Who Made Your Clothes? : Fashion Revolution Week

This week is Fashion Revolution Week (23-29th April 2018) and consumers are being encouraged to ask "Who Made My Clothes?" to demand greater transparency in the fashion supply chain. Five years to the day of the devastating and horrific Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, the real cost of keeping the population 'fashionably' dressed is being called into question.

Photo by Rijans on Flikr

 

The huge scale of the problem may be one of the reasons that consumers have been reluctant to stop and think about the high cost of cheap clothes - there are the terrible working conditions and low pay for sweatshop workers (the majority of whom are women), but the scale of the waste and the throwaway nature of fashion has created an industry which creates greenhouse emissions of 1.2bn tonnes a year – larger than that of international flights and shipping combined! Added to this is the huge problem of what to do with the sheer amount of clothes that are being thrown away (a truckload is wasted every second across the world, according to a report by the EllenMacArthur Foundation).

Who made your clothes? We can check the labels of our clothes right now to see where a garment was made and what the fabric composition is, but this barely scratches the surface of the number of hands that work on a single piece of clothing. According to Fashion Revolution sources, “approximately 75 million people work to make our clothes. 80% of them are women between the ages of 18 and 35.” This includes the farmers, spinners/synthetic manufacturers, weavers, dyers and of course, the sewers. As part of Fashion Revolution week, brands and producers are encouraged to share the stories of their workers who contribute to the production of a garment by saying #imadeyourclothes. By doing this there is an increase in the maker-user engagement, and also understanding of the human lives behind fashion - a side that just isn't apparent in the shops.

As people who make our own clothes, we understand the precious time it takes to create something and yet the ever-increasing speed of fashion business is causing the need for quicker manufacture of both fabric and garments - how is it possible to make a t-shirt in 15 minutes? Most of us will likely sew for fun or for relaxation, and those of us producing clothing and accessories for small-scale businesses will communicate the slower course of production as an advantage, as a unique selling point. Yet in the big fashion world, slow isn’t good and so the demand increases for ever faster production, more workers, long hours and stressful environments, along with lack of (or not good enough) safety procedures causing disasters like the Rana Plaza factory collapse. That is why Fashion Revolution calls upon brands to open up their supply chain and be transparent about where everything comes from and show the consumer #whomadeyourclothes.

As makers, we are often the ones making the clothes. Perhaps some of you only wear homemade clothing and of course, we’re right to be proud of what we produce. However, the consideration during Fashion Revolution week, or any other week, in fact, isn’t necessarily about sharing who made the garment, but rather thinking about who made the components for the garment. While this campaign calls in to question every step on the supply chain, it does revolve heavily around those in the CMT (cut-make-trim) areas of clothing production. As a fabric retailer, we at Ray Stitch call in to question where our fabric comes from - who farmed or produced the yarn, who spun it, who wove it, who dyed and finished it. Trims, fastenings and thread should also be considered for their origin; the hands hard at work to produce these items forgotten about on the care labels of our shop-bought garments.

This is Genesh, he is part of the community weaving our GOTS-certified woven organic fabrics, seen here weaving the Dunweave in Kerala, India.

 

At Ray Stitch, we’re working towards providing as much information as possible about the origin of our fabric selection, from the fibre right through to the dyeing or printing processes used. We’ll probably never see the faces of those that work on the production side, but working with our suppliers, we want to be able to show you as much as we can so that your buying and making decisions are well informed. We have made a start and now have production information for all of our plain organic fabrics, which you can find within each individual product page on our website. As the organic fabrics come from small-scale producers it can be easier to trace than with larger manufacturers, but we’ll do our best!

As daunting as all of this seems the main thing that we can all do is become more conscientious consumers. Recognising that we have great power in how we choose to consume and thinking about the impact that our purchase will have is a great place to start. Say no to fast fashion, consider how you dispose of any clothes you no longer wish to keep but ideally think about long-term investments when you buy, or repurposing and mending. There is a good article in The Guardian today listing 7 Ways to Get Involved with Fashion Revolution Week, and if you would like to do some further reading around the topic then this selection of 18 books from the Fashion Revolution blog is a great place to start.

You can keep up with the Fashion Revolution campaign on Instagram and Twitter plus there’s a very interesting Fanzine that you can purchase (or read online to save paper!) with the current issue discussing ‘Loved Clothes Last’, which includes a section on mending and darning (which you know we love!)