On fast fashion part two #whomademyclothes

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

Understand the supply chain of your clothing and the environmental and social costs associated with your consumption. Consider reading Slave to Fashion or watching true cost or Fashion Victims.

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.’

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(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.

 

 

 

 

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On fast fashion

Or Renee and her ever shrinking wardrobe

I’ve always been someone with a lot of clothes and accessories. I am the product in many ways of my beautiful and colourful mother and my equally beautiful carefully coordinated maternal grandmother in this sense, with a love of matching accessories and bright colours and lipsticks. For what I lack of their dark, thick hair and deep brown eyes, I’ve certainly made up for in their love of clothing.

However, over the last few years I’ve become increasingly concerned with the patterns of our clothing purchases, including its implications for workers, the environment and our collective self esteem.

Clothing has through eternity been a signifier of wealth and status. Certain colours and fabrics suggested you were from a particular caste or class. The cut of your clothes could show whether you were likely to be in a field sweltering over crops, or being fed peeled grapes whilst reclining in the shade.

However the degree to which we could produce clothing, prevented accumulation and waste.  The importance of caring and repairing for clothing, is a dying artform. Mass-production is now the norm, with companies offering ’boutique’  handmade clothing as an alternative.  Whereas in history, most normal people “the plebs” would only have what they needed and this would be repaired until it became rags or some other household use, we have gone from having two fashion seasons “spring/summer” and “winter/autumn” to approximately 52 seasons.

52 seasons – once a week – retailers are pumping out supply into stores whilst communicating to us through traditional and social media, that we need to continue to keep up with fashion. The price-points of many of these retailers suggest that this is attainable and desirable for most people to achieve, and that somehow if we don’t participate we are somehow not “most people”. This drive to do retail therapy and be fashion forward is deeply destructive to our sense of self, our debt and our wardrobes.

Too much stuff 

We are increasingly consuming more and more clothing of poor quality, to the detriment of our health and financial well-being.  The garment and textile industry comprises a large part of the global economy, reaching $US3 trillion in 2011 (Marketline). The world now consumes 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year, about a 400 percent increase from 20 years ago, according to “The True Cost.”

There is no coincidence that this increasing supply of fast fashion (which can be extended to the cheap production of household goods and decorations – looking at you stores with ridiculous prices) has coincided with a growing industry of professional organisers, stores full of “storage and organisational solutions” and Kon-Maries. As people seek to be “most people” who can afford to keep up with fashion, they loose the sense of how much they need.

Shipping our problems elsewhere

We are pushing our waste onto others. Individuals amasse such significant amounts of “stuff” which they can either no longer store or organise that they then seek to “do good” and donate it. A common sight is charity bins overflowing onto the street with no regard for the weather or the elements (or the significant cost of disposing that which is now clearly ruined).

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Worse still this fast fashion is loaded up and sold to people in the developing world. These clothes, already poor quality on sale, now second-hand are being sold to the worlds most vulnerable people, with the people in the developed world believing that they have donated it. Neither side of this transaction is ethical. This supply is retarding the continued growth or development of local supplies (with the added benefit of reduced costs/impact of shipping) and local industry that contributes to a growing economy.

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Source: WSJ

Whilst the local charitable organisation may not collect it with this intent, the continued supply of clothing provides a market for middle men to buy these donated products and then sell it for sale in the local markets.  Whilst this may provide an option for low cost and sometimes higher quality clothing for those within these contexts, the ongoing supply of cheap and fast fashion just ships the problem elsewhere. A sorter in India remarked to the Wall Street Journal ““I don’t understand why people throw away all these clothes. Maybe they don’t have time to wash them.” Such is the extent of this problem, terms have been developed for the phenomena. In Nigeria second hand clothes are known as kafa ulaya (the clothes of the dead whites) and in Mozambique roupa da calamidade (clothing of the calamity).

The toll of the whole value chain is just too much on individuals and the environment. The fashion industry releases significant amounts of chemicals in the treatment and dyeing of clothing, and this is compounded by doing so in countries where environmental protection is weak or lax, or where the importance of the clothing industry to the local economy overcomes any concerns relating to environmental impact. It impacts the local water supply and reduces air quality.

