The necessity of criticising fashion

By Holly Bell Beaton

For today’s article, we are so thrilled to share with you our first guest feature on cnscs_by our dear friend Holly Bell Beaton. Holly is a brilliant writer and her written, visual, and creative practice focusses on interrogating the imposed structures of society across multiple creative disciplines in fashion, philosophy, art, music and ecology. Her love for fashion is pursued through reasserting it as an expression of human essence, rather than as a commercial entity of environmental and social violence. Holly is originally from Sweden and her indigenous Sámi heritage is central in much of her work as she explores the process of re-indigenising European culture within a context that is authentic and earnest.

We have always admired how Holly so delicately captures worlds, feelings, and nuanced uncertainties with her words, and so we are honoured to share this written piece, on the necessity of criticising fashion, with you. We wanted to share this piece, because reading it made us feel more comforted in the complex and often contradictory feelings we often feel about the fashion industry and “sustainable” fashion. We are complex beings and we can exist with contradictions within us. What remains important is that we develop a critical eye, without losing our sense of hope. If you have ever felt the same, we hope this helps you feel a little less alone.

I hate to admit it, because it really is my first love and passion, but “fashion” – or at least the industry, is insidiously compelling me towards a stark existential crisis. It is saturated with greed and cognitive dissonance; it feels unnecessary, devoid of anima and fraught with excess; at what cost does “expression” begin to transcend the notion that we are bound by finite resources, on a shaking, aching planet – under the weight of corporate and capitalistic narcissism? I have found no pleasure in writing about fashion recently, my words feel rinsed through a cycle of illusion and delusion; waning against the backdrop of any semblance of hope in the current systemic structures at play.

I don’t know if there will ever be a place for critical thinking in this space; let alone a revolution worth its purpose. That being said, I respect the art form fashion can embody – the intricacies of creating, weaving, and stitching together dreamscapes, but sustainable fashion? Sustaining what, exactly? These are the things I am asking myself, and finding it very hard to establish any meaningful answers.

In conversations with cnscs_ co-founder Masego Morgan, I find solace in knowing I am not alone in this thinking – and that through connection and communication, I can hopefully prevent the onset of a jaded, cynical view. It was only recently that I found fashion stimulating and invigorating with every fiber of my being; perhaps naively so, as my younger days have always been tempered by an unwavering hope and faith in the ingenuity of human beings. Masego pointed out that perhaps this is a threshold of sorts – a transformation in the critical faculties we both feel grateful to have. Although I am having a hard time reconciling any meaningful solutions – I will have to, for my own survival in this world and industry, compel myself towards a navigable strategy. I wonder if I can hold two opposing dialogues in my mind; the opposition of my values marred against the quality of the fashion industry’s draconian, exploitive structures.

I thought I could write away my opinions and perspectives and channel some level of contribution towards having an active voice. Perhaps there is another path out there for me. I don’t know, really, but what I feel to be true is that engaging with critical thinking is perhaps our best chance at arriving in the future with some level of certainty. Perhaps this realism currently pumping through my veins is a push to refine my purpose – which I always believe was tied up in fashion, but maybe it is the rude awakening from inside that the gilded cage from which I draw these conclusions. I suppose we never really know where any of this is going; and my dissatisfaction with systemic institutions might be blurring my engagement with individuals on the ground who are exemplifying what fashion can be – designers such as Lukhanyo Mdingi and Thebe Magugu that are creating landscapes in which culture and art thrive under the container of fashion.

I suppose, what I am getting at, is that in order to establish an authentic relationship with the systems we engage in; there needs to be a semblance of critical ideation and development. We cannot merely accept excess and waste as the reality of our actions; there is simply too much at stake, least not our own survival on the planet. Although I am grappling with the belly of the beast that is over-production and over-consumption, a part of me will remain steadfast in holding hope for a heart-centered, awakened approach on the part of humans to make insurmountable changes in our habits. I want to thank Stella and Masego for holding this space; it is so crucial – to be held by values, and strive towards ethical narratives in this wild, wild world.


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