Today marks the start of Fashion Revolution Week 2022. While the title may not be so familiar, hopefully the hastag #WhoMadeMy Clothes will resonate, and perhaps also, #WhatsInMyCothes and #LovedClothesLast. Today I want to say a ‘few’ words about each and I’ll direct you to some fabulous resources which explore these issues in depth but also with precision and concision.
The theme for this year’s Fashion Revolution is week ; MONEY FASHION POWER a triptych that not only captures the 3 foundations of the mainstream fashion industry but also highlights the 3 key ingredients that secure the exploitation at its core.
Fashion Revolution Week runs from 18th until 24th April 2022 and the date is no accident and frankly neither is the event it is timed to commemorate, the collapse of the Rana Plaza in 2013. Rana Plaza in Bangladesh housed several garment factories which in total employed about 5,000 people, who manufactured clothing for many of the biggest global fashion brands. When the building collapsed on 24th April 2013, more than 1,100 people died and a further 2,500 were injured, mostly young women. The fourth largest industrial disaster in history many of us will remember the harrowing scenes on the news.
What this disaster did was highlight the exploitation that underpins our desire for fashionable clothes, specifically the inequality between the multi-billion pound industry that services that desire and the image it tries to sell us, and the poverty of the people who actually make the garments. These workers often struggle to meet their basic needs on the wages they are paid, and could never hope to participate in the every increasing fashion cycle that is characterised by over production, over consumption and waste, a toxic trio that is not sustainable for our planet either. Moreover, it is those workers, who are most exploited by the fashion industry that already disproportionately experience the effects of the climate change to which it contributes.
Overconsumption of resources and fuelling climate change is not the only environmental impact of the fashion industry. The very fabric and fibres which predominate in fashion, for example the number one textile currently in use is Polyester. Polyester is a plastic, made from crude oil. When we think of plastic pollution, it’s not just plastic water bottles but the very clothes we wear, or as is often the case, don’t wear but buy and throw away, or donate and forget about. They pollute not only oceans, but flake away into micro plastics that find their way into our food chain.
This short 3 minute BBC news section provides brief overview of what happens to much of the clothes that are donated to charity or sent for recycling and end up in Ghana. When I say much of the clothes donated to charity ends up in places like Kantamanto, this because about 70% of the clothes we donate are sold on in bulk to textile sorting companies.
It is in this context that Orsola de Castro is brutally honest:
charity shops are brimming with our unwanted clothes anyway, because donating to charity is no longer an act of goodwill, but an act of dumping our responsibilities along with our unwanted clothes.Orsola de Castro Loved Clothes Last, 2021
So would it amaze you, as it did me to hear that ‘doubling the useful life of clothes from one to two years reduces their carbon footprint by 24%’? To be fair I’ve nothing in my wardrobe that’s less than 2 years old, the very concept of clothing having a ‘useful life’ of just one or two years is pretty alien, but this statistic in itself demonstrates just how throw away our relationship to clothing has become.
It is in this context that de Castro speaks of rewearing, repairing and upcycling clothes as an act of sabotage, challenging the nature of the fashion industry and the consuming subject it seeks to make of us. Those of us who are makers and menders have the skills to lead this revolution by sharing our skills and developing our knowledge and understanding of the material we use and how to most effectively care for our creations.
What’s more we also have the knowledge, skills and hopefully inclination to lobby for a more sustainable clothing industry that respects the skill of garment works, and pays them a fair living wage. For an industry that instead of building in obsolescence and irresponsible disposal, takes responsibility for the waste it creates rather than exporting to poorer countries to dispose of for them. For an industry that considers and ameliorates the environmental impact of textile production from its reliance on oil, pesticides, huge amounts of water and the ability to dump toxic waste and fuel climate change.
These are no small issues and while I had hoped to be in position to blog all week, unfortunately not this year. Instead I hope I’ve done enough to highlight some of the issues and encourage you to go find out more from the experts or share your knowledge in the comments below.
I’ll share some more of my thoughts and experiences in the coming months, after all real change starts with re-thinking how we relate to clothes and the fashion industry and then materialises in long term sustained behaviour change.
If there’s anything that really resonates with you in what I’ve said today, or in something this week has prompts you to consider or do, I’d love to hear about it.
Take care until next time,
Here’s just a couple of resources that I think are good starting points. They are rich in information and detail and can be added to your everyday social media engagement or you can sit down in front of a screen, with a good book or plugged in to listen.
The Fashion Revolution website https://www.fashionrevolution.org has
- a whole range of reports, resources and fanzines, including the Loved Clothes Last Fanzine (photographed above) which inspired the book of the same name. Most digital downloads are free, with the exception of the most recent fanzines which are available to buy in hard copy or as pay what you can afford digital download.
- links to the podcast and
- video and PDF how to guides and campaign information
- Events – there’s loads of event on this week – have a look, many are online!
- and so much more – there really is a wealth of information to explore
Note: While all information is available in english, various resources are available in a range of languages too.
I devoured this book about a month ago and it has stayed with me, not only for the huge amounts of information it conveys in a totally readable format, but because it brought together so many disparate issues in a really coherent way. But more than that it has also been a really empowering and inspiring read that has helped me make sense of many of the things I already do, and made me want to do more and to feel more comfortable in doing so.
Please note: This is an affiliate link – if you buy via this link, I receive 10% of the cover price which helps keep this blog going.
The Clotheshorse podcast – Amanda uses her background in fast fashion to explore and explode myths with amazing clarity and frankness.
Clotheshorsepodcast on instagram is a information rich account with regular features of multiple slides summarising complex issues. Trom looking at different fabrics and textiles to greenwashing, slow fashion, size inclusion and upcycling, there’s lots to get your teeth into in bitesized chunks!