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The ready-made garment industry, where multinational enterprise typically seek to arbitrage costs by carefully selecting the location of their manufacturing. There is fierce competition for market share in apparel between developing countries, which often means the reduction of conditions or removal of environmental protections (“Waste Couture”).

(Source: ABC)

So what can a girl do? See my next post ….

My August Wishlist

August has been crazy and shopping has taken a hit. But I have been having a bit of a wanty sort of week but unfortunately I haven’t actually won lottery yet.

  1. I would love a bow shirt.

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Like this beauty from Asos (AU$49)

2. This table which could make all my stashy needs come true from West Elm at a bargain price of AU$799.

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3. This trip to South Africa from Intrepid

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4. A time expander so I can finish all my homework and sleep.

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5. Another pleated skirt or two.

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City chic – please stop taking my money

and Zelie for She bring this back please:

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6. Volunteers for helping out with annual Hamlin Fistula fundraising. This year a casual type “low” tea for their High Tea campaign and all the fundraising chocolate. Hamlin Fistula is one of my favourite charities – it focuses on providing essential healthcare for women suffering from fistula as a result of childbirth, and also on training midwives from around the developing world in Ethiopia. Dr Catherine Hamlin is an amazing woman and doctor with a spirit that I love reading about. Last year my wonderful friends contributed to almost $AU 2000 of fundraising, which is probably about 3 or 4 life changing repair operations.

7. A lifetime of Instax film for my adorable instax camera, for a lifetime of wonderful memories.

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8. Peonies

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9. For my Lean-In group to take off in my workplace; to provide greater networking and support to develop stronger leadership in men and women.

10. To have time to develop a reggaeton-bellydance chereography.

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Headspace

I have a confession, I have a big head. Not in the “I’m full of myself sort of way”, but in a can’t find hats big head. So when I went into David Jones on a whim on Saturday afternoon, I anticipated a tantrum-inducing experience as I looked through the hat racks. The irony is, is that I love wearing hats, but I’m typically stuck with stretchy beanies and floppy berets. But I’m always on the hunt for a felt hat with that lovely structure for winter. Cloche in a perfect world.

But as I picked up this Milana hat, I had a vague sense that my 60 cm head (the average is about 57-58 centimetres) might actually fit within this felt beauty. I tried it on. It must be too good to be true. I ruffled through the vortex that is my handbag, found my phone and took a selfie to send to my Canadian based stylist (and bestie) who can always be trusted to tell me the brutal honest truth. Silly or cute I ask?

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 I mean, how adorable is that face?

So I bought it. Its harder than I thought to pull off – it had its going to work début today and the cape/hat combo was harder than anticipated. I kept knocking the hat off with the capes collar. It totally ruined my mystique, particularly as I hobble-ran to the bus. I suspect I may have looked like I belonged in the mafia or a bad detective novel with my dark glasses. But I love it all the same.

Before the struggle between cape and hat begun
Before the struggle between cape and hat begun

In some ways my head-hat problem is also reflective of sometimes how we all feel. Like when my boof head tries to squeeze into a hat, sometimes our head feels too big to contain all the dilemmas, thoughts, pressures, goals, dreams, fears and feelings at any given time. I’ve tried in the last two weekends to un-plan myself, doing the bare minimum and taking that time out to do only things that energise me with people who’s company I love. Creating that headspace and being honest with myself is really important.

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There is a cult of busy. A competition on burdens we carry. The demand that we ought to be doing more for ourselves or others. Creating headspace to decompress is hard.

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Taking time out is vitally important for wellbeing, mental health and the ability to increase resilience. The ability to “push on” is not necessarily a long term strategy. I love being busy, but it got to the point that I wasn’t doing myself or anyone else any favours by pushing through. I was lethargic, de-energised and grouchy after a long six months of injury (recovering from), travel (harder than it sounds), work and study.

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This is not just a me problem. Brigid Schulte talks about how leisure time is a feminist issue, despite its value for mental health and resilience. Leisure, she argues is not something that is not socially constructed for women, even before entering the workplace became mainstream. It was designed for the wealthy male; who had the paid or unpaid services of others who could complete his household, or administrative functions. Today this persists, but despite more women working than ever, they remain the principal care-givers, house-slaves and administrators, despite working full time. For me, I am fortunate to have a partner in all senses, who does an equal share; but this structural problem remains. In Australia, according to Annabel Crabb’s The Wife Drought, “76% of full-time working fathers have a “wife” or stay-at-home spouse. Only 15% of full-time working mums have the same”.

