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Fashion Revolution Week: #whomademyclothes?

‘Who made this’ isn’t the first thought that pops into mind when shopping. Usually the thought process is fit, colour, suitability, affordability or just because it is has been one of those days and that cute little red jumper will cheer me up. The social enterprise, Fashion Revolution , are campaigning to raise awareness of our thought processes when shop so we consider ‘who made my clothes?’, where they come from and the thousands of processes that have taken place before our purchases hang in our wardrobes. Fashion Revolution was created by people working in the fashion industry following the Rana Plaza disaster in April 2013. The building in Bangladesh, collapsed killing 1138 people, most of whom were garment workers. The disaster highlighted the conditions many people across the world are working in to produce cheap clothes for the high streets in the West.

‘It is the retailers fault for demanding cheap prices’ is one chain of thought. Having worked in retail head offices for three large UK high street companies I know the issue is more complex than this. All the companies I worked for had stringent rules such as no child labour and the manufacturer was required to pay a minimum wage. They had teams of buyers and quality assurance managers who would visit the factory several times a year to enforce these checks. But the risk is the buyers and QA teams are only shown the best factories and not shown where the work might be sub-contracted to, perhaps smaller, less ethical factories. However the retailer is not fault free and the low price they demand leads to the manufacturer having to resort to other measures.

As a customer, we are not an innocent party. The UK high street is one of the cheapest places in the world to buy apparel. We demand lower prices and the stores seem to be constantly on sale. We have a powerful role to play in improving working conditions for the people who make our clothes. Fashion Revolution are asking us to campaign to our favourite high street stores and ask them to reveal their supply chain and tell us about the people who are making our clothes. Head over to their website to find out how to get involved. Supply chain transparency is key in preventing future disasters and improving the lives of textile workers around the world.

Back in February I attended a discussion panel as part of the Sustainable Living Festival in Melbourne. The panel discussed ethical fashion from the water and pesticides required to grow cotton through to the billions of tons of clothes that are being thrown into landfill. I wrote an article on the outcomes of the discussion for award winning Pebble Magazine. Read the article here and and pick up tips on how to reduce the fashion waste problem. There were two big messages I took away from the festival in Melbourne: Fashion supply chains are complex and it is going to take years to get it right. So as a customer, I need to decide what values are most important to me when buying clothes. When I started an earlier version of this blog I created a list of values that were most important to me when going shopping. I’ve posted the original below as I think it is still valid several years later. Of course, not every product is going to tick every box but three or four would start to make a difference against fast fashion.

The second take away from the panel was the importance of buying second hand or vintage clothing. It might take longer to find the right style and size but with a bit of extra effort it prevents waste. A thought goes out to the people who made it and knowing that I am giving their hard work a new lease of life. The Ellen McCarthur Foundation report ‘A new textiles economy: Redesigning fashion’s future’ recommends by just wearing clothes for longer is the ‘most powerful way to capture value, reduce pressure on resources and decrease negative impact’.

Fashion Revolution week runs all this week. You can find out more about their campaign and how to get involved here.

Coming up on the blog this week I will be talking to Nadien Klages who makes clothes for children from jeans and shirts worn by the children’s parents. I’ll also be talking to super crafter and upcycler Barley Massey who founded Fabrications in Hackney.

At the Sustainable Living Festival I took part in a fun workshop on how to refashion a man’s shirt into a dress or skirt. Barley teaches similar courses in Hackney on how to re-work your clothes. Or get in touch if you are interested in joining a craft group in Bow, East London.