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LONDON, United Kingdom — Lily Cole was once on the side of every bus, fronting the industry’s biggest fashion campaigns. But the more time Cole spent in the industry, the more she became aware of widespread problems and structural inequalities that prop up its glamorous facade. She cut back on modelling jobs and instead prioritised working on improving the fashion system from within.
In the latest episode of the BoF Podcast, Lily Cole speaks with BoF Founder and Editor-in-Chief Imran Amed about the lessons she learned while writing her new book Who Cares Wins: Reasons For Optimism in Our Changing World, published by Rizzoli and Penguin, a call to action that emphasises the importance of optimism and collaboration in times of uncertainty.
- The fashion industry must grapple with the role consumer culture plays in upholding social, environmental and ethical problems. “There is a practical need for new stuff that we don’t want to shut down entirely, so while we’re making it [we need to think of ways to do it] in a better way,” said Cole. “Equally, can we think of new business models that don’t require people to buy new things to make them economically sustainable?” These may include more transparent supply chains or adopting a circular business model.
- The very way progress is measured must also be reconsidered. Economic growth must be replaced by alternative metrics like happiness, health and environmental wellbeing. “It’s about quality rather than quantity… about loving material things more,” Cole told Amed. “The more you love something the more you respect it.” For consumers, buying fewer products of higher value is less wasteful and also places more emphasis on the artisanal craftsmanship of each garment.
- Cole is optimistic about the future generation of consumers who put more emphasis on sustainability. When the scandal broke that Boohoo paid workers less than minimum wage for example, the ultra fast fashion e-tailer’s share price plummeted. This, Cole said, indicates that the market expects consumers to stop shopping from unethical brands. “It’s a tangible reflection that people do care when they are given information,” she said.