This week is Fashion Revolution Week. Some of you might already know and might already be asking your favorite brands “who made my clothes?” (or jewelry or accessories), and if so hats off to you and thank you for making your voice heard and helping hold the fashion industry accountable. If you’re newer to sustainable fashion, no worries, Fashion Revolution week is a great way to start getting involved! I’ll go into the history and impact of Fashion Revolution and why it’s important to get involved.
Why do we need a fashion revolution anyways? Five years ago, today, on April 24th, 2013, the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed. 1,138 people died, and an additional 2,500 people were injured, making this the fourth largest industrial disaster in our history. Most of the victims were young women making clothing for large global brands such as H&M and Joe Fresh.
(Rana Plaza after it collapsed, via Fashion Revolution)
Unfortunately, this can’t be written off as an isolated tragedy in the fashion industry. Approximately 75 million people around the world work to make our clothes and accessories and about 80% of them are young women aged 18-35. Have you ever wondered who they are and what their lives are like? Regrettably, most of the people who make clothes for the global market live in poverty. They are often unable to afford the bare necessities for life and are often subject to exploitation, physical and verbal abuse. They work in dirty and unsafe conditions, all for very little pay. This is the status quo.
This needs to change.
Today both people and the environment suffer because of the way the fashion industry operates and the way we consume fashion. We live in a capitalist society, meaning companies have to sell more clothing and make a profit in order to succeed, but by no means should it ignore the true costs of their operations or come at the expense of people’s health, dignity, or lives or at the expense of the environment (after all, what good is money if we’re all dead). The supply chain shouldn’t depend on someone getting the short end of the stick. And if you are someone who buys fashion, makes fashion, or has some kind of influence over policy, you are partially accountable for the industry’s impact on people and the planet.
So, what needs to change? First, the cycle of fast fashion needs to end. Brands are making new collections and trends at break-neck speeds. Despite the rising costs of energy and raw materials, clothing is cheaper than ever before. This system isn’t working. The rising speed of the fashion industry has also led to more industrial disasters, less safe working conditions, and exploitative labor practices. The industry is churning out over 150 billion pieces of clothing every year, and in America alone we throw away of 14 million tons (yes tons) of clothing every year, 85% of which ends up incinerated or in a landfill. That’s about 80 lbs of clothing per person per year thrown away! This also comes at the expense of the environment, as the processes used to grow, dye, and launder our clothes end up polluting our rivers, land, oceans, and air. The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry, after oil of course.
These might seem like huge and complex problems on a global scale, and they are. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t have an impact and create changes in the industry. To quote Fashion Revolution,
“We need to break our addiction to the need for speed and volume. We need to realize the true cost of our cheap bargains. Ultimately, we need to buy less, buy better, and keep asking questions about the realities behind what we’re purchasing. We need to love the clothes we already own more and work harder to make them last.”
And mindsets are already changing! According to the market research firm McKinsey and Business of Fashion, sustainability is already becoming an important new driver of purchasing behavior. Approximately 32% of consumers in developed countries and 65% in developing countries actively seek out sustainable fashion.
Demanding transparency is the first step in creating this change. This week, ask yourself, “Who made my clothes?” And more importantly, ask the brands and retailers you buy from, “Who made my clothes?” Some will probably ignore you or direct you to their corporate social responsibility page. It’s not good enough. Keep asking until they respond, the more people who ask, the more the impetus will be on those brands to answer. Tag your favorite brands on social media and ask them #whomademyclothes. More transparency leads to greater accountability, which will eventually lead to a change in the way business is done in the fashion industry.
So how can asking a brand who made my clothes on social media make a real change? Last year over 2 million people around the world participated in the Fashion Revolution social media campaign and attended events in their local cities. And there was a 50% growth from 2016 in the use of the #imadeyourclothes hashtag, meaning more brands and manufacturers are responding as well. There was a 250% increase as well in people asking brands. It looks like the industry is starting to listen. Revolutions don’t happen overnight, but with more people making their voices heard, it’s no doubt that changes are happening. If you want to find out more ways you can participate in the revolution, head to https://www.fashionrevolution.org/about/get-involved/