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Behind every garment in your closet, there is a human being somewhere in the world who made it. And in many cases this human being lives in extreme poverty, is unable to provide for himself and his family, faces a lack of basic rights to education, safety and medicine. Read the interview with the coordinator of the Fashion Revolution and learn more about how to wear the clearest conscience on your sleeve.
What was the idea behind the Fashion Revolution movement?
It all started after the collapse of the Rana Plaza building. Approximately 75 million people work to make our clothes and most of them live in poverty, unable to afford life's basic necessities. Many are subject to exploitation, physical and verbal abuse, working in dirty and unsafe conditions, with very little pay. The way our clothes are made, sourced and consumed makes fashion the second biggest polluter globally right after the oil industry.
At the moment, most of the world lives in a capitalist economy. This means companies must increase sales growth and make profits in order to succeed – but it cannot be at the cost of peoples' lives, working conditions, health, dignity, creativity, or at the cost of our natural environment and resources.
What actions should be taken globally to minimise the ethical and eco-imprint of the fashion industry?
In order to achieve change, there are three key things that need to be changed:
First is the model – in the last 25-30 years, production and consumption have been dramatically speeding up, apparel companies have seen rising costs, driven by rising labour, raw material and energy prices. Yet, despite the higher cost of making clothes, the price we pay for our clothing is cheaper than ever before. This system isn't working. Fashion Revolution believes that the whole fashion industry needs a radical shift and the way we produce and consume clothes needs to be transformed.
Second is the material (people & planet) – first of all, we need to ensure people who make our clothes have basic health care and safety measures as much as paying them a salary they can live on. Secondly, our clothes have a devastating environmental impact too. The chemicals used to grow, dye, launder and treat our clothes end up polluting rivers. A huge amount of water is used to produce clothes through growing cotton and wet processing, such as dyeing and laundering. And finally, clothing accounts for around 3% of global production of CO2 emissions, according to The Carbon Trust.
Third is the mindset – as a society we purchase 400% more clothing than two decades ago. We buy more and wear less than ever before. We need to realise the true cost of our cheap bargains. The best thing we can do is buy fewer, better things and keep asking questions about the realities of what we're purchasing. We need to love our clothes we already have and care more to make them last. Mindsets are beginning to shift. This is evidenced by the large number of people who have been involved with Fashion Revolution over the last 4 years. More than 65% of consumers actively seek out sustainable fashion.
Why should we all use the hashtag #whomademyclothes?
In order to make the fashion industry accountable and sustainable, we first need to make it transparent. And it starts with one simple question: Who made my clothes? We believe this simple question gets people thinking differently about what they wear. We deserve to know who makes our clothes, under what conditions and what it does to the environment we all live in. When we speak, the brands and governments listen. People take selfies with their favourite clothes showing the label, tagging the brand and asking this simple but powerful question by using our global hashtag.
Some brands won't listen at all, some might tell you where your clothes were made but not who made them. This is not good enough. Keep asking until you get right down to the factory where your garment was made or even the name of the person who made it. If a brand doesn't respond, keep asking. Our power is in persistence. The more people who keep asking #whomademyclothes, the more brands will listen and act.
Many people are worried that boycotting a brand could lead to a cut of resources for the entire population. But is the Fashion Revolution really a story about boycotting?
Fashion Revolution definitely is not about boycotting brands. Fashion is one of the biggest industries in the world and we cannot turn our backs on this. Fashion Revolution doesn't boycott all of those millions of people who make our clothes, their creativity and amazing hand-work that we`ve forgotten to appreciate. We need fashion, as clothes are the most universal and intimate among all objects of design. Clothing is like our second skin – through our favourite garments we express ourselves and show the world who we are, how we feel and what we like. This is why we need to make sure that these clothes are good quality, made by people who have access to good working conditions, clean water, health care, education and are paid well. We also need to make sure that our clothes don't pollute water, soil and the air we breathe, as well as our own health.
When we say fast fashion, we usually mean high-street brands. But we`ve heard of cases when a T-shirt selling for 9 euros is made in the same factory and with the same fabrics as a garment selling for 190 euros. Is luxury fashion really that clean and ‘slow’ just because we pay a bit more for it?
High price clothing is no guarantee of ethical practices because of the lack of the internal supply chain. Many luxury brands still outsource a significant portion of production overseas, to the same factories used by their mass market counterparts. For example, workers who produce clothes for fast-fashion brands such as Tesco and Primark, also make clothes for Versace, Armani, Gucci and Max Mara. Most so-called luxury fashion companies put profit ahead of quality and design and as a result, we're sold a dubiously manufactured product at an exorbitant price. When it comes to brands in major groups, the sole motivating factor is profit. Even if the brands use higher quality materials, many of them still use cheap labour or child labour.
Following trends usually means buying a new capsule wardrobe at least twice a year. Do you have any recommendations on how not to sacrifice the hunger for fashion while still being a responsible consumer?
People should take a few steps back to look at their wardrobes and ask – do I really like this garment? Do I feel good about it? Do I have anything to wear with it? A great first step is to organise your wardrobe and see what you have. Most of the time we randomly buy new things when we already have similar garments that we forgot about. Since our closet is like our home, it is a direct reflection of our mental state.
The next step is to shop smart and it starts with understanding what we're buying and who we're buying it from. It is the most important change we can make as responsible fashion consumers. Do your online research, find out who your producer is, how your garment is manufactured and most important – where it is manufactured. Anyone should make an effort to seek out and be ready to pay a little more for garments that take time and skill to construct, use better quality materials and are made under good working conditions for workers, as well as with low environmental impact.
Instead of having too many clothes, the capsule wardrobe is the answer that I practice myself as well. The idea is to have fewer garments that can be easily combined. You feel comfortable in them, build your personal style and care more for them. Loved clothes last!
And finally, be a leader! The easiest way for us to bring change is to be an example for others. Imagine if you can influence five people around you and those five individuals do the same – that's how real change occurs. All you have to do is start walking.
As long as we keep encouraging brands and people to move towards more responsible and sustainable production and consumption, we will make fashion ethical. We need to continue to educate people all around the world on how their choices affect other people and the planet because awareness helps the desire for transparency from fashion companies to grow.
Fashion Revolution Transparency Index 2018 data proves that fashion brands can become more open to their production processes and practices when people push them to answer one simple question – where their products are made. The Top10 brands this year who lead the path towards greater transparency amongst the major corporate players are Adidas, Reebok, Puma, H&M, Esprit, Banana Republic, Gap, Old Navy, C&A and Marks & Spencer. Out of 250 possible points that Fashion Revolution converted into percentages these brands are in the 51-60% range (Adidas and Reebok score the highest – 58%), which is the highest score that any brand has ranked in the Transparency Index than ever before. It is not even half-way to where we want to see the brands, but this shows that we're moving towards change. This is just the beginning and we can't stop pushing brands, so let’s see how ethical the major brands and retailers will become!