Money Matters: Fashion, Finance & Fossil Fuels By Yasmin Jones-Henry
For those who are new to the platform – welcome.
So that we’re all on the same page: fashion was never just about the clothes. When it comes to the etymology of the word, it’s derived from the Latin Facere meaning ‘to do or to make’. When I speak of ‘fashion’ in this space, I’m referring to the ethics of an idea, design, manufacturing, craftsmanship and the variables that contribute to the creative process. With this in mind, this is the reason why, if in 2020 we are to have a genuinely clean break from old habits, then any discourse about ‘conscious consumption’ – needs to address consumer patterns, which are facilitated by our finances. Our new series “Money Matters” delivers the proposal of introducing a different language and philosophy in lifestyle that moves away from the old economic model of ‘take> make > waste’ towards a state of mindfulness where the aesthetic – and the act of creativity is cherished, funded by ethics and safeguarded by sustainable business practices within the circular economy.
PART 1: Fashion, Finance & Fossil Fuels
When you think of the oil industry, do you think of Fashion? What about Finance?
Do you know if your high street bank is a part of the problem or the solution in the on-going climate crisis? When you get dressed in the morning, do you have any idea of the material mix on your skin? How much oil are you wearing??? What does wearing fossil fuels do to your health? What does it do to the environment?
It isn’t widely discussed, but we can all make a difference and implement social change: through our financial transactions. Who you bank with, where you shop and what you choose to invest in – forms the basis of our local, national and global economy. Activism is great – but delivering tangible change? Only Economics can deliver that. So that’s where this conversation will begin. In this ‘Money Matters’ series we will be exploring the various ways that we – the people – ‘the consumer’ – hold the power to influence the markets – through the age old axis of supply and demand.
This is where ‘consumers’ of goods and services hold all the power. Without the demand – producers of goods and services are rendered obsolete. They lose value, firms lose profits with the loss of demand – fiscal pain ensues. As the consumer begins to demand more transparency from the businesses and entities they transact with, the markets are already beginning to scrutinise the ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) policies of banks and financial institutions. The banking industry doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Who holds your money? What are they doing with it? What does their investment portfolio look like? What types of businesses are they investing in? Just as Orsola de Castro encourages shoppers to ask ‘Who Made My Clothes?’ we need to take to the high street and ask our banks ‘What are you doing with my money?’
The first 7 days in 2020 have been filled with chaos, fear and a geo-political landscape that is currently a tinderbox – keeping investors worldwide on edge as they watched oil prices shoot up to $70 a barrel on the first Monday of the decade. As panic ensued, it occurred to me, that the volatility of the fossil fuel sector following the fall-out from the US and Iran – does – indirectly impact the fashion industry. Please see the diagrams below for further illustration: (provided by Fashion Revolution, 2020)
In global textiles production, polyester makes up 51% of the overall material mix. Polyester – is a fossil fuel based material. With cotton making up 24.5% and wool 1% – how did the global textiles industry become so heavily dependent on the oil industry in manufacturing? This isn’t an analysis of the fossil fuels used to power the factories. This is in reference to the oil based materials, hanging in your wardrobes right now. Polyester doesn’t biodegrade. It releases micro-plastics into the air and water systems – poisoning humans and marine life alike. In the UK less than 1% of our textiles are recycled – so this oil based toxic entity is either rotting on a landfill or being incinerated – releasing toxic fumes into the air. All of this is fueled by the price of oil, and the infrastructure financing it. The fashion industry’s toxic flirtation with fast fashion and producing dirt cheap goods, flooding the marketplace with oversupply – further lowering the overall retail price of plastic based goods – makes polyester a more tempting option for consumers in tight fiscal circumstances or anyone else who ‘loves a bargain’.
However, there is opportunity amongst this chaos – if the fashion industry is left vulnerable to market shocks of volatile oil prices – as this impacts their overall operational production costs, as the raw material used to create their capital is now under siege. If ever there was a time that economics could be used to push the fashion industry into the arms of recycling, investing in low impact materials: NOW IS THE TIME.
But while the fashion industry has quite openly embraced the oil sector as a key part of its overall business model, the next question to ask, is who or rather what is still propping up the fossil fuel sector? All businesses need capital in one shape or form to exist – so who’s bank rolling the fossil fuel industry? The Banks.
Take Barclays for example: a familiar high street bank. Advertising daily on TV – marketing themselves as the progressive bank for millennials looking to get on the property ladder. Offering ‘family’ friendly mortgages, and payment plans – meanwhile, this week the Financial Times published a damning report exposing the tension between Barclays’ management and their shareholders. Shareholders and investors – hold a similar position of power to the consumer – in that their money – their investment in the corporation gives them leverage – it gives them a voice and a means to influence corporate policy.
This spat has spilled into the public domain after a group of shareholders filed a landmark climate change resolution for the Barclay’s annual investors’ meeting. Institutional investors, which collectively manage £130 bn and include British pension funds such as Brunel Pension Partnership and LGPS Central – alongside 100 individual shareholders submitted this proposal.
“The Resolution calls on Barclays to publish a plan to phase out financing companies in the energy sector and gas and electric utilities that are not aligned with the Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to keep the global temperature rise well below 2degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
According to Share Action, Barclays has provided more than $85bn of finance to fossil fuel companies and high carbon projects since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. – This makes it the world’s sixth largest backer of fossil fuels of any European Bank exceeding its peers by $27bn…” – (Financial Times, 2019)
As the people take to the streets in Hong Kong, Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, India, Paris and in the UK – the fashion industry and financial services sector will be racing to convince the public just how ethical and sustainable they are. Greenwashing is about to spiral out of control. Before it does – there a three key areas you, as a consumer can hold these industries to account.
- Ask questions.
If you don’t get the answers you want – if these institutions opt for a lack of transparency – then the truth is – you will have your answer. People who are truly ethical, have nothing to hide.
2. Follow the money
If you are investing your money, if your money is tied up in a pension fund, find out what ventures your fund has invested in. Your fund manager works for you. If you’re not happy – move. The same goes for your bank. Like so many other Icarus types, the banking industry forgot it’s still just a service sector. If their services are not up to scratch, their clients can take their commerce elsewhere. Vote with your transactions.
3. Be accountable
If you don’t know – why don’t you know? What lifestyle changes can you make to ensure that you stay informed, up to date with the latest information? Knowledge is power. The more you understand about how the economy works, the more opportunities you’ll discover to exert your influence for a positive outcome. The world of business isn’t all bad. There are so many innovative social enterprises and sustainable ethical start ups working to develop solutions, and pick up the slack our politicians left unchecked. How can you use your money to support them? Are there social enterprises in your local community who could do with some capital? Or moral support? Find out.
“It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a collective to usher in a revolution.” – The Collective (@Workinfashion.me, 2018).
I built @WorkinFashion.me to be the platform upon which the worlds of finance, fashion and design combine to create a dialogue: because until we all assume our seats at the table, this ideal for a sustainable economy – will never take off. It’s time for us – The Collective – take up our positions and hold these players to account.
Stay tuned for the next installment of Money Matters published in Issue 004 of @WorkinFashion.Me Magazine. Out Jan 31st 2020.
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