The Greek Myths are still extremely relevant to the modern era in how they portray human weaknesses and fatal flaws. One which would seem most relevant to the modern era is the myth of Narcissus. The story of how problematic or excessive vanity and emotional immaturity if left unchecked can destroy lives, as people are too obsessed with their own looks or themselves.
For instance, the obsessive vanity of people who have endless photo shoots, employing their own photographers in pathetic attempts to raise their public profile, especially when their duties and responsibilities are more important like Boris Johnson and the current Conservative Party Government are guilty of doing, right in the middle of the current: pandemic, environmental, energy, inflation and warfare crises.
This problem of damaging vanity especially applies when it comes to fashion. We all need clothes and leaving the house without them is likely to land you in trouble. So what can be done here which the UK can take a lead on?
The fashion industry accounts for approximately 8% of all global carbon emissions and 15% to 20% of wasted water and a lot of that is on fast fashion of which the UK is the biggest problematic consumer in all of Europe. Many of these clothes are never even worn but end up in rubbish dumps, the most shocking example of this being the huge dump of unsold clothes in the Atacama Desert. Although, high end brands are similarly guilty of egregious waste with Burberry burning almost £30 million pounds worth of produce to ‘protect’ their brand.
A greener fashion
There are though clothing designers and campaigns who are taking on the water waste, environmental damage and carbon emission problems in this sector, who are prepared to offer solutions. There are all sorts of potential options such as people renting clothes instead of buying them, designing clothes which are built for durability and even to last a lifetime or the recycling and repurposing of clothes after use. These greener approaches could also be part of a joined-up approach to ‘levelling up’ aiming to save the planet and enhance local job and business opportunities with, more local: production, design, manufacturing, storage and repair.
Clothes manufacturers and producers because of a largely deregulated marketplace where shareholder profit dominates too much, have in order to maximise profits cut costs on finishing which would make clothes and shoes last longer. The employment of tailors, dressmakers and designers more for individual bodies would mean clothes last longer too. This is labour intensive however, which would more than likely push up costs and potentially prices, but if done right this could afford lots of new career opportunities.
This would more than likely require government investment, subsidy and support to be made a reality, alongside smart regulation on profiteering and standards, but this reform can make clothes of all kinds and colours more green, whilst providing jobs – including ones closer to home in the Midlands and other regions.
Regulating for good
Regulation could include such things as using fiscal measures like taxes to limit production or laws to outright prevent production of clothes which we know are harmful entering the marketplace at all, or laws introduced that products must include a right to repair or return, or have clear repurposing design rationales.
Regulation would have to be from a human labour perspective too as clothes production is now and has been historically one of terrible employment conditions, work place deaths, wages, slavery and even starvation of workers to this very day. 160 million children worldwide are victims of child and sometimes forced labour, many working in sectors like cotton growing and textiles.
Clothing has and continues to have a shameful history of violence, exploitation and oppression from the Atlantic Slave Trade which included the production of cotton, and child labour in the ‘dark satanic mills’ of William Blake in the Industrial Revolution on the British Isles themselves. To the violence, oppression and destruction of the Indian clothes manufacturers including breaking the hands and thumbs of weavers, starvations in the British Empire to sell British manufactured cloth in a monopolised market, which used British domestic child labour at home and was made with cotton picked by enslaved people in the US abroad.
The shame of modern slavery
Then there is the modern slavery, child labour, poverty wages and terrible working conditions, injury and workplace deaths like the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh. These are behind most leading clothes brands, outlets and sportswear firms now. An industry which has three times, yes three times at 40 million, the amount of slaves than the original Atlantic Slave Trade. Yet, this deeply egregious reality behind the clothes in our shops is pretty much never mentioned in the public debate. All of which has caused a reaction with a growth in protest movements and activism against these wrongs such as Fashion Revolution Week.
Stopping the damaging human and environmental impacts of fashion which are as bad as ever, if not worse, are something Britain could look to stop, problems it could take a lead on in eradicating from the world. Setting high standards and requirements would show leadership – but is Britain, even with the global reputation of London as home of many huge fashion houses and designers, a big enough consumer as well as a design leader, that it could set the standards for others to follow worldwide?
There has a lot been made in recent times post Brexit of controlling our laws, but British designed laws which apply everywhere, already happens with intellectual property.
The UK is a key player in the design of laws and regulations regarding intellectual property around the world on pharmaceuticals, other products too which require ensuring that a return on investment can be guaranteed in new markets, nations or trade areas through using legal protections. Large trade areas like the EU have all sorts of regulations in the marketplace for products and services (the UK when members were key players behind designing them) which apply over a huge geographical area, as does the WTO with guidelines for regulations which apply globally to trade, other trade bodies too.
There are welcome plans by the EU to introduce stronger regulations such as the Product Environmental Footprints and France has brought in stronger corporate vigilance laws to limit or prevent environmental damage and human rights abuses.
Arguably, none of these bodies regulate enough. Or, have laws or standards which apply everywhere or laws which do enough about the right sustainable, ethical practices or laws, especially ones which benefit workers. This means that unscrupulous and vicious actors can exploit an uneven regulatory world on laws to continue with the now centuries long shameful and unacceptable methods used in the manufacture of clothes.
This would require laws which apply everywhere in the world.
