Quite accidentally I posted my most recent post about fast fashion in April, coinciding with a broader campaign #whomademyclothes run by Fashion Revolution. This campaign inspired in part with the April 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in April 2013, which killed over 1100 people. The campaign seeks to highlight the social and environmental impact of the fashion industry, and seeks to engage people on these issues in informing their consumption choices. In 2016 alone, Fashion Revolution reached 195 million people online through its hashtag, and it is currently present in 95 countries.
The Rana Plaza collapse has been called “inevitable”. Bangladesh is the third largest exporter of garments in the world, accounting for about 75% of total exports (Donaghey & Reinecke). Currently the manufacturing industry employs over 4 million Bangladeshis (Reuters) across about four to five thousand garment factories. Eighty percent of 2.5 million garment workers are women who tend to be poor, illiterate and unaware of worker rights in national and international regulation. A great number of these workers are in secondary, less regulated markets in even poorer conditions, that supply larger factories, to whom stricter standards of conduct apply. International enterprises typically contract with larger factories, with little consideration of these smaller markets. This means that fashion is hurting women and the vulnerable most.
The two major responses to the collapse and its backlash, led by a coalition of actors within the global supply chain were the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety (“Accord”) and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (“Alliance”), also respond to these broader forces. In some ways, these market-led responses were global responses to local solutions, illustrating the positive ways in which market actors seek to address issues within their supply chain.
These were in addition to several other initiatives led, by a range of business, worker and civil society coalitions including the Better Cotton Initiative, the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and the Ethical Trading Initiative, joining other global initiatives such as the Clean Clothes campaign, which seek to raise awareness and standards for those employed by the global garment industry. These civil society initiatives are touted as more democratic, flexible and responsive mechanisms that can supplement government and international regulation and market led initiatives. These seem to have little impact on the behaviour of contracted, and subcontracted factories, despite lip-service paid by international brands to end-consumers.
Thats all well and good, but what can I do?
1. Educate Yourself
2. Be realistic about your consumption
As I noted in my previous post, the fashion industry (and capitalism) wants us to consume rather mindlessly to create ongoing consumers and profits. Understanding the difference between needing and wanting, is really important here. Consider doing a shopping fast/ban like blogger Cait Flanders or the 333 Challenge as a way to kick start your personal shopping revolution. Last year, I focused on only replacing broken essentials (undies, socks, gym/swim gear, shoes, stockings). This year, I’m on a kind of 333 challenge, with a very limited wardrobe whilst on my assignment, where I’ve worked out that I really only need a very limited set of work and casual clothes.
Livia Firth, founder of Eco Age and Green Carpet popularised the #30wears test, wherein she asks at the moment of purchase, think “Will I wear it a minimum of 30 times?” If the answer is yes, then buy the item. If it’s no, then don’t.’
(source FutureFashionMe on Instagram)
3. Consider alternative and better shopping experiences.
There are two main ways to improve our footprint, beyond just reduction. The first is to consider shopping vintage/thrifting/op-shopping. This extends the life-span of used goods. For those clothes you then wear out, consider if there are uses, like rags or art projects that you can get the absolute last thread out of that clothing.
The second, is finding sustainable or ethically produced clothing. The Good on You app provides useful data about the suppliers of clothing. It also provides an opportunity to send messages to your favourite brands encouraging improvements in their supply chain or impact. For someone like me, who’s clothing options can be quite limited already, as most of the suppliers I had previously purchased from have low ratings, this is somewhat of a challenge. Plus sized ethically and sustainably produced clothing that doesn’t look like a sack of shit, is really hard to find. To get around this, I’m increasingly focusing on purchasing from small Etsy sellers, and really limiting the amount of wardrobe growth.
4. Look after your stuff
Basic care and learning skills like mending can extend the life of your clothing. Consider repairing clothing rather than replacing it, and get shoes and handbags re-soled. If you buy quality at the outset, care for it according to directions and have a reasonable skill with a needle and thread, you can increase the lifetime of your purchase.
5. Participate in campaigns and ask for more from suppliers
Fashion Revolution has some suggestions. You might like to participate in the #whomademyclothes campaign as a first start, and send a couple of emails to your favourite suppliers. Demand transparency through the whole supply chain.