For the last few years I gave up lent for lent. Meaning I didn't do anything. Part of me feels like most of my life is an exercise in self-control and discipline without having a certain period of the year to add extra pressure but this year I'm setting myself a 40 day challenge.
As you will know, I work on a project that educates and campaigns against human trafficking & exploitation. It's heavy, sometimes overwhelming work, but I'm lucky to get to network and strategise with some amazing organisations that try to make this issue easy for the mainstream mass to engage in. One of those organisations is Stop the Traffik - the charity that sparked my initial interest in this issue about 7/8 years ago.
This year (2014) they launched their newest campaign: 'Make Fashion Traffik-Free'
It is a little known fact that over 200,000 young women and girls are trafficked to work in the cotton industry in the Tamil Nadu region of India.
Female workers, mainly aged 14 to 23 years old, are recruited with false promises of a good job and a lumpsum payment under the guise of an ‘apprenticeship’ scheme called Sumangali. Once recruited, they are essentially trapped within a factory for up to five years.
The workers have limited freedom. They have to sleep in accommodation in a hostel within the factory walls or guarded by the male factory employees with only limited contact with their families or the outside world. They are forced to work often up to 12 hours a day, 6 days a week or more without the compensation they have been promised.
The cotton is spun, dyed and woven in these factories to be sold to consumer markets all over the world. It is likely to be found in most of our favourite shops and labels. It is likely to be in cotton garments in our wardrobes and drawers.
This campaign is tackling The Sumangili Scheme outlined above and Stop The Traffik would like retailers and brands to make sure their garments have not been involved in The Sumangili Scheme and that they take action by:
1. Mapping and reporting on their supply chain
2. Committing to the Make Fashion Traffik-Free protocol (you can see what the protocol is here).
I love that STT is not just banging on about the garment industry in general. It is being specific and strategic about one element of the process that they know (and have seen first hand) is exploiting and abusing these women and girls.
If this campaign wasn't reason enough to think about the fashion industry and how we consume, I came across this article recently by Shannon Whitehead that gave insight into how our unwanted, donated clothing ends up in African countries; putting the local textile trades out of business and contributing to the cycle of poverty by the resale of our donated clothes at inflated prices.
HAVE MERCY. That's a lot of mess in the world of fashion. Here I am, happily donating clothing - most of which I haven't worn too much - thinking I'm quite the savvy shopper when the reality is it's a bit more complicated than that.
Even if we don't know the details of the process in full, we have to know we have a big responsibility as buyers and wearers.
So for me, I'm using this Lent period to wear what I have. I'm embarking on a little mission to actually wear my wardrobe.
No new clothes, no second-hand clothes; just me and my existing wardrobe. Maybe that doesn't sound like much of a practical challenge but the challenge for me is about mindfulness (that, and you might underestimate how much I actually go into charity shops).
I'm going to blog about it once a week - do more research and find out other ways, websites and companies that are trying to address this issue and include that in my posts as part of the discipline. I may even throw in a second-hand style outfit post here and there - waheyy *awkward*. (Look at me writing a blog about not buying clothes the day after I blogged about buying clothes!....SIGH).
It will force me to be creative with what I've got because the way I see it, the only way we can really reverse the impact of this is by being OK with having less stuff.
I would LOVE some company on this for the next 40 days - if you are interested in taking the 'Wear Your Wardrobe' challenge (which is a title entirely made up by me and isn't connected with a charity for fundraising or anything, I promise), PLEASE let me know and we can be buddies, walk past charity shops/clothes shops and hold hands in solidarity together etc.