3 Questions for Olivia Grégoire
Secretary of State for the Social, Inclusive, and Responsible Economy

In connection with the latest edition of the Fédération Magazine (available soon in trade shows, showrooms, and selected Parisian boutiques), the Secretary of State for the Social, Inclusive, and Responsible Economy met with Pierre-François Le Louët, President of the Fédération Française du Prêt à Porter Féminin. Olivia Grégoire, who is committed to social and environmental responsibility, gender equality, and healthy representations of women’s bodies, shares her thoughts on just some of the topics covered in that wide-ranging conversation. 

What is responsible fashion today? 

It’s fashion that goes beyond an environmental orientation, which is necessary but insufficient. So it’s fashion that, as well as managing its carbon footprint, integrates social and gender equality issues when decisions are made. The big challenge for fashion in the coming months is to become an industry that’s more vigilant about its entire value chain and that guarantees suppliers ensure the fair treatment and basic human rights of the men and women who work for them. 

France will carry out this mission during its presidency of the European Union. These ideas may seem obvious for some, but if that were true, the 2017 law passed on the matter would not have been necessary. For made-in-France companies, this law is a great advantage since it acknowledges their adherence to these key social values, and that can be a huge competitive edge. Now Europe must take a stand and set up a comprehensive support system for fashion businesses instead of a strategy based on punishment. 

Have some values already evolved in the right direction? 

Yes! We’ve taken giant steps in diversity. Female stereotypes have especially evolved. Around 15 or 20 years ago, a size 38 was considered to be for heavy women. That has changed thanks to impetus from brands who started showing normal women, without judging their skin colour or curves. There is, of course, still work to be done here; thinness remains a reference, but we’ve opened some doors. In addition, models no longer meet these “norms”, the exceptions are put in the spotlight and celebrated, as if being different was good luck. That’s healthy, and it also gives hope to young people. 

However, I also observe a growing use of cosmetic surgery. That worries me. Inexpensive operations done outside of France are a health problem. And what does it say about self-worth if women see themselves as a rough draft that has to be corrected? Another danger is that some films have budgets of hundreds of thousands of euros to alter women’s bodies and show physiques that don’t exist. 

This misrepresentation of bodies is something you’ve fought for a long time … 

That’s true, I called the subject to the attention of former Health Minister Xavier Bertrand, for whom I worked for several years. In his cabinet I had a certain amount of freedom to take on topics that were not, strictly speaking, medical. That was during the years when thinness was the ultimate goal. As a woman, it worried me to watch 20-year-old women eat nothing when we went to a restaurant or eat too much and then leave the table. Anorexia and bulimia are chronic illnesses that remain taboo, though not as much as during that time. One of my regrets is that this battle was not taken up by parliament members – they didn’t have an emotional connection to this threat to women’s bodies, while Xavier Bertrand and I really wanted to sound the alarm on the way the model industry functions.