As many of you will be aware, the last week in April was Fashion Revolution Week, a global campaign calling for more transparency in fashion supply chains.
Fashion Revolution was set up by designers Cary Somers and Orsola de Castro, in direct response to the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in Bangladesh on 24th April 2013. The collapse killed 1,134 people and injured 2,500 others and highlighted to the world the low wages and dangerous working conditions suffered by garment workers in India.
Clothing supply chains are complex and can involve many countries and many phases of textile production. The Rana Plaza collapse made headline news, but for every ‘newsworthy’ story there are hundreds of other stories of poverty and abuse of workers within the fashion and clothing industry. And unacceptable working conditions and ‘slave labour’ exist, not just in the developing world but in parts of Europe too.
The team behind Fashion Revolution Week organised many activites worldwide including hosting ‘open studios’ inviting people into the workshops of Stella McCartney, Vivenne Westwood, Eileen Fisher, Veja and others who are happy to submit their processes to public scrutiny.
Their aim is a Three-Fold Change –
a. Change the Model, ie the way clothing is produced and consumed.
b. Change the Material – chemicals used in growing, dyeing and cleaning fabric are polluting rivers worldwide; tonnes of clothing is being taken to landfill every year; and through increasing mass production we are in danger of losing artisanal craftsmanship and human skills. In addition, according to the Carbon Trust clothing accounts for around 3% of the global production of CO2 emissions.
c. Change the Mindset of the consumer.
Fashion Revolution’s campaign #whomademyclothes, is one way of encouraging a change in mindset. The campaign has been trending on social media for some time now and in 2017, over 100,000 people asked brands this question. Putting a name and a face to the production of clothing is helping to humanise this fundamental part of the supply chain.
This year, Fashion Revolution has also launched its Manifesto in parliament – a 10-point plan for a cleaner, safer fashion industry. It calls for success in the fashion industry to be measured by more than just profits. See further: www.fashionrevolution.org/manifesto
So What Can We Do? How Can we make socially responsible clothing choices?
Well, for a start it really doesn’t make any difference how much you pay for your clothes. Most fashion brands from high street chains to luxury brands employ the same factories.
An intelligent choice will aim to reduce the demand for clothing made by people in unacceptable working conditions.
In re-thinking our shopping habits, it might help to consider the following:-
1. learn as much as you can about your favourite brand. It is increasingly easy to access information about the production of clothing for well-known brands, whether through the press or through social media and online searches. Nonprofit organizations, some clothing lines, and the general public are all calling for increased transparency in production. See for example Fair Wear Foundation. and Labour Behind The Label.
2. Look for ‘fairtrade’ ranges. I know, this term used to apply only to food and drink. But more and more clothing brands are introducing ethically produced lines to their collections. There are many examples now on the high street, including Mango Committed, and Zara Join Life. And take a look at, for example, the EthicalCollection online – a great range of sustainably produced clothes and accessories.
3. consider buying from companies that are involved in rehabilitation of workers and employment of disadvantaged local population. Although these items often cost more than mass produced clothes and accessories, in my opinion it is definitely money well-spent!
4. look at your own shopping habits…. reduce, reuse, recycle; avoid fast-fashion as much as possible; and ‘Wear your Wardrobe’.
My own project – the Re-Worked Wardrobe – is my small, initial contribution to this fashion revolution. I aim to wear the clothes I have, and re-work and re-style everything as much as possible. Having studied corporate waste management and practised environmental law for several years, I began the the Project focusing on the lifecycle of clothing, and thinking about recycling and waste. However, as the project evolves, increasingly I am thinking about where and how clothing is produced.
I am trying to follow the ‘Buy Less Shop Wisely’ mantra, only buying things I love and that I will really wear, and moving as far away as possible from the concept of Fast Fashion. The more we love and appreciate the clotbing we buy, the more we will care for it and the longer our Wardrobes will last.