It’s an uphill task for the fashion industry to take a universal stance on humanitarian issues and appear sincere. And the industry’s response to the blazing war in Ukraine is no exception.
As bombs went off, and women and children fled their homes in the eastern parts of Ukraine, the Fall/Winter 2022 fashion week in Milan had just begun to unfurl on February 24. A week later, in Paris, Balenciaga laid out blue and yellow Ukrainian flag t-shirts on each seat, as designer Demna Gvasalia, (who had fled his home country of Georgia amid a civil war), made a poignant statement by staging his show in a set resembling an Arctic tundra, addressing both climate change and the war.
Top fashion and beauty forces – from Kering to Estée Lauder – immediately issued statements declaring their intent to close their stores in Russia, forsaking buoyant revenues in one of luxury’s key markets. It was one of their most impressive, commendable, not to mention most sincere courses of action of recent times
But for those who hail from BIPOC backgrounds, it was difficult not to recall the forgotten wars in Afghanistan, Syria and Yemen. Not to mention over 15+ conflicts raging throughout the African content – almost all of which have been ignored for years by the greater fashion industry. Why is that?
Instead of heading to Ukraine, actress and humanitarian crusader, Angelina Jolie, travelled to Aden, Yemen, where a civil war has ravaged the Middle Eastern nation for over seven years.
“Everyone deserves the same compassion. The lives of civilian victims of conflict everywhere are of equal value. After seven years of war, the people of Yemen also need protection, support and, above all, peace,” the actress-humanitarian said.
Yemen has been engulfed by violence and instability since 2014 and the conflict has created one of the world’s worst man-made, humanitarian crises. Nearly 80% of the country, or roughly about 30 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. Of that number, there are more than 13 million who, according to UN estimates, are in danger of starvation.
“UNHCR hopes Jolie’s visit will highlight the increasing humanitarian needs in Yemen and help mobilize urgent support for humanitarian work ahead of the annual High-Level Pledging Conference for Yemen on 16 March,” it added.
Earlier this month, 40 civilians were murdered in Mali, just a week after France and its European partners, announced they would start withdrawing their forces, after more than nine years fighting an insurgency.
Libya, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Northern Mozambique, Ethiopia, and Cameroon’s north-west and south-west regions are six conflicts desperately in need of humanitarian corridors in 2022.
In the same vein as Jolie, model Gigi Hadid took to Instagram saying, “I am pledging to donate my earnings from the Fall 2022 shows to aid those suffering from the war in Ukraine, as well as continuing to support those experiencing the same in Palestine.”
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“Our eyes and hearts must be open to all human injustice, may we all see each other as brothers and sisters, beyond politics, beyond race, beyond religion. At the end of the day, innocent lives pay for war not leaders. Hands off Ukraine, hands off Palestine. Peace, peace peace,” she wrote. It should be noted that, according to the popular industry Instagram influencer account, Diet Prada, a day after the article was posted, Vogue scrubbed Hadid’s reference to Palestine after it was bombarded with comments accusing Vogue of fanning the flames of anti-semitism.”
Elsewhere, for companies across the board with operations in Russia, halting business is not an act of solidarity with the Ukrainian people, it’s the only option, reflects Becky Quick, co-anchorwoman of CNBC’s financial news shows Squawk Box and On The Money, calling into question some of the worlds’ biggest blue chip companies like Caterpillar.
US-imposed sanctions, (to which its allies are bound), include the activities of shipping companies, banks, insurers, cargo owners, receivers, charterers, service providers and port operators.
Quick stated,“A lot of these companies are saying, ‘We’re gonna say we’re stopping doing business there because effectively we can’t do it anyway. It doesn’t mean that they are shutting down and closing and never going back. I think all of these companies are waiting to see what happens next.”
COTY, a juggernaut in the global beauty industry with luxury fragrances, high-end skincare, and color cosmetics licenses with Alexander McQueen, Bottega Veneta, Burberry, Calvin Klein, Chloé, Davidoff, Gucci, Hugo Boss, Kylie Skin, Marc Jacobs, Miu Miu and Tiffany & Co, as well as skincare brands Lancaster and Philosophy, has suspended new investments and advertisement campaigns, which some industry watchers are calling marginal at best.
As of 14th March, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at Yale University, alleges top brands like Salvatore Ferragamo, Reebok, Oriflame Cosmetics continue their operations throughout Russia. Professor Sonnenfeld has comprised a list of major foreign companies, associations, and organizations who have curtailed their dealings in Russia.
There are however designers who are consistent in their mission to highlight global injustice, with authenticity, before it trends on social media. Rome-based Stella Jean weaves stories of colonialism into her whimsical patterns. Vivienne Westwood has a long history of using her fashion shows as a powerful tool bringing media awareness to the issues she champions such as the usurpation of the planet’s natural resources. In 2017, designer Edward Buchanan of the Sansovino 6 knitwear label, launched the project “Check Your Neck,” with three scarves emblazoned with slogans: “Resist,” “Wake Up for Freedom” and “We Are All Migrants.” And Stella McCartney continually uses her platforms in the fight against animal cruelty and today is one of the fiercest champions of sustainability.
Other designers have stepped up to support Ukraine with more draconian measures. During Paris Fashion Week there seemed to be a ban on all things Russian including the removal from the official calendar of the fashion show from the popular Russian designer, Valentin Yudashkin.
Meanwhile, other fashion actors have also stepped in to do what they can. Popular online fashion C2C auction site, CATAWIKI.com has launched a special #StandWithUkraine Charity Auction from March 14th to March 21st to benefit Ukraine.
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If only the greater fashion industry could follow this path with integrity in all instances of injustice and war.