We will never forget.
On this day in 2013 the Rana Plaza building collapsed killing 1,138 people and injuring more than 2500 others. Many of those involved in the incident were garment factory workers who were sent to work to meet the tight manufacturing deadlines enforced by fast-fashion turnaround times. There were reported structural faults in the building prior to the 24th. It’s safety had been discussed in the local media and many other employees from other companies in the building had deemed it too risky to go to work. Yet fashion waited for no-one and the results were catastrophic.
The disaster is difficult to stomach in a time where we should know better. This was the worst industrial disaster of the 21st century and sadly the plight of these garment workers is not an isolated incident. Fashion is big business and the easiest way to maximise profit and shrink turn around times is to shop for cheap labour and avoid paying for the environmental spillovers.
From factory fires to bonded labour, exploitation is rife in the garment industry. The crazy part is that we, as consumers, are the end users of these kinds of products and our lust for new creates the demand. According to the film Clothes To Die For (an account of the disaster told by those who experienced it):
The companies in Rana Plaza were reported to be making clothing for more than 20 western companies.
That could mean that the clothes that you have on your back right now may well come from that very building, or an establishment just like it. Which is why the fashion industry needs it’s tree shaken! It’s time for transparency so that we can choose what practices we support.
From the mess of rubble and blood stained clothes the Fashion Revolution was born. Unable to hide unethical practices behind the onslaught of media that surrounded the event, there were stirrings in the garment industry. UK Fashion Designers Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro saw the date as an opportunity to create awareness of the incident and a consumer based movement demanding transparency from designers. The Fashion Revolution moves from strength to strength each year, opening a line of communication between consumers and the brands they love.
This is line of communication is opened by the simple act of asking the label #whomademyclothes on social media.
In previous years I’ve been fortunate enough to get replies from all that I’ve contacted on my Fashion Revolution campaigning. It’s not always been easy and has required a little friendly persistence but it’s definitely made me feel like a valued customer (even if the items I own from the labels were purchased second-hand like my Tigerlily shirt dress above). This year I’ve decided to target Sportsgirl with some additional questions that they haven’t addressed in their online ethics and environmental reporting.
I’m also adding Sass & Bide to the mix! This label has been a long-time fave of mine (which I loved, coveted, stalked obsessively secondhand for years on end, and still have a collection of) that I have been wearing since the early 2000’s. Once a small and unique label founded by Heidi Middleton and Sarah-Jane Clarke, it’s now 100% owned by Myer. There is ethics and sustainability information on the website including a great EFI initiative but they only score a C+ average on the Behind The Barcode report, with a D+ in worker empowerment. Here’s my letter to Sass & Bide:
Hi @sassandbide. I’ve been a long time fan of the designs that your label produces and I’m really impressed with the decision you made to work with EFI for some of your accessories. This Fashion Revolution I’m asking you for more information on your other items. I want to know #whomademyclothes (not just your beautiful EFI bags). You say that you are manufacturing with ‘ethically approved suppliers across ALL categories’ please let me know more about the faces and hands behind your lovely items. The Behind the Barcode report has you at a C+ average for 2017 but you only get a D+ for worker empowerment. Please empower those workers by sharing their story with the end consumers we want to see them and know they are treated with love and respect. Looking forward to hearing from you. Katie from the Sunny Coast email@example.com
Updates from Arnhem, Spell and Tigerlily.
I’ve been super lucky to have had really great responses from these labels that I’ve been pestering annually for a couple of years now. I’ve already posted that I heard straight back from the Arnhem team way back on the 12th of April. They have had further contact with me via Instagram and email and I will be able to share more about their upcoming bamboo and organic cotton range shortly. It’s been really nice of them to answer all my pesky requests for more info on their new fabric choices.
Amelia Mather, the creative director/designer of Tigerlily was kind enough to reply to a DM from me just days after bringing a brand new baby girl into the World. She promised an email with info regarding transparency documentation the team were creating. I was delighted to see yesterday that the email was for EVERYONE on the Tigerlily mailing list- not just me! The team sent their very own Fashion Revolution email to all Tigerlily lovers with links to full disclosure of their move from a Behind The Barcode rating of C to a C+ over the last year. They have also been working on sustainability initiatives including bikinis made from recycled material! It’s such a wonderful achievement for a label to openly embrace the Fashion Revolution with full transparency (despite being a C+ average and not a perfect A grader!) and the promise of continual improvement.
As I was writing this I also received an email from Spell who also decided to send out a Fashion Revolution mail out to their whole customer mailing list! This brand has taken the Fashion Revolution seriously adopting some pretty impressive strategies to let customers know what they are doing to make their business good for people and planet. You can read all about it by clicking here where the Spell folks have lots of things for you to check out!
It might sound a little lame but I do shed tears of joy over the power that consumer action can have in changing the way that brands operate in regards to human ethics and environmental sustainability. I will leave you with a little quote to think about as you ponder your Fashion Revolution campaign:
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”― Dalai Lama
Have you had any success with your Fashion Revolution campaign? Perhaps you have something you need to get off your chest? Share all below.