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But the second problem in accessing leisure or headspace, is the drive to “have it all”, however you define it. The pressure to build that empire, is immense. The ability to re-frame having it all will be increasingly important for modern women, rather than continuing to ruminate on what’s next, what’s wrong and where you are lacking. Taking time-out to re-frame your goals, opportunities and weaknesses is the way to achieve your “it all”, because you are not becoming a spent husk, from continuing to run the gauntlet-shaped treadmill.

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Nope, I’m not choosing beautiful today – Why Dove’s #choosebeautiful doesn’t pass first blush

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Walk through a door?

Dove, has recently released an advertising campaign, encouraging women to #choosebeautiful (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DdM-4siaQw). At first glance it seems innocent enough, encouraging women to see their positives, see their beauty. The company suggests of women polled, 96% of women will not use the word “beautiful” to describe themselves, and shows in its short film, women from five cities as diverse as Sao Paolo to London, choosing whether they are beautiful or average, by walking through labelled doors. Dove’s website suggests:

“Dove believes feeling beautiful is a personal choice that women should feel empowered to make for themselves. “Although the majority of women don’t describe themselves as beautiful, 80% agree that every woman has something about her that is beautiful. It’s time women think differently about this choice,” says Steve Miles, Senior Vice President, Dove”

At the first blush, I don’t disagree that these results are skewed, that this says a lot about how women are influenced by society about their perceptions of their appearance. But beyond that first blush, I am deeply sceptical of the commoditisation of the body positive movement which seeks to combat the damaging impacts of images which market a particular kind of loveliness – typically feminine, able bodied, white, clear skinned, able bodied, thin but just voluptuous enough to be “sexy” – that isolates many from society’s view of beauty and desirability. Furthermore, it seems internally inconsistent from a company that makes profits from the beauty industry.

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Furthermore, I would hope that I have more choice than choosing just beautiful. I have, like many of us both strengths and weaknesses which offers my husband, friends, family, colleagues and society unique contributions beyond whether I am having a good hair day (yep, that’s a while off while I grow out this pixie).

The final reason it does not pass my first blush, is that it is masquerading as a positive message,  but remains focused upon the external desirability of women, rather than the inherent qualities that they possess. It suggests that we should reorient how we talk about our beauty, rather than suggesting that we could refocus our energies in something deeper, more complex than just our external appearance and how we choose to describe it. Whilst commercial enterprise suggests women should be focusing their attentions on their beauty – whether it be defined by ourselves, or by society- our efforts are being dissuaded from achieving our full potential. The greatest value should be more variable, and should be not just skin deep. The beauty industry is extremely profitable, around $55 billion annually in 2014, in the USA alone. The business of making yourself beautiful is said to waste about 55 minutes a day, or 2 weeks a year. Imagine the potential benefits of refocusing that attention and money elsewhere if we could refocus our value elsewhere. Considering the comparative time, energy and importance appearance is placed on men’s appearance, I thought that Caitlin Moran has summed it up best more generally:

You can tell whether some misogynistic societal pressure is being exerted on women by calmly enquiring, ‘And are the men doing this, as well?’ If they aren’t, chances are you’re dealing with what we strident feminists refer to as ‘some total fucking bullshit’.”

So yeah, I’m not choosing beautiful today. I’m choosing to be the intelligent, passionate, hilarious and caring person I know myself to be. I love clothes, and think that makeup can be tops, but I love me for so much more than any external reference that you could pick.

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Today’s outfit post, has been delayed by a week, I have had the great joy of hosting friends from abroad, university and maid of honour duties in Melbourne. You might have noticed my use of the word blush. Today’s outfit is focused around my favourite purchase from my recent round the world trip, from H & M in Sweden (the mothership), a beautiful blush tulle skirt. It can be a challenge to put this together, it is foofy and needs a lot of calming down with darker colours. I’m working on a decent spot in our apartment for photo taking, you are going to have to imagine what my plain black boatneck looks like tucked into my shirt, because that photo is le rubbish.

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Braided fringe – a pixie cut grower outers best friend
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Black Asos curve boat neck top Big W Pink costume pearls
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H&M Tulle skirt in blush Novo shoes in black patent
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Foofy spinny glory