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We Speak To Three Of The Fashion Award's 'Leaders Of Change'

·6 min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

Last night saw fashion's biggest awards ceremony, The Fashion Awards, resume IRL at London's Royal Albert Hall, after 2020's digital-only offering.

And to celebrate those intent on making the fashion industry better, the British Fashion Council titled 15 designers and creatives as 'Leaders of Change' under three categories: 'Environment', 'People' and 'Creativity'.

ELLE UK spoke to winners Kenya Hunt, Priya Ahluwalia and Phoebe English, who join the likes of Jonathan Anderson and the late Virgil Abloh on the prestigious list, to find out how they have created positive change.

Photo credit: Courtesy of brand
Photo credit: Courtesy of brand

Priya Ahluwalia: Winner of the 'Leader of Change' award for 'Environment'

Just three years since launching her eponymous brand, which works with upcycled, recycled and deadstock fabric, Priya Ahluwalia has proven herself to be a powerful disruptor when it comes to representation and sustainability in the industry.

'Ahluwalia perfectly demonstrates how a brand can place sustainability at the core of its business model while also using its platform and resources to uplift communities,' the BFC said of her win, 'using female-owned factories and providing support for the next generation of sustainably conscious creative talent.'

We spoke to the talented designer to find out how people are still the core of her sustainability.

How is representation and inclusion connected to sustainability for you?

'You can't be truly responsible and thinking about environmental issues unless you're concerned for the welfare of everyone in your supply chain.

'With my brand, however, it's not only about materials and sourcing, but creative thinking. It's about a wide representation of ideas, schools of thought, art, music, politics and science. It's thinking about how our education system is completely whitewashed.

'For me, it's not only about representation in terms of production, it's about those who introduce new schools of thought - why can't people be able to see themselves in the culture reflected back in authentic way if they're expected to partake in the consuming? It's deeper than the supply chain, it's about reflecting people back in society.

'I didn't see anyone that looked like me in fashion. And it does make a difference.'

How do you wish the conversation around sustainability would change?

'It's a privilege to have sustainability as a top issue in your life.

'There's so much onus on the individual and not on huge companies that can make massive changes. We need to start looking to them.

'We can't expect people that are living below the poverty line to check whether their T-shirt is organic So, why don't we look to big businesses who can operate with huge profit margins but still produce better?

'It's just another way to demonise the working class - we shouldn't be punching down when that problems are systemic and put in place because of multimillion pound corporations.'

Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

Kenya Hunt: Winner of the 'Leader of Change' award for 'People'

Former ELLE Fashion Features Director and Deputy Editor, current Grazia Deputy Editor and author, Kenya Hunt, has been tirelessly championing diversity throughout her career, largely through her mentorship platform ROOM. We sat down with the trailblazer to learn more about her 'lift as you climb' ethos.

What moved you to take such an active role in mentorship alongside your career?

'Coming up within the industry when I was young, there were women like Bethann Hardison, who played a big role in the making of me, opening doors for so many of us. When I moved to the UK, and noted how just criminally homogeneous the industry was, I really wanted to apply a lot of the lessons I had learned to my working life here in the UK.

'That meant using the roles and platforms that I had to 'lift as I climb', to quote the old and iconic idea that black American feminists popularised in the States.

'It's just been great to have a network of friends and peers around me who have shared this same goal and aim - we were doing it because we weren't comfortable with being the only one, two or three in a room. We wanted to do what we could to drive that change instead of waiting for bigger, grander structural changes to happen.'

What are some of the positive effects you've witnessed from your mentorship programme?

'I feel great pride when I see the relationships that the mentees have formed amongst each other.

'The relationships and advice that they share have taken on a life of their own, and that has almost had a greater impact than the impact I've had on the mentees. They really do exemplify the idea of lifting as you climb: they're creating for one another, they're hiring each other to write show notes, to do take someone's campaign images, they are commissioning each other to write stories for the major titles that they work for.

'For those of us who are Black and Brown in the industry, there is an unconscious mental training that has led to a scarcity complex - a feeling that there can only be room for one. That's that kind of thinking that tokenism breeds. We want the opposite, there's room for a multitude of people from a range of backgrounds.'

Photo credit: Jeff Spicer/BFC - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jeff Spicer/BFC - Getty Images

Phoebe English: Winner of the 'Leader of Change' award for 'Environment'

Rejecting traditional notions of business scalability, Phoebe English has spent the last five years drastically reducing the output of her decade-old fashion brand, creating just one collection a year. The Central Saint Martins graduate is deeply involved with the production of her clothes too, working with zero-waste pattern cutting techniques and innovative fabrics.

We asked the designer how she thinks the industry needs to change.

What made you decide to overhaul your company five years ago?

'I went through a personal realisation that the world I was living in wasn't the world I thought I was living in. I went through this process of climate realisation, and then subsequently, an extreme climate anxiety when I fully realised and accepted the situation and the danger that we're in. And I found that anxiety really disempowering.

'I questioned why I was in an industry that goes between being the second and the third largest contributor to the climate crisis, trying to understand what my place was within that mechanism and why was I going into the studio every day? Why was it that I was producing another collection after another collection?

'So, I went through this process of trying to identify how I could, as a designer, respond. That involved going on a very long journey of re-education and disinheriting things that we were doing.'

What are your reflections from co-founding the Emergency Designer Network (EDM) and creating PPE at the beginning of the pandemic?

'In March of 2020 I could feel all our appointments and projects disappearing, but I was surrounded by sewing machines and empty cutting tables. Suddenly, there was a deluge of people asking for help on Instagram - it was really overwhelming.

'So Holly Fulton, Bethany Williams and I had a little group call and it was very evident that we had skills and knowledge that could help the situation, so we made a network.

'It became this whole infrastructure and got bigger and bigger and bigger - it was quite incredible to see how fast, responsive and agile lots of the industry could be when it was in a point of crisis.

'That level of urgency that we saw happening in the pandemic needs to be adopted for the climate crisis.'

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