#WhoMadeMyClothes – Why Transparency Matters in The Fashion Industry After Rana PlazaKate Stuart
Kate Stuart is a practicing artist, writer and craftswoman based in the North East of England. She specializes in up-cycling, zero waste living, quilting and painting with acrylics on canvas. She owns The Phoenix Green Store, which she hopes will be Newcastle upon Tyne’s first zero waste store. She is covering Fashion Revolution Week for No Serial Number Magazine, between 23rd – 29th April 2018. This is the second in a six part blog series for Fashion Revolution Week, exploring ways to become more conscious about the clothes you choose to buy, as well as the ones you already have.
Rana Plaza made the fashion industry stop and think. It made consumers stop and think. For a while at least.
For readers that may not have heard about this disaster, it was the catalyst for Fashion Revolution. On this day in 2013, at precisely 8.57 am BST, an eight-story textile factory just outside Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,138 people, and injuring a further 2,500. It remains the fourth largest industrial disaster in history. The issues with the building were known. It was a death toll that could have been avoided, if it were not for one simple truth – the world was more interested in the throwaway, cheap clothes culture generated by the fast fashion industry than it was in the people who spun and wove and stitched and slaved for the world to wear something shiny and new. And if, like me, you buy clothes, ever; then when I say world, I’m talking about us.
In creating the worldwide clarion call that is Fashion Revolution Week, founders Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro invite us to consider why exactly our concepts of beauty in fashion haven’t yet been terminally compromised by the sudden and much needed visibility of the conditions of slavery millions of people endure to make the t-shirt, or dress, or jeans that are worn for a handful of times and then thrown away. Surely no-one with a conscience could be unaffected by the images that finally entered mainstream media the day that Rana Plaza collapsed. The image that I can still see whenever I close my eyes, is that of a woman working heavy, loud, sewing machinery, her tiny baby lying on a mat on the floor at her feet, ears unprotected from the noise, separated by space and circumstance from the warm comforting arms of his mother, who cannot pick him up because she is working, likely for less pay than will feed them both. Most of the fatalities at Rana Plaza that day were women and children.
Fashion Revolution stands as a mirror to show those of us who haven’t quite got it yet, that we cannot keep on this same path of expendable mass production.
Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, there has been an appalling acceptance of slave like conditions for the workers who spin and weave and cut and sew the clothes we buy for much less than the collective worth of the human and environmental energy consumed to make them.
But we are sitting on the edge of a global shift, to a new dawn of circular business models, and a focus, finally on #peoplenotprofit.
Transparency – the ability for the consumer to know, without requiring the detective skills of Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple, where a garment came from, who made it, and crucially, what they were paid and how they were treated while they were working – is surely the path forward. One company taking this new road of accountability, is UK based Where Does It Come From? founded by Jo Salter and focused on making it easy for consumers to get an answer to the question #WhoMadeMyClothes. Codes on garment labels can be entered into the website to gain an insight into the journey they’ve been on, and the hands that have worked to make them, from the cotton growers and spinners to weavers, fabric printers and garment makers. Being able to trace the story of the clothes we buy might be a new concept for many, but as we collectively awaken to the true cost of our love affair with fashion, surely it is a welcome one. Where Does It Come From offers high quality, ethically produced clothes for adults and children, made in partnership with social enterprises and artisans who work to fair trade standards and use sustainable methods in their production. The success of this brand is tied to the consumer finally understanding how unsustainable and unfair fast fashion is, and choosing to reject it, in favor of brands who trade with honesty, integrity and kindness. Indeed, Jo tells us: “consumers are increasingly demanding, and want to buy products that align with their personal values, from companies that can tell them how they’ve been made and who was involved. I see…a backlash against the fast fashion culture of cheap, throwaway clothes. We want transparency and to know that our clothing isn’t adversely affecting people or planet.”
Gathering over 30 companies to showcase ethically made clothing, jewelry, accessories and footwear for a one day event that also includes panel discussions and interviews with fashion industry experts, it’s set to be an inspiring day. You can book your ticket here.
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