as art and giving it a creative focus through music and choreography the show strives to reframe our attitudes towards what we wear.

The models themselves take a key role in the direction of the show. Craig says that one of his team, Stella, directed ‘the red video’ (part of a series gradually released online) which allows for a more raw and genuine presentation of her experience and how she wants to be presented, challenging a patriarchal sexualised objectification by facilitating female empowerment. He points out that a sexualised portrayal need not necessarily be reductive, rather, to quote another member of the team: ‘I can be sexual and taken seriously at the same time’. Discussions and listening have made up a major part of the job, Craig says, being key to an honest and charged portrayal of perspective and giving voice.

Further to its influence on gender portrayal and female emancipation, we discussed the responsibility of fashion shows in presenting ‘perfect bodies’. Craig remarks that the problem is two-fold: people who are ‘less conventionally beautiful’ do not tend to walk in the door to audition, an issue which can be addressed through making people feel welcome regardless of their body types. Further, the problem in the industry as a whole means that they receive very limited sample sizes – of ‘ridiculous’ proportions – that are not only unsuitable for plus-sized models but anyone who is tall and skinny or just does not fit the box.

For some people the choice of whether they can make it to the event will simply come down to the hefty price tag. Events in Scotland, Craig argues, are expensive to produce. Growing costs, lack of competition, and charity fund-raising means that the organisers are struggling to keep the costs down whilst student incomes remain stagnant.

Craig’s candid expression of the challenges facing the fashion industry seems to capture a desire to bring about an event which nurtures a fashion industry which uses creativity and imagination to challenge unsustainable practices and empower its models and audiences. Fingers crossed Storm Ciara will be kind and, come Saturday night, FS will bring on a vibrant and fantastical evening.

FS is happening on Saturday the 15th February 2020. For more information, visit: https://www.standrewsfashion.com