It's Fashion Revolution Week - five years on from the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh where over 1000 people lost their lives because of health and safety negligence when a garment factory - making clothes for brands that you and I buy from - collapsed.
I'm so glad to see ethical fashion become a more mainstream conversation every year and I'm so grateful for trailblazers in the fashion, labour and environmental industries that are demanding, expecting and creating change. I am a proud ethical fashion advocate - it's something that I've worked hard to understand, read up on and be intentional about. Slowly, over the last 6 years, my fashion habits have changed and I feel connected to and part of this movement.
There are so many amazing articles and books that are available for those just starting out on the journey that are hungry for more information to change their mindset and habits (my personal recommendation would be to read any of Safia Minneys books - Slave to Fashion or Slow Fashion are my two favourites) but here are some issues I think we need to dig deeper into if we want to move past the superficial and get serious about ethical fashion:
1) HOW MUCH WEAR YOU'LL GET OUT OF A GARMENT - EVEN IF IT'S ETHICALLY MADE.
It’s awesome buying from ethical fashion companies – we need to support the amazing makers and workers that are innovating and changing the industry. What I think will make a more significant impact on the industry is if we all try to slow things down a bit – to gently pull the brakes on our consumerism. Even the most ethically made clothing can find its way to the back of our wardrobes and end up useless and in the pile of unwanted clothes. Systemic change in the industry comes from consumers looking at their frantic shopping habits and taking more time to consider what they really need and how much it will serve them.
2) WHAT FABRICS ARE MOST SUSTAINABLE
There are so many aspects of the fashion and garment production industry that we need to swot up on. Fabric is a big one because some are more sustainable and produced with less impact than others. Linen, for example is a plant-based fabric made from flax – I’ve loved linen for as long as I can remember because our local area is renown for its history in linen production and we learned about it from an early age in school. It can be grown and processed without chemicals and biodegrades quicker than most other fabrics. Cotton, if farmed organically can be good but takes a lot of water to produce. Hemp (stick with me) is a really great fabric – highly productive and easy to grow. It is really tolerant of pests so doesn’t need chemicals to cultivate. And there is so much innovation going on in fabric technology now making use of waste in so many amazing ways. Soon we could be wearing fabric made from plastic bottles!
3) SUPPLY CHAIN POLICIES
If you really want to know #whomadeyourclothes you are going to have to do some digging. If this issue is important to you and you are committed to seeing and being the change, it’s so important that we don’t just pay lip service by depending on the knowledge of other people but that we do our own research. Target your favourite retailer, dig into their website to find out about their supply chain and environmental policies. If you can’t find anything substantial find out who runs their CSR, sourcing or supply chain department. Email them and ask to see their Modern Slavery Statement (Section 54 of the UK Modern Slavery Act requires commercial organisations that operate in the UK and have an annual turnover above £36m to produce a statement setting out the steps they are taking to address and prevent the risk of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains). You can even look up your favourite brand or group of brands on the Modern Slavery Registry and see if their statement is there. As a consumer, we are an integral cog in this wheel and we deserve to have this information available in order to understand and hold companies to account.
We have to leverage our consumer power. Ask for better transparency. Put the pressure on. Don’t settle for green labels on clothes that feign the idea of actually doing something positive – ask for more! Let us see your factories, hear the stories of your workers! We must ask them to tell us clearly and boldly how they're going to step up on these issues! There’s never been a more significant time to join the fashion revolution than now – the ground is swelling with activists and fashion lovers making their voices heard – calling for better treatment of people and the planet and change is swirling and rising. Come join us?
P.S. I'm going to be speaking about ethical fashion at a small event in Dublin this Friday night as part of Fashion Revolution week. If you're local and want to come along, let me know and I can hook you up with details!