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  • Anna Fitzpatrick

We must continue to be shocked and outraged by the violence of fashion

people working in a garment factory
Image Rio Lecatompessy via unsplash

I write this in a week heavy with significance. Within the week falls Earth Day, Stephen Lawrence Day and 8 year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse. In this week too a vital guilty verdict is step towards accountability while highlighting, ever more so, how social movements engender justice. There is an urgent need for the radical overhaul and transformation of our systems and institutions.

These named days serve as reminders. To be reminded is to remember: say their names. When we think about Rana Plaza, we see how difficult this still is. People remain as faceless garment workers, remembered as a number. Reminders of the structural and cultural violence which is deeply embedded in our practices, institutions and values. Violence is racialised. Gendered. It is exploitation. Extraction. It is obvious and it is hidden. How to recognise this violence, name it and stay with it in the most painful moments is what is required in any critical sustainability practice.

In their paper ‘A Typology of Fashion Violence’, Otto Von Busch and Ylva Bjerld, draw on Johan Galtung’s model of violence. Direct, structural and cultural violence are visualised as a triangle. Here there is a distinction between these different types of violence. Cultural violence exists symbolically and becomes the rationale or the justification of violence. Culturally violence is legitimated and structural or direct violence becomes normalised, acceptable or more subtly, non-remarkable. It is where racialised capitalism embeds its roots through ‘othering’ and creating an us and a them in the discourses and narratives that institutions are built on. Next, structural violence – where exclusion takes place. Here the fight for basic human needs is overlooked, and becomes a struggle which seems personal but is in fact widespread structural and systemic. Our institutions, even the State, wash their hands of responsibility and the provision of welfare that enables lives to be liveable Then, direct violence. The physical acts. The microaggressions. The banter that’s a joke.

A visual illustration of violence with direct violence at the top and visible and invisible violence at the sides and structural and cultural violence at the bottom.
Violence Triangle Illustration – Galtung

Von Busch and Bjerld highlight, through Galtung’s work, how it is direct violence that is visible. The tip of the triangle poking out, poking through. It is the violence that is seen and condemned. But it is what is underneath that needs exposing if we want to move towards justice.

The 24th April is a significant date for all those engaged with fashion sustainability as a moment to stop and think. Reflect on what has changed, if anything, in the way we conceive of fashion, produce and consume it.

Unsafe and exploitative working conditions continue to exist within fashion supply chains and yet the normalisation of this exploitation needs to be checked. Understanding what is underneath this direct violence – unpacking the structural and cultural aspects of it is more crucial than ever before. We must continue to be shocked and outraged by the violence of fashion. These are avoidable situations. The result of political and economic decisions. The result of long complex supply chains. And the result of deeply held values about who is important and who is expendable. This shock and outrage has a place in driving action.

If, as Arundati Roy suggested, the Pandemic is a portal and a chance to imagine our world anew – can we imagine fashion as non-violent? As a practice that causes no harm? A careful practice? Every day is a day of working towards this.


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