Fashion Revolution – Why April 24th?
On April 24th 2013, a date now remembered as Fashion Revolution Day, the Rana Plaza Clothing Factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed on its garment workers. Over 1130 garment workers were killed and over 2500 were brought out alive from the wreckage – some with horrific injuries. Just imagine that number of people and what it must have been like – I can’t, it’s unimaginable.
Although the abuses of garment workers were well known, especially in the clothing industry, this event acted as a wake-up call to many and has been an effective way of showing people in the West the knock on effects of the constant demand for cheap clothing. Someone, somewhere IS paying the price.
After Rana Plaza many of the high-street names that were using the factory to make their clothes became involved in the Rana Plaza Donor trust fund which was established by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to compensate the victims. Some brands, notably Benetton, have refused to pay and this is a huge focus for organisations such as Labour Behind the Label and The Clean Clothes Campaign. For more information on who has and who hasn’t paid compensation visit http://www.cleanclothes.org/ranaplaza/who-needs-to-pay-up
What Needs to Change?
Hmmm this could be a really long paragraph, but actually it’s quite simple. Basically garment workers need to be treated in the same way as we would expect to be treated by an employer. They need fair wages, decent working conditions, no slavery, no child labour, reasonable working hours and so on. Nothing too surprising. For this to happen though, the supply chain from we-the-customers, all the way to they-the-garment-workers needs some big changes. One big change needs to be the way that we buy our clothes. Currently we buy clothes on a whim. It is seen as totally normal that we buy something because it’s cheap, wear it a couple of times and chuck it away. To fulfil this demand shops are constantly pressing down on the rest of the chain to make them produce clothes cheaper and faster. Many shops don’t even know (or care) where their clothes were made so long as they fulfil the cheap/fast criteria. That’s another big change that is needed – we should be able to find out who made our clothes. Supply chains need to be more transparent. Otherwise who will hear the voices of the garment workers? And who will care how they are being treated?
Why is this Important for Children?
As Whitney Houston wisely said (sang…) ‘Children are our future’. If we encourage children to think differently about their clothes then they will grow up to be much more thinking shoppers. Recently I gave a talk at a local primary school about Fairtrade cotton and it was so exciting to see the children understanding how cotton growing on plants was turned into their clothes. They loved seeing pictures of people weaving and printing and then they looked at their clothes….. and asked me about a million questions! Children WANT to know where things come from so we need to encourage them to ask the question and not just accept ‘we don’t know’ from the retailers.
Like it or not children already have a HUGE role in the fashion industry. Laura Craik published an article in the Observer Magazine earlier this year talking about kids and the industry. Prior to around 1960 most parents’ priorities for their kids’ clothes were about cleanliness and respectability, but kids clothes ranges started to appear and now the UK childrenswear market is worth £5.6bn (according to Euromonitor). This is largely due to increased birth rate, older parents with better incomes and baby boomer grandparents spending on their grandchildren and spending several hundreds of pounds on a party dress or a designer outfit. There is also the Celebrity factor. If a ‘celebrity’ child such as Prince George or one with the surname Beckham or Cruise is photographed, then the outfit they are wearing can be sold out in as little as 48 hours. 2013 saw the first ‘Global Children’s Fashion Week’ hit London showcasing the latest designer fashions for kids. With kids modelling and an audience with many recognisable faces and their children, it is likely that the demand for children’s fashion will continue to grow. So if children are being encouraged to love clothes it is even more important that they learn to love them in a positive way. Let’s tell them how their clothes went from raw material to garment and let them get a feel for all the processes along the way. Where possible let’s share stories about the people that made their clothes and how they live. Let’s encourage them to question the impact of their clothing on those people and the environment. If the class of 6 and 7 year olds I spoke to are a representative sample then children will WANT this information and will understand the knock on effects of poisonous chemicals, water shortages, low wages and child labour. Kids are pretty bright.
What Can I Do?
Firstly, support Fashion Revolution on April 24th – you can visit their website here. A great way to start is to ask the question ‘who made my clothes’ and encourage your children to ask too. If you check the labels you can find out who produced it and contact them – let’s see if they can tell you who actually made it, lots of brands can’t.
From now on try to buy clothes that you know have been made ethically and sustainably. Certification bodies such as Fairtrade and Organic offer re-assurance and there are a growing number of ethical shopping sites such as Ethical Box, Ethical Stores, Ethical Superstore. There are many clothing producers that put ethical values at the forefront, both in the UK and globally, and we are all a bit different – both from each other and from the more standard high street brands. We aim to support each other to increase the visibility of ethical clothing and grow the market. At Where Does It Come From? (wheredoesitcomefrom.co.uk) we are growing our ranges of Fairtrade, fully traceable clothing. All our clothes come with a code on the label which enables the customer to access the story of their garments creation. Other brands focus on using different types of fabrics – from hemp to fabrics derived from coconut fibre. There’s a wide range of excellent, ethical and eco clothing out there just waiting to be discovered!
As my colleague Shamini Dhana, Founder and CEO of Dhana Inc (www.dhana.com), an ethical clothing brand in the USA rightly says:
“Our connection with nature is a common element shared by every culture on the planet, and we must cherish and protect the gifts the natural world offers us. Fashion has an opportunity to connect us to people and planet. Our clothes are an extension of our values and so by voting with our dollars, we can support brands that both honor the people who make our clothes and respect how we impact the environment along the way in this process. As we like to say at Dhana, We’re Wearin’ the World”.
And don’t forget, if you don’t know who made your clothes it could quite realistically be that children made them. That is NOT a nice thought.