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Accepted Paper:

‘Create a Better World’: Sustainable fashion and the politics of solidarity  
Harriette Richards (RMIT University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses New Zealand brand Maggie Marilyn to argue that the dependence of sustainable fashion brands on the sale of high-cost items available only to a select consumer market overlooks the need for an authentic, intersectional politics of solidarity in the pursuit of a ‘better world.’

Paper long abstract:

In late 2021, at a volatile moment in New Zealand’s campaign against Covid-19, Maggie Hewitt, founder of sustainable fashion brand Maggie Marilyn (MM), published an article in the New Zealand Herald advocating for the immediate reopening of national borders. In response, fashion journalist Zoe Walker Ahwa argued that Hewitt had exposed her privilege by focusing on the economic benefits of reopening with no concern for the Māori, Pasifika, immunocompromised and vulnerable communities who would be disproportionately affected by a dissolution of public health restrictions. Referring to MM’s Instagram bio, which reads, ‘We’re on a mission to Create a Better World,’ Ahwa confronted Hewitt on her disregard for the wellbeing of these populations and asked rhetorically: you want to ‘create a better world for who, exactly?’

This paper takes Ahwa’s question as a starting point from which to ask: what does a politics of solidarity mean in relation to sustainable fashion? And how is this politics affected by crises that threaten the communities of privilege upon which such sustainable fashion so often relies? MM’s social and environmental goals are admirable; the company manufactures in New Zealand and uses only recycled, organic and chemical-free materials. However, their pursuit of these ends glosses over classed and raced dimensions of the fashion system and depends entirely on the sale of high-cost items available only to a select consumer market. I argue that it is only through the active pursuit of an authentic politics of intersectional solidarity that we might build a ‘better world.’

Panel P117
Fashioning sustainability – What does “sustainable” mean for consumer product brands?
  Session 1 Thursday 28 July, 2022, -