Art by Suzie Blake

A Revolution of ‘Self’ and ‘Consciousness’

The Broader Dimension of a Fashion Revolution

The complex environmental and social problems that have stemmed from the fashion industry’s detrimental and unconscious practices have called for a systemic reform in its overall value chain by several activists, brands, national and international bodies and trade union groups over the last decade. Reforms at the systemic level have kept emphasis on the implementation of changes in the social, economic and environmental order of production and consumption of fast-fashion and related “fast” goods. Through the years, the focus maintained on the collective practices of these three facets has been leading to the revision of many problems that fashion faces as an industry – specifically with respect to sourcing, transparency, the use of unsustainable materials and fibres, toxic waste and labour working conditions. Though we rightly tend to focus on the practical and tangible changes that such a revolution in the fashion system is generating, there remains discussion of an additional aspect that this discourse points to(ward): of identifying the broader dimension of a Fashion Revolution. 

The issue of becoming conscious in fashion requires for us to realise that meaningful change in the fashion system may begin with changes in the fashion industry but must extend to realms beyond ‘fashion’ and its economics. The objective of a fashion revolution is not only to have designers, industrialists or consumers adopt sustainable and egalitarian practices at the systemic level, but to cause a shift, a revolution, in ‘consciousness’, and consequently, of ‘self’ itself, at the broadest individual level. 

Art by Suzie Blake

In the context of our individual practices, the ‘self’ and ‘consciousness’ can be perceived as being the objects of one’s reflexive focus – the objects, through which we are (and become) aware of ourselves (our feelings, temperaments, thoughts, beliefs, actions, choices) and of the world. And though our ‘self’ and ‘consciousness’ lie beyond our individual personalities, they play a defining role in shaping our consumption choices and practices, at both, the macro and micro level. While our personalities embody our individuality, our ‘self’ and ‘consciousness’ act as the faculty through which our myriad qualities and tastes are cultivated; tastes not only for fine(r) objects, but also, our moral and practical tastes. In this way, the (negative and positive) practices prevalent in the fashion system are mirrors reflecting to us the state of our collective consciousness. But as collective consciousness is dialectically intertwined with individual consciousness, effective changes in (mass-) production processes are also highly dependent on constituents – apart from market dynamics – dictating individual consumption patterns and choices. 

Global changes in the industrial domain alone cannot foster such a systemic revolution in the long run. There are two intersecting factors underlying this. The first is that while changes in economic and social practices can cause material, physical or substantive changes in the fashion system, they cannot affirm qualitative or reflective changes in the individual consciousnesses upon which the growth of ethical and sustainable practices are ultimately contingent. The second, that production and consumption are mirror processes of each other – making them both equally dominant in the value chain. 

Art by Suzie Blake

“Identifying the (individual) meaningfulness of garments, commodities and objects both in themselves and in our lives – beyond style and appearance – would also impact not only our (collective and individual) ‘consciousness’, but the fashion value chain at large through revised consumption choices. “

The question that arises here then is, what alternatives would we primarily need to adopt in our personal domains in order to appreciate the complexities that underlie such a revolution – both within and beyond its immediate context? To propel thought in this direction it would be valuable to consider what ‘fashion’ and ‘revolution’ mean to us subjectively, not as a compound term representative of a movement, but as individual ideas, entities and practices that entail personal, political and cultural meanings. Identifying the (individual) meaningfulness of garments, commodities and objects both in themselves and in our lives – beyond style and appearance – would also impact not only our (collective and individual) ‘consciousness’, but the fashion value chain at large through revised consumption choices.  

Whether we perceive mass-consumption as the sum total of individual consumption, or as a gestalt – where mass-patterns of consumption would represent a whole greater than the sum of its individual parts – the fact remains that individual dispositions are crucial for channelling a more complete revolution of the system. Becoming (more) conscious and intentional in our living, contemplating our quotidian traditions, as well as our relationship with fashion and with ourselves, would enable us to recognise what it means to be participants in an industry that is now directing attention toward responsibility, correction, and change. More so, it would allow us to understand subtle aspects of ourselves and indicate the things we need to manoeuvre ourselves into to (continue to) bring forth structural change. 

We collaborated with artist Suzie Blake for the artwork in this thought piece. Here is what inspires her art:

” Through my practice I explore the disruptive force of female life as it jostles with the man-made. Camille Paglia says, “society is an artificial construction, a defence against nature’s power”. It is this power that interests me. Societal organisations such as religion, science and politics are the skin into which I inject the chaos, dynamism, creation and destruction of feminine archetype.”

Writer Malini Mathur’s work centers on fashion, philosophy, aesthetics and the sociology of emotions. She holds degrees in Fashion Studies and Sociology, and has formerly worked as a Guest Lecturer in the ‘Philosophy of Art and Fashion’ at the Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts and Communication, New Delhi, as well as as an Assistant Editor for an independent student-led journal titled BIAS Journal of Dress Practice at the Parsons School of Design, New York. She also works at IKKIVI Zine as writer.