Well in certain instances this already applies, such as in the punishment of war criminals inflicting torture, injury, misery and death on people. Surely, this should apply to those in the commercial world too wherever oppressions or wrongdoings occur if we are to live in a decent world, are ever to be truly civilised or are to make political, societal and economic justice a reality?
This would mean the abdication of sovereignty from all nations regarding regulation and law over this. In an increasingly unstable and fragmented world order engaging in the deliberation and regulation of this could be a cause for unifying divides and engaging over how this centuries long wrong can be made right. This could be the beginning of something more grand and when thinking about this Emery Reves the literary agent and friend of Winston Churchill comes to mind.
The anatomy of peace
Emery Reves wrote a book called The Anatomy of Peace in 1945 at the end of the Second World War. He was a Hungarian Jew whose own mother was assassinated in the Holocaust, but rather than be bitter or seek revenge or vengeance, he, like many others in the immediate post war period wanted to make designs on lasting peace. For his services to Britain and the Allies he was awarded British Citizenship by Churchill, so he can be claimed as one of our own.
The main argument he made is to realise a lasting worldwide peace, what is required is worldwide rule of law and world government. As he saw notions of national or political sovereignty as dangerously unstable and the main cause of conflict and war in the world, the excesses of ideology too. As every war, international or civil that has ever happened is when one country, group of people or empire has tried to assert or defend its sovereignty over another. That it is only through identifying a higher authority of law, higher than individual nations, people or regions within in a nation, that lasting peace and stability can be realised. He used the unification of countries like Germany or Italy as an example where regional powers only stopped in their disputes or wars when they abdicated their power to the nation, only then could peace be achieved.
Treaties, agreements and consensus between nations and even between citizens in the same country can always be broken but the establishment and recognition of laws, rules and regulations which apply everywhere without exception are the most likely way to establish political, societal and economic justice, peace and stability for all, alongside a robust set of human rights. Freedoms, health, security, stability, sustainability and protections can be regulated in. Oppression, suffering, exploitation, malfeasance, recklessness, irresponsibility and corruption regulated out.
This is where Global Britain could take a lead. We are the home of Magna Carta, one of the models or foundations for the Rule of Law. Boris Johnson took us out of the EU to be at one with the whole world more, he could support the ambitions of Emery Reves towards World Government and World Rule of Law, you cannot get more global than that.
Although Churchill, the alter ego of Johnson, who was impressed by Reves arguments but did not agree completely with his World Government designs, did though support political unity in Europe, throughout the world, as a way of providing peace and stability, how the world needed to learn the ‘bitter’ lessons from the failings of The League of Nations in the inter war period. As it is difficult to read his famous United States of Europe speech and not see his desire for long lasting worldwide peace and stability, even if Churchill thought that nation states should be more important in that design and wanted a more a United Nations style approach instead.
Churchill’s preference for empires and nations does not though, deal with the problematic notions of sovereignty which caused both world wars and which are still at the centre of problems right now in Ukraine, including the assertion of ideological economic, political and consumer sovereignty powers as the terrible wrongs in the fashion industry right now demonstrate more than many things.
Maybe Johnson could take on that global baton from Churchill who supported the UN and world peace, which could only come from extensive legal agreement and an abdication of sovereignty by all nations. Churchill described the UN in 1944 as ‘the only hope for the world’. Through Johnson pursuing an international leadership role for the UK with Global Britain, he could engage and look to rebreathe life into the principles and aims of the UN Charter especially Chapter 1:
‘To achieve international cooperation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for the fundamental freedoms for all without distinction to race, sex, language, or religion; and to be a centre for harmonising the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends’
In the light of growing military tensions with China, Russia and the war in Ukraine, the growing threats caused by excessive consumption and damaging economic activity. Taking these problems on, taking on the corrosive and divisive culture wars, racism and sexism, whilst demanding all nations do likewise, would be a genuine boon for everyone, everywhere.
To build an authentically democratic, sustainable and peaceful future for the world.
Making plans for the future
Then we can all be part of the solutions to difficult but not impossible problems. We can avert the lethal narcissism driving the economics and politics of now. The damaging and destructive claims of corporate, imperialist, militaristic, economic, consumerist and ideological sovereignty. The crazed megalomania and vanity of which the fashion industry is a symptom, to move to the next stage of human civilisation.
Where laws are designed to protect all and future generations in a much needed spirit of cooperation to take humanity to its next stage, especially with cooperation being more important to evolution than competition.
We are all aboard the same ship of the Earth in space, better that ship is more like a combined rescue ship, home, school, garden, hospital and a pleasure cruiser, than a Pequod, captained by the crazed ambitions of so many Captain Ahab figures towards destruction.
Then there would be less of another ancient morality tale with Boris Johnson, the folk story of the Emperor’s New Clothes and instead a better more appropriate outfit can be tailored for the future for all, with Johnson as a statesman and a leader who might then be worthy of the moniker of World King. Who has taken on the grander more noble ambitions for world peace of his political hero Winston Churchill.
The world of fashion would seem a counter-intuitive place to start the move towards world peace, but the provision of clothes could be a focus for an international endeavour of this nature, it is a good a focus to bring unity as any. If it achieves the desired result on the pressing concerns, challenges and problems of the world.
Then we will all have a better and undeniably fashionable look.