Do you have a passion for fashion journalism but don't know where to start? Or want to know the role of the British legal system within fashion ethics and sustainability? Olivia Pinnock is a freelance fashion journalist, copywriter and founder of The Fashion Debates. She is a true advocate for fashion ethics and sustainability within the fashion industry which has led her to launch The Fashion Debates. We caught up with Olivia to learn more about fashion journalism, fashion ethics and her new venture. 

TFLC: How did you get into fashion journalism? 

OLIVIA: I have wanted to be a journalist since I was 12. I studied for a degree in journalism at university and while I was there, started reading fashion magazines and became very fascinated with the whole world of it. I started my own blog as well as writing for online magazines and local lifestyle titles and that landed me a job straight out of uni. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

TFLC: Give us a typical day as Olivia the fashion journalist

OLIVIA: Well I have to juggle a lot of different clients and deadlines so at the beginning of the week I make a plan of everything I need to get done and on which days. So I head into my office in Soho, check what’s on my plan for the day and get cracking. I sometimes have interviews to conduct, either on the phone/Skype or in person, but other than that it’s a lot of being chained to my desk and getting writing. I work as a copywriter as well so I write quite a mixture of things which keeps things varied. Sometimes I’m writing articles or blogs but other times I’m writing the ‘about us’ section for a new fashion brand’s website, or a big batch of product descriptions for an ecommerce website. In the evenings I often head out to industry events, talks, and launches.

TFLC: You've recently embarked on a new venture called The Fashion Debates. What is The Fashion Debates about and what inspired you to start this new venture? 

OLIVIA: The Fashion Debates is a series of panel discussion evenings which explore all sorts of ethical issues in the fashion industry. The aim is to provide an open space to discuss these things, which often go unspoken about, and inspire people to do something about them. Our first debate looked at sweatshop labour and our third debate, which is on 18th September, is a discussion around modelling health laws. I’ve always been interested in these issues. I love fashion, that’s why I’ve chosen to work in it, but it has some major problems that need to be addressed. A lot of people at the top wipe their hands of it but there are a lot of other people who really, really care about it and have the potential to hold the people at the top to account. Whether that’s sweatshop labour, or pollution, or unpaid internships, or a lack of diversity amongst models. I believe that a more ethical industry is really the future of fashion. I was tired of feeling very powerless in these issues and I found that there were a handful of events discussing ethical fashion but they were one offs and they tackled ‘sustainable fashion’ as one huge issue which is hard to swallow and can leave you feeling pretty deflated. I wanted to create a series, which managed it in smaller chunks and finished on a positive note to inspire and empower people.


TFLC: Fashion Law involves fashion ethics and sustainability within the fashion industry and one of the key problems that has become a huge concern is 'sweatshops'. What are some of the main issues surrounding sweatshops that big brands such as Primark and H&M, need to tackle? 

OLIVIA: If I were to simplify it (because it’s an enormous and very complex issue that I could write you an essay on) I would say the two main problems are transparency and regulation. Production is outsourced and a lot of the time, sourcing production is outsourced for major brands too. That means, brands don’t know who is making our clothes and if they don’t know that, they don’t know what conditions they’re being made under. It also allows them to wipe their hands of any wrongdoing on their part. They have to start taking accountability. Regulation is also a major issue. Even when factories are inspected, these inspections often miss major ongoing concerns. This could include things such as violence or sexual assault towards garment workers, something which you’re never going to spot if you come in for a couple of days a year to check health and safety procedures. We need to work with the governments in these countries to put legislation in place, something which can be difficult because many government officials are factory owners, and with the workers themselves, who can often be punished, fired or even killed for joining unions.   

TFLC:  In what ways could British fashion brands and labels put an end to sweatshops? How can the British legal system be used to put an end or even reduce these problems? 

OLIVIA: I think the first step is taking accountability. I think we need to put pressures on the retailers who need to put pressures on the factories to do better. I think they need to show factories they are serious about producing ethically by threatening to take away their contract with the factory if they are found to be mistreating their workers. Hit people in the money, that’s the way to make a difference!

I think working with the British legal system to make these changes will be a challenge as the victims in this scenario are not British citizens 90% of the time. However, I would like to see them introduce fines for British businesses who are found to be giving business to sweatshops. In order to do that, they need to ask all businesses to publish their suppliers, this way we’ll have better transparency.

I think the British government also needs to be made aware of the issues faced by British factories and the conditions of the workers behind some ‘Made in UK’ labels. That’s something they can definitely do something about.    

TFLC: What's next for The Fashion Debates in the future? 

OLIVIA: Well, as I mentioned, our next debate ‘Should the UK Introduce A Model-Health Law?’ is on 18th September at Century in Soho, London. In the future I’m hoping to hold discussions around unpaid internships, environmental pollution, disability exclusion in fashion, tax evasion… there are so many topics I want to cover! In the future I’d also like our website to become a hub for fashion activism and provide a list of practical resources where people can be a part of the solution to some of these problems. We’ve had a fantastic response to The Fashion Debates so far and I really think it has the ability to grow into something exciting.   

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