Has fashion media failed to cover what matters most?
At The Strand bookstore Thursday night, Teen Vogue’s editor in chief Versha Sharma moderated a discussion with Alyssa Hardy, author of her debut fashion sustainability book “Worn Out: How Our Clothes Cover Up Fashion’s Sins,” probing — among many things — how fashion media balances the need for advertising money with deeper reporting on injustice and abuse in fashion.
The past few years have seen a growing number of books with this storyline, including Dana Thomas’ “Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes” (2019); Aja Barber’s “Consumed: The Need for Collective Change: Colonialism, Climate Change, and Consumerism,” (2021); Maxine Bédat’s “Unraveled: The Life and Death of a Garment” (2021), and now Hardy’s book.
After spending a number of years at Teen Vogue and InStyle, Hardy’s latest work leverages her journalism experience to interrogate the industry amid the pandemic — when much was halted and many frustrated garment workers were out of work. In the book, she questions her complicity in influencer culture (having to have a certain cherry-red leather jacket Mary-Kate Olsen wore), fast fashion, marketing schemes as well as the world’s ignorance around supply chain issues and the very women making the clothes, among other issues.
For a fashion editor, certain perks come with the territory.
“I have so many clothes built on years of chasing trends and working in the fashion industry where a perk of the low-paying journalism job is free stuff that I didn’t ask for,” Alyssa Hardy read to an audience at The Strand.
For an audience of mostly fashion media, Hardy examined the church and state relationship between editorial integrity and ad money. “Magazines are very tied to their advertisers, so writing stories that might not be as favorable is frowned upon. I ran into that so many times when I uncovered something, and the brand was advertising with the publication I was working for. You build relationships with designers because that’s just part of the job…Uncovering certain things — there’s a weird gray area,” she said.
Though more outlets have hired or promoted sustainability editors in the past five years, entire newsrooms may benefit from more holistic reporting.
“I do implore my fellow fashion editors — to take a step back,” Hardy said. “Obviously, you might have to report on this line that is made of recycled cotton or recycled leather, but if there is a way to insert the entire picture [then do so]. While this brand might be having an upcycled T-shirt, they also have had allegations of wage theft just last week. If you Google it, it’s there. There are a lot of unions around the world that have great reporting on their websites. IndustriALL [a global union representing 50 million workers in 140 countries, spanning multiple industries] is one.”
While Hardy is lovingly hard on media, she’s harder on brands.
“The way we get people to be more aware,” she said, “is by having regulations on brands so that the brands do better and it comes from them. Brands are only going to [change] by extreme customer pressure or regulations.”