Letter to the future | Amber Butchart

Inspirational words from a fashion historian

To keep spirits high and creativity strong, Polimoda has asked its community of fashion industry experts to write about the future.

When asked what we can expect from the future during this time of global crisis, I am as powerless to answer as anyone. But I can outline my hopes. What I am hoping for is that the current tragedy provides us with a possibility of change. Not to go back to "business as usual," but to redefine our economic systems and our priorities on a global scale.

I would like to see a reduction in the searing inequality that has characterized the last decade, and a realignment of political ideals away from the nationalist rhetoric that has consumed parts of the world (including where I live in the UK, through the disaster that is Brexit). A deadly pandemic does not respect borders, and we should be more generous with ours. Sharing, community, creativity and communication will get us through this crisis. Isolationism will not.

I would like to see global state policies shift in favour of combating climate change. We have an opportunity to do this, and to ignore it will see catastrophe greater than even this pandemic. At the end of last year I wrote about the last decade in fashion for Frieze, and how the environment, the legacy of the financial crisis and the rise of Silicon Valley have impacted our wardrobes. I would like to see climate concerns governing the future of the fashion industry.

Sustainability and ethical responsibility should be at the heart of every decision made, from design and manufacture to marketing and PR. Not as a fad or trend but baked into the very concept of how we clothe ourselves. An end to the giddy consumerism of fast fashion, and the opening up of a more mindful approach to dressing.

I recommend reading Rebecca Solnit’s essay on how disasters can bring positive change. Now is a time of grief, but it can also be a time of hope.

Amber Butchart

Fashion historian, author and broadcaster

Amber Butchart is a fashion historian, author and broadcaster who specializes in the historical intersections between dress, politics and culture. She is a former Research Fellow at the University of the Arts London, and is a regular public lecturer at the UK’s leading institutions from the Tate to the V&A, and as far afield as Dubai and Hangzhou. Amber is a National Crime Agency External Advisor as well as a Consultant Forensic Garment Analyst, working on cases that require investigation of clothing and textiles. She also researches and presents documentaries for the BBC, including the six-part series A Stitch in Time for BBC Four that fused biography, art and the history of fashion to explore the lives of historical figures through the clothes they wore. Her publications include The Fashion of Film, Nautical Chic, a history of British fashion illustration for the British Library and her latest book, The Fashion Chronicles: Style Stories of History’s Best Dressed.