Fashion “colonialism”: How I overlooked “red flags”

By Miguel Angel Gardetti*

Foundation of Higher Education and Research (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

As stated in RCDF Newsletter 2022-4, the “Dialogue Between Fashion, Design, Gender and Decoloniality” held on 24 September, 2022, gathered onsite 40 textile and fashion students and designers from Buenos Aires (Argentina).  The activity was based on questions and cross examination between María Eugenia Polesello -decolonial feminist and environmentalist- and Miguel Angel Gardetti -decolonial academic who is taking his first steps in the design and fashion world.  The main idea was that both design and fashion -as well as their growth itself- are presented as a manifestation of a process of anthropocentric civilisation, within a capitalist culture (capitalist understood as material possessions) that has become global, reductionist, colonial, imperialist and racist, of which the fashion system functions as one of its main instruments of exploitation.  

But this is not new.  There were red flags, even in the private sector.  Let us go back in time with a few examples[1].  Sombart (1902) said that “Fashion has been regarded as the favourite child of capitalism.”  Later, in 1971, Papenek encouraged designers “to go beyond this system, to stop replicating capitalist models and to embrace more responsible and insightful approaches.”  In 2004, Anita Roddick -founder and CEO of The Body Shop in the early days- stated that “We must look for leaders where we least imagine we’ll find them.  Let’s look for solutions in the foundations, in NGOs, in alternative media.”  Kate Fletcher (2015:18) also argues that “Fashion is consumption, materialism, commercialisation and marketing.”  And this has clearly an impact not only on the environment, but also on people involved in the production process of textile and clothing, either fashionable items or not.  And as to design?  Along this line, Arturo Escobar (2016:39) challenges us, “Can design be extricated from its embeddedness in modernist unsustainable and defuturing practices and redirected toward other ontological commitments, practices, narratives, and performances?  Moreover, could design become part of the tool kit for transitions toward the pluriverse[2]?

The Centro Textil Sustentable [Centre for Sustainable Textile], which belongs to the Foundation of Higher Education and Research, currently offers an online programme titled “Ecofeminist Analysis of Fashion: Obstacles, Voices, and Debates.”  This programme wonders how to address work in fashion and textiles from an ecofeminist perspective.  Vandana Shiva and María Mies (2015) show ecofeminism as both a powerful school of thought and a social movement that combines environmentalism and feminism.  It is a philosophy and an activism-related practice that argues that the western economic and cultural model “was built upon” and is still built upon and supported by the colonisation of women, nature, and “foreign” peoples and their lands.  In short, Shiva and Mies encourage us to think on the basis of a decolonial approach, which would help us broaden our thoughts beyond “core” horizons –i.e., those derived from colonialised knowledge and thinking.

In the introduction to the book -in Spanish- “América Latina Alternativa: la voz que el diseño y la moda no escucha” [The Alternate Latin America: the Voice that Design and Fashion Fail to Listen to] to be presented next 13 March, I wrote:

“I have always taught that continuous learning was the path to sustainability.  I have also taught that sustainability is a function of knowledge.  Then I began to wonder why the sustainability process in the textile and fashion industry was very slow.  More than very slow.  Thanks to many people who have been making me wonder and raised many questions, and the opportunity I had to listen to usually unheard people, in a process that has taken almost five years now, I have learnt that if we fail to analyse fashion and textile colonial bases, as well as the economic bases of sustainable development to create new ways of living that integrate the human being in nature, it will be difficult -if not impossible- to overcome our current crisis of civilisation.”

I have been frustrated with the fashion and design sustainability movement for some time now because it fails to recognise the deeper issues at stake.  It fails to consider what the real “problem” is and, besides, I am disappointed because the sustainability movement is a Eurocentric western response to a colonial system.  However, I am to blame for much of my frustration since I overlooked the “red flags.” 

My wish is to follow what Erica de Greef mentioned as the primary purpose of the Global Fashioning Assembly (GFA, 2022) “The possibility to resist the singularity of the Eurocentric fashion canon; to refuse to teach, speak, support the dominant narrative; and to regenerate diversity and cultural complexity.”  Therefore, next 3 April, I will begin teaching an online graduate seminar titled: “Why is it necessary to decolonise textile, clothing and fashion design?,” at the National University of Córdoba –one of the most prestigious universities in Argentina.  Textile, clothing and fashion design theory, practice and pedagogy at large do not aim at offering the knowledge and understanding required to address long-standing systemic power issues.  Hence it is necessary to sharpen our focus on the non-western ways of thinking and being –most of which were/are sustainable.  All textile, clothing and fashion design efforts must aim at the fundamental imperative of decolonisation to rescue those views of the world and knowledge that are either vanishing into thin air or marginalised by society.


Escobar A. (2016).  Autonomía y diseño – La realización de lo comunal. Popayán, Editorial Universidad del Cauca.

Fletcher K (2015).  Other fashion systems.  In K Fletcher and M Tham, Routledge Handbook of Sustainability and Fashion. New York, Roudledge, p. 15-24.

Papenek V (1971).  Design for the real world: human ecology and social change.  New York, Pantheon Books.

Roddick A (2004). Bienvenida. Video para el Programa en Negocios Responsables organizado por el Instituto de Estudios para la Sustentabilidad Corporativa. Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Shiva V and Mies M (2015). Ecofeminismo: teoría, crítica y perspectivas. Pcia. de Buenos Aires, Argentina, Econautas e Icaria Editorial.

Sombart, W (1902) Wirthschaft und Mode: Ein Beitrag zur Theorie der Modernen, Bedarfsgestaltung. Loewenfeld, L. & Kurella, H. (ed.) Band XII. von: Grenzfrage des Nerven- und Seelenlebens. Verlag von J.F. Bergmann, Wiesbaden, p. 23.

About the author

Miguel Angel Gardetti, Ph.D. is the founder and President of Fundación de Estudios e Investigaciones Superiores [Foundation of Higher Education and Research]. The Foundation was to carry out studies and research work that would contribute to sustainability. To achieve this first objective, this Foundation created the Instituto de Estudios para la Sustentabilidad Corporativa [Center for Study of Corporate Sustainability] which has eventually become a local and international academic benchmark in this field. Within the framework of the Center for Study of Corporate Sustainability, the Foundation created the Centro Textil Sustentable [Center for Sustainable Textile] (2008) and the Centro de Estudios para el Lujo Sustentable [Center for Study of Sustainable Luxury] (late 2009) in order to promote sustainability in those sectors of the economy.

At present, the Foundation is focused on decolonising both research and the academia regarding design, textiles, fashion and luxury. The Foundation also promotes moving away from the sustainable development ideology to help people create their own, more suitable, and resilient work environment to face the crisis of civilisation and to promote community wellbeing. For all these reasons, the Fundación de Estudios e Investigaciones Superiores has created the imprint “Otra-Otro” [The Other].

[1] My apologies if I do not mention some other major alerts.

[2] A world where many worlds fit (Escobar 2016:39)


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