We’re now in the midst of Fashion Revolution Week and I wanted to take a bit of time to talk about this amazing movement. If you haven’t heard of it, Fashion Revolution is an organisation that is working to change the way that we think about our clothes and the ways in which they are currently produced. Looking for greater transparency from manufacturers, Fashion Revolution encourages all of us to ask ‘Who Made My Clothes?’ by getting in touch with brands for information and becoming more conscious of our purchasing habits.
With the number of disasters and atrocities occurring across the world, it’s easy to wonder why this issue should matter. But it does. The ways in which our clothing is manufactured – and our disposable approach to our wardrobes – has created a cycle of human rights violations and environmental harm that only grows in scale each year. Many of us can recall the 2013 factory collapse in Bangladesh, in which over 1000 people were killed whilst making clothing for some of the world’s biggest brands. Fashion Revolution estimates that 75 million people are employed across the world to make our clothes, with 80% of these being 18-35 year old women.
This is an issue about which I’m incredibly passionate. My professional and academic background is in human rights and I’ve worked in a variety of contexts that have exposed me to the tremendous violations that occur to support western buying habits. Most of us are in touch with issues like blood diamonds (thanks, in large part, to Leonardo DiCaprio, of course!) but, since diamonds are relatively easy to forgo in our daily lives, changing our diamond-buying habits doesn’t challenge us to adapt in any remarkable way (although buying certified conflict-free diamonds is incredibly important and so valuable towards reducing harm perpetrated in these contexts!) . Our choices have an effect. There’s no getting away from it. But working with this knowledge doesn’t demand perfection. Acknowledging that the labour behind our clothing often promotes the most dangerous working conditions, child labour, and incredibly low wages, does not require that we all start making everything we wear. There are so many ways in which we can work consciously towards promoting fair and safe working conditions for those employed in garment-making industries across the world. We can buy from brands that conduct screening and checks of their global manufacturing facilities. We can check that brands have explicit policies on ensuring their products are free from child labour. Even sending an email to a clothing brand that you purchase from, asking them how they guarantee adequate working conditions from their manufacturers, can make a difference.
It’s unacceptable that anyone must sacrifice their dignity by working in squalid and dangerous conditions, simply so that we can spend £5 on a pair of jeans that we’ll be done with in a matter of months. And this disposability is a problem. Fashion Revolution cites that people in the US throw away 14 million tonnes of clothing a year, around 84% of which goes to landfill. So the planet will also thank you for a more conscious approach to fashion choices!
It’s all too easy to slip into apathy on these issues. After all, the scale of these kinds of problems can very quickly lead to thoughts of ‘what difference can I make, anyway?’ Believe me, I’ve been there. But if many years spent working on issues such as this has taught me anything, it’s that change and accountability truly does begin with our own choices. I spent years working in depth on places that had experienced some of the most unimaginable human rights atrocities – from genocide to child soldier recruitment. As inexplicably horrendous as these events are and were, I maintain that the gravest atrocities facing us are those that are practiced as the most insidious and globally-accepted. This has everything to do with the industries that we support – such as garment making and electronics – and the violence that is practiced daily against both people and planet. It’s not our fault that we’re party to this. A great genius of global industries is their ability to point us away from the problematic and divert our attention through convenient and on-trend products. But, when something sits with us as not quite right, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves and do what we can – whether this is sending emails, making different choices in our buying habits, or spreading our knowledge to those around us.
There’s no getting away from the fact that we are global citizens. We reap so many amazing benefits from this position without even realising it – travel, food, and products. Working with Fashion Revolution and helping to promote their cause is just one way in which we can help to give back on this. So head over to Fashion Revolution’s site or join everyone (including me!) on Instagram, asking major brands ‘Who Made My Clothes?’