Challenging feminism and fashion are at the heart of Courtney Sanders's life. She is Editor in Chief at Catalogue, an online magazine dedicated to contemporary feminism, and co-founded Well Made Clothes, an online store dedicated to like-minded ethical and sustainable brands.

Story photographed by Hannah Roche.

Kowtow Essay Eleanor

What does feminism mean to you?

The overthrow of patriarchal political and social structures in favour of gender equal political and social organisation. In lieu of that, and for starters, basic human rights, healthcare, and reproductive rights for women, worldwide, would be nice.

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What is your biggest focus within the movement toward gender equality?

There are a lot, but I would like people to start taking fashion and the fashion industry seriously when it comes to gender equality. I think we tend to think of the fashion industry as frivolous or fantastical, but for women in the developed world the semiotics of clothes affect our entire lives, and for female garment workers in the developing world, women's rights really are human rights issues. I think if we could reframe the fashion industry to be taken more seriously, we could reframe these issues as serious issues which need to be tackled within the fashion industry and within society more generally.

Kowtow Essay courtney

How can society use fashion to create a positive social change?

I got into the fashion industry and started to consider the impact of the fashion industry supply chain, through women's rights, because I was writing about fashion and I started to realise the huge impact it has on women. The semiotics of clothes affect our entire lives: in the developed world, the fashion industry and fashion media combine to prescribe a very narrow – both literally and figuratively – ‘ideal woman’. In the developing world, 75% of garment workers are women, so how fashion industry workers are treated directly affects women’s rights. In order to start to change the way the fashion industry affects women for the better, I think we need to be actively unpacking, understanding, and 'mainstreaming' the idea that the fashion industry currently has a negative effect on women, so the more information – news, features, studies, think pieces – I see out there about this stuff, the better!

Kowtow Essay courtney

What do you wish more people knew about the fashion industry?

The fashion industry supply chain, from seed to retail floor, is incredibly complex, and it's impossible for people, particularly people who don't work in fashion or don't have an understanding of the fashion industry, to unpack and understand it all. In saying this, I would like people to understand the fashion industry enough to know there are big problems, to know their clothing purchasing decisions have environmental and human impacts, to think about what values are important to them, and to think about those values – and ask questions of clothing brands around these values – when buying clothes.

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How do you think fashion can change the world?

The answer to this question needs a book! It's the second-most polluting industry in the world and is responsible for countless human right's violations, so changes in many parts of the fashion industry supply chain have the potential to make the world a better place. I think the best piece of advice, for starters, is that quote from Vivienne Westwood: "buy less, choose well, make it last". Let's try reduce the strain on resources – both natural and human – by buying less stuff (which will hopefully force fashion companies to produce less stuff).

Kowtow Essay courtney

What makes you happy?

A really healthy debate about politics or feminism where both people walk away genuinely respectful and hopefully inspired by the other person's opinion.

What is the best part of your day?

I actually really enjoy going for a run on Thursdays because Slate Magazine's Political Gabfest Podcast has come out, and it is my favourite Podcast, and I am obsessed with Podcasts, so I just put my headphones in, get outside, and spend the next 40 minutes listening to the dulcet tones of David Plotz, Emily Bazelon and John Dickerson discussing the Trump Presidency.

What does sustainability mean to you?

Reducing one's environmental impact. Because it's where I have the most knowledge and experience, I mostly try to do this via the fashion choices I make.

Read Courtney's Catalogue and Well Made Clothes.

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