As you may have seen in the news and/or on Instagram and Twitter, it is the 3rd anniversary tomorrow of when the Rana Plaza Complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed, killing 1,134 and injuring over 2,500 more. This unfortunate incident has sparked a revolution in the Fashion World, as it turned out this factory was producing garments for various clothing retailers, well known for their fast fashion. The revolution aims to raise awareness of factory conditions around the world, and the cost some people have to pay to make the garments you see in the shops today. They also encourage you to think about the afterlife of a garment, once you’re bored of it or haven’t worn it for 12months or don’t even really like it that much.
The difficulty with the fashion industry these days, is that we have created a world where many people forget the longevity of a garment, and often discard something with life left in it, to replace it with something new – this is something that was unheard of half a century ago! With many retailers now promoting their low prices, I can see how some people find it easy to hoard or throw away clothes and then buy or replace them with a new item of clothing with very little thought!
It is encouraged within the fashion industry, that factories are monitored and audited to show compliance to Social, Ethical and Technical regulations to ensure there are fair and safe working practices for all employees and that local laws are followed where applicable. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and the working conditions for hundreds and thousands of men and women can often go unseen. In order to keep up with fashion, these conditions are almost ignored in order to get new products to market for a low cost, regardless of the retail price you and I will pay for it.
That is not to say that ALL factories around the world are like this, there are some retailers which will not work with a factory without an acceptable audit in place. The conditions of many factories around the world will go above and beyond what is expected of them.
However, seeing as the majority of the UK’s clothing production is made on the other side of the world, I guess for most consumers, it’s almost a case of “out of sight, out of mind”. The Fashion Revolution is asking consumers for people to think about and ask the question:
Who Made My Clothes?!
Some people call for clothing manufacturing to be brought back to the UK, Europe and the US because our local laws are more strict and more fair than those on the other side of the world in India and China. But, I think it is also important to note, that the fashion industry does create many jobs in countries where regular and consistent work is not always available. The fashion industry helps to bring wealth to these countries, if we take away the manufacturing of clothing to move it to somewhere more local, it could inhibit the country’s financial growth.
Another factor to take into consideration within the manufacturing process is all of the pre-production. Questions such as “how are the fabrics made?”, “what chemicals are used in the fabric dyes and how are these disposed off after the dyeing process takes place?” and “how ethical is this cotton fabric?” will often be met with unknown answers… I believe there is less monitoring of the pre-production processes than the factories themselves!! Fast fashion promotes new clothes for new seasons and trends. This creates two problems:
- More raw materials being generated and a faster rate than previous years, decades and centuries, and it is likely the pace will continue to quicken each year. The supply must meet the demand, which as this continues to grow, corners will be being cut having devastating consequences on people’s jobs, lives as well as the environment. Unless, of course, consumers change their fashion habits.
- It will also lead to more disposal of clothing, which is still in a good or usable condition, a lot of which will go to landfill. Clothing does not disintegrate or break down when it is disposed of in this way, and it’s such a waste when we now have the resources to recycle raw materials, or recycle the garment as a whole by donating to charity or amend refashion a garment to extend its lifetime.
As I have suggested above, the whole point of this Fashion Revolution is to raise awareness, not only of the working conditions, practices and consequences of the current fashion market, but also to show ways in which we can slow fashion down! It will always be difficult to know exactly what conditions your ready-to-wear garments were made in but here’s some of the things I think we can do to help extend the life of a garment:
- Think about why you need/want something new and how long you’ll be using it for. Personally, I don’t follow trends, I prefer to buy something which suits me, fits well and will, hopefully, last a long time. I’m not perfect, I will sometimes purchase something because it’s a good bargain, knowing it might not last me more than 6 months, but often I will get the most wear of it during that time. I try not to buy things on a whim and I try not to buy something with only one use in mind, for example “I’ll buy this to go on Saturday night and never wear it again!”. Again, I’m not perfect, I did it whilst I was at university but these items would often get donated to charity shops afterwards.
- Review your wardrobe regularly and consider the life of the garment. My wardrobe isn’t huge (not the actual wardrobe, that’s quite big, but the amount of clothes I own), because I try to review what I have in there regularly so that I’m not holding onto clothing that I will probably never wear again. This is natural, you mature and your tastes change as you get old and what you wore when you were 21 is not necessarily what you want to wear 5 years later, but when you purchase clothing with longevity in mind, you will come face-to-face with these decisions.
- Consider the different ways you can extend the life of a garment. Most garments I no longer want/need in my wardrobe will be donated to charity as long as there is no major damage, because there is someone out there who will get use from it (hopefully for a long time too!). Where possible I will add garments to my refashion pile, or if I’m really not feeling it, I’ll recycle the garment where possible, so that the materials/trims can be broken down and reused again. There are obvious exceptions like underwear, but I feel like I’m reducing my fashion footprint onto the world as much as I can at the moment.
- Spread the word. I think my favourite part of the Fashion Revolution is that everyone is fighting for the same goal. My Instagram feed has been filled with people sharing their thoughts on this critical issue, and the things they do and have done to extend the life of a garment! For the people who sew garments, there is an appreciation to those who make garments day-in-day-out for a living as they understand just how much work goes into a garment. Sharing this appreciation, and showing those who don’t sew garments the time and effort which goes into a garment, will hopefully help them to appreciate the clothes they wear every day.
With this in mind, I am determined to use up my fabric scraps, refashion off-cuts and my stash more throughout the year, instead of continuously adding to each of the above piles! And I’ll be sharing my ways to do this with you too!
What has the Fashion Revolution inspired you to do?