Find out about the campaign to change the fashion industry for the good of workers, animals and the planet.
We’ve all been there – the good old British weather has suddenly turned cold, so you race out on your lunch break to buy a cheap cardi. You’re off on holiday and need a couple of new vest tops/bags/accessories/bikinis to refresh your wardrobe. You’ve got three weddings this year, so you buy yet another floral dress. And because life’s so busy, you often end up purchasing something you’re not even 100% happy with.
But have you ever considered the human and environmental cost of your cheap clothing addiction? What if you took that pressure off yourself to always buy new, resulting in you saving money, the planet and your home from becoming a cluttered mass of clothes you never wear?
Carry Somers, Co-Founder and Global Operations Director of Fashion Revolution (fashionrevolution.org) says: “Every time we buy, wear and dispose of clothes, we create an environmental footprint and an impact on the people who make them, most of whom are women. That’s why positive change is more urgent than ever if we are to tackle climate change and create a more equitable future for all.”
The Fashion Revolution movement was started in 2013, in the wake of the Rana Plaza Factory collapse in which 1,134 garment workers were killed. You may have come across their hashtag, #whomademyclothes, which aims to raise awareness of supply chains and ethical practices within the fashion industry. The movement’s focus is also on environmental issues and as part of their manifesto, they believe “Fashion [should] conserve and restore the environment. It [should] not deplete precious resources, degrade our soil, pollute our air and water or harm our health. Fashion [should] protect the welfare of all living things and safeguard our diverse ecosystems.”
Change for good
With all this in mind, there’s never been a better time to slow down and rethink your fashion choices. But this doesn’t have to mean abandoning the high street altogether or only shopping at charity shops (although this is a great place to start). It’s all about valuing what we do buy and ensuring our purchases are considered, not throwaway. “We don’t advocate boycotting brands,” says Tamsin Blanchard, Special Events Curator at Fashion Revolution. “The problems in the fashion industry are systemic and we believe we can campaign, work with unions and brands to find solutions to problems like ensuring workers are paid a living wage and are operating in decent and safe working conditions. We do not believe that boycotts will help the poorest of the poor who are at the bottom of the supply chain and have no safety net if their hours are cut or work taken away from them. But the clothes you buy should be worn, looked after, and treated with respect and care.”
Shopping ethically is a tricky business. Supply chains are often long and complex and industry lingo hard to decipher. Fashion Revolution calls for transparency in the industry, and offers up tools for working out how our clothes are made and where they come from so that we can make informed choices. Their How to be a Fashion Revolutionary booklet includes an A-Z of industry terms, advice on how eco-friendly certain materials are and details of other organisations addressing change including Greenpeace (greenpeace.org), The Centre for Circular Design (circulardesign.org.uk) and Zero Waste Europe (zerowasteeurope.eu).
The high street debate
So where can we shop? Surely this is a time when our high streets need us the most? Fashion Revolution’s Transparency index, which Tamsin explains is a ranking of brands based on how much information they disclose and in no way an endorsement, lists Adidas, Reebok, Patagonia, Espirit and H&M as the five highest-scoring brands, with ASOS, Gap, Nike, Vans, M&S and The North Face following close behind. Sainsbury’s Tu Range has increased its level of disclosure by 21% in recent years, but clearly there’s still a lot of work to be done, with not one single brand scoring above 70%.
H&M have recently declared that 57% of their materials are now recycled or sustainable and the company aims to use 100% sustainable materials by 2030. Mango also offer a Committed range, which uses environmentally-friendly dyes and organic and recycled cottons.
Monsoon have ended their use of angora wool (made using rabbit hair) and have committed to riding their business of single use plastic by this summer. They have also relaunched their sell-out S.E.W (Seeking an Eco-friendly World) range using materials such as Tencil, certified organic cotton and Lenzing Ecovero (derived from renewable wood sources).
For now, these ranges offer an affordable high-street option, but big businesses need to start taking bigger steps to have an impact.
A positive outlook
It’s not all doom and gloom. Tamsin has an optimistic view of the future for our towns and cities – an exciting new vision of tomorrow. “As the industry starts to find ways of slowing down, producing less and better, we will see a new high street emerging that has repair cafés, rental showrooms, shops selling upcycled stock where you can go and customise your clothes, spaces where you can go and have a 3D scan to have something made on demand just for you. The high street will evolve, and new business models will develop.”
By choosing our clothes carefully, doing your research and not buying on impulse, we can all start to make a difference. Think before you buy – could you stitch up that hole in your favourite jumper to extend its life? Could you accessorise existing outfits in new ways? Hold a clothes swapping party to clear out items that don’t fit you whilst gaining some new pieces and discuss the issues with friends. And don’t forget to visit fashionrevolution.org to find out more about the campaign and follow them on Instagram (@fash_rev). As their motto states, ‘find out, be curious, do something!’