Technology & Innovation

Fashioning a fairer future

March 15, 2022

Global

Fashioning a fairer future

March 15, 2022

Global
Vaibhav Sahgal

Principal, policy and insights

Vaibhav Sahgal is Principal, Americas on Economist Impact’s policy and insights practice. He is a quantitative economist by training and has led a variety of consulting engagements across the domains of technology, critical infrastructure and finance. His areas of focus include: scenario-based estimation of the economic impact of emerging technologies, evaluation of the business case for investing in ethical AI, assessment of the role and contribution of global innovation networks, measurement of the global prevalence of online violence against women, development of technology and infrastructure-focused benchmarking tools such as the Safe Cities Index and the Global Infrascope for public-private partnerships in infrastructure, analysis of infrastructure financing costs/ volume and estimation of project construction costs across countries, sustainable financing trend analysis, and the development of a variety of macroeconomic, demographic and consumer outlook studies.

Prior to joining The Economist Group, Vaibhav gained experience in the fields of asset management (sales and trading), corporate and investment banking, and trade and economic competitiveness, working at HSBC, Rothschild (Global Financial Advisory), and the World Bank Group (IBRD), respectively.

In mid-February a fashion industry coalition announced the adoption of an inclusion rider—a contractual diversity commitment—based on a campaign that started several years ago in Hollywood. Such riders can be used by individuals in contract negotiations or adopted as hiring policies by companies. It could, advocates hope, help the industry to truly democratise access to opportunity and reward all demographic groups fairly, which it has struggled to do thus far.

 
Diversity is just one of the social challenges the fashion industry faces. Its heavy environmental footprint, from resource usage and pollution to waste, is well documented, as are the human rights abuses in its supply chain. But thankfully, creatives, start-ups, entrepreneurs and fashion giants are making meaningful steps to clean up the industry—and make it a force for good.
 
Digital technology is helping them along. Take , a campaign group formed in the aftermath of the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, when a building collapsed and killed over . The group utilises digital platforms to raise public awareness about the sector’s social impact and push the industry to improve its transparency and reporting. They reached nearly 1 million followers across multiple platforms last year, with a total reach of 569 million viewers. Their messages are often picked up and reiterated by fashion influencers on content distribution platforms, further communicating meaningful narratives to wider audiences.
 
Just as the fashion industry’s negative repercussions play out in myriad ways, opinions on how it can instead be shaped as a force for good differ. Indeed, an Economist Impact creative industries survey, based on nearly 5,000 adults in France, Germany and the UK, attests to an accelerating generational shift at play in linking creative industries to wider social challenges; a third of Gen Z respondents said that raising awareness about societal issues was the most important contribution of the creative industries to society, a higher share than either Millennials or Gen X.
 
This shift is reflected in a new generation of designers bringing values and a social mission to the sector, such as , whose work focuses on building textiles and fashion skills for disadvantaged women including those with disabilities, in drug rehabilitation and in prisons.
 
Digital innovation is also making the industry more open to new voices. Crowd-sourced design platform pioneered a co-creation model, in which designers from anywhere in the world can submit ideas that get voted into production, with profits channelled back to creators. Digital technologies allow small and medium-sized enterprises to showcase work at once-inaccessible places like London Fashion Week. And, of course, small businesses can sell directly to customers online by leveraging social media marketing, while advances in fintech make taking payments more accessible.
 
Fashion will always be a material business—but innovation, digital platforms and smart strategies can all shift consumer behaviour. That shift, if paired with measures such as regulation around labour practices and the use of hazardous substances in textile processing, can help this vibrant, creative industry clean up its past and reimagine its future.
 
To read more Economist Impact analysis about the past, present and future of the creative industries, .

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