#WhoMadeMyClothes? That’s what everyone’s been hollering online this week. Spring-boarding from Fashion Revolution Day 2015, we’ve made it to a full week of people wondering who and how their clothes were made.
On 24th April 2013, over a thousand people were killed in the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse. It brought the treatment of workers in the fashion industry to the forefront of people’s minds the world over, and made us start to question at exactly what price we were happy to sacrifice our ethics and turn a blind eye so we could buy cheap fast fashion items from the high-street.
Today marks the third year in which this disaster has been marked, and as someone who is conscious of all the items I put in my shopping basket, it’s time to reflect on the positives that have come out of this week – and what we can all do to help support the creation of an accountable and ethical fashion industry.
Awareness is the first step in pretty much any recognition of wrong-doings, and each year that has passed since Fashion Revolution began, there is more and more coverage of the event. I’ve seen a good few demands on Twitter calling out so-called ‘responsible’ high-street brands to let us know who made the clothes they sell, and this really does mark the beginning of change.
While we’re starting to see responses from fashion retailers, we really need an independent adjudicator (cue the referee from Gladiators – “Topshop, are you ready?”). In an effort to shine a light on the effort that fashion companies are going to be transparent, the good people at Fashion Revolution and Ethical Consumer partnered up to bring us the Fashion Transparency Index. Research into 40 of the largest fashion brands uncovered their efforts in the form of Policy & Commitment, Tracking & Traceability, Audits & Remediation, Engagement & Collaboration, and Governance.
This year, we see a few stand out brands, and a few hideously underperforming ones too. It makes me shudder to think that haute couture fashion houses such as Hermes, LVMH, Prada, and Michael Kors dare to operate with a transparency rating of under 25%, and Chanel coming in last place with a poor 10%. These are the powerhouses of industry, where design and flair is sold on a pedestal, not to mention the giant price tags, and yet they have no remorse or care for the people that make their clothing. What does that say about the way they think about their consumers?
On the flip-side, we have Levi Strauss & Co., Inditex (think Zara, Pull & Bear, Bershka), and H&M all making the top list. I’m going to be honest, when I’ve rarely been out onto the high-street, I’ve avoided H&M and Zara like the plague, with the rationale that they are the epitome of fast fashion. There are no longer seasons, with sales and new ranges coming out every few weeks. So it’s nice to see that they are in fact leading the way for the current fashion industry to pull up their socks in terms of transparency, although there is a long way to go for the care of the people and environment that contribute to their success.
The last time I mentioned to someone that I only buy ethically made clothes or second-hand, I heard a snigger and a “yeah right” in response. However, it’s true that more and more people are beginning to care about where their clothes come from, and how the people who made them were treated. If you treat your money as a form of voting, by spending it at independent retailers who strive for welfare of people, environment, and great clothes, you’re essentially promoting your own ethics.
I should probably add a little apology for the amount of hashtags right about now, but the #Haulternative trend is really starting to take off. Moving away from careless shopping and idolisation of bags and bags of new clothes, you can see video upon video here of people sharing their alternative ways of enjoying fashion. This is chiefly through vintage, second-hand items and homemade pieces, which support a culture of recycling and creativity – both of which are really easy to get into.
In fact, this last month I bought a gorgeous Whistles dress from eBay for a fraction of the price new, and have been enjoying the pictured swimsuit from Ruby Moon, an ethical swimwear brand that is completely transparent in its supply chain, and also supports women in less fortunate situations get a loan to start their own business.
Depending on your time and money situations, there are ways that slow fashion can suit you too. If you’ve got the skills, get on a sewing machine and create some beautiful bespoke pieces, and if not, try finding local vintage shops. And for online shoppers like myself, eBay, Etsy, Folksy, and independents striving for sustainability and ethics are definitely the way to go. If you need a few recommendations, have a look through the Style section of the site, or comment below (I look through all of them).
Any kind of revolution takes time and shared support, and there are plenty of ways to get involved. Perhaps next year we’ll been a few steps closer to a high-street looking after the workers, like People Tree does in the True Cost documentary. My fingers are crossed!