Fashion Revolution Week begins April 22 and we’re on a quest to bring you to the ethical side and encourage you to rebel against fashion fascists. Playing in the background while we fulfil this mission will be David Bowie’s song ‘Fashion’ in which he sings about how people have become slaves to the shallow nature of the fashion industry and like a brainwashed cult, just obey the dictates of the fashion Nazis.
On the quest to be fashionable and ‘on trend’, people constantly update their wardrobes and don cheaply produced fashion as though it were some important vocation. But in the process, who and what suffers? The garment makers, pattern cutters, sewers, weavers, tailors, spinners, dyers, farmers and Mother Earth, that’s who.
What is Fashion Revolution?
The Fashion Revolution movement was launched a year after the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh where more than 1,130 textile workers died and over 2,500 were injured. The incident, which occurred on April 24, 2013, is commemorated every year by ethical fashion advocates on a day that is now known as ‘Fashion Revolution Day’. Several years ago, the movement was extended to encompass the whole week, hence ‘Fashion Revolution Week’.
The Rana Plaza tragedy wasn’t the first time garment workers had suffered at the hands of the global fashion industry, but it did mark a turning point in public awareness of the industry’s social problems and human rights violations.
After the building collapsed, it came to light that the factory owners had actually been notified that the building was unsafe but that the warnings were unheeded. They pressured their workers to continue working to meet production deadlines, afraid to lose hard-fought contracts with the global apparel companies. When workers tried to escape when the building buckled and fires broke out, they were locked in and forced to continue working.
Losing their lives and losing limbs, all for the sake of cheap fashion.
The tragedy brought the fashion industry into the glare of the public and harsh media spotlight. Away from the PR spin and the glitz and glamour of advertising, fashion’s slave-like conditions and human exploitation were laid bare.
This catastrophe yanked people out of their stylish dreams and woke them up to the nightmare that is fashion reality. London-based designers Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro had had enough, in the aftermath of Rana Plaza, the idea of Fashion Revolution was born.
Now recognised in more than 100 countries worldwide, the Fashion Revolution movement continues to strike the balance between raising awareness of the industry’s most alarming truths while encouraging and educating people – students, educators, designers, consumers, fashion brands – about the actions they can take to shape the industry for the better.
In his ‘Fashion’ song, Bowie sings of a ‘goon squad’ who comes to town. To mark Fashion Revolution Week, we redefine it to be fashion revolutionaries who are coming to town to make people listen about ethical fashion. If we had to rewrite the lyrics, it might even go something like this: “We are coming and we demand greater transparency in the fashion industry! We want to know #whomadeourclothes and what their stories are! We fight for human rights in fashion!”
Six years on, where are we at?
Fashion Revolution Week 2019 will mark six years since the Rana tragedy occurred. But has anything really changed?
Shortly after the disaster, a legally binding agreement between brands and trade unions called the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was established. It was a wakeup call for some Western brands, especially those who had contracted Bangladesh factories and had produced clothing in the Rana Plaza building, brands such as Zara, Mango, Benetton and Walmart.
Around 200 fashion companies signed the five-year Accord which involved 100 independent inspectors carrying out 500 factory inspections each month. Although the future of the Accord is unknown, its impact in Bangladesh was wholly positive, defending worker and human rights and inspecting some 1,688 garment factories to ensure compliance.
Positive news aside however, the fight for better treatment of fashion workers continues. Here are some recent stories making fashion headlines for all the wrong reasons:
Unpaid wages – Uniqlo garment workers are left overworked and underpaid, owed roughly $5.5 million in unpaid wages and compensation
Worker safety – In Cambodia, about 700,000 garment workers from rural areas face a daily commute to reach their workplaces but are provided poor and unsafe transportation. Recently, five garment workers lost their limbs when their overpacked truck collided with another truck early this month.
These unfortunate events will continue to happen; so long as people continue to buy cheap clothing, garment workers will remain overworked and underpaid.
“As long as fashion is primarily discussed as something to buy, something to shop the possibilities will remain very constrained. We’ll still only be in the realm of something less damaging, something less bad rather than creating a completely new system founded on sustainment.” – Timo Rissanen, Assistant Professor of Fashion Design and Sustainability at Parsons The New School for Design in New York.
Ending unsustainable consumption
Fashion creativity has been pushed behind the shadows of fast fashion. In the age of mass production and globalisation, consumers are buying and wearing the same thing. Gone are the days when people wear interesting ensembles that celebrate their heritage or expresses who they are. In the industry’s haste for profits, original ideas, along with ethics and environmental sustainability, have been forsaken.
Want to be a better fashion consumer? Instead of going through the fashion motion and enacting Bowie’s lyrics “Fashion! Turn to the left! Fashion! Turn to the right!” try to enable your creativity first. Before heading to the mall for a shopping spree, check what’s in your closet. Try creating different outfit combinations by mixing and matching your existing items instead. Instead of throwing out, mend what can still be salvaged. If you need to shop, choose preloved or support local brands or those committed to producing fashion in responsibly and sustainable ways.
Fashion Revolution Week 2019
Fashion Revolution Week is on April 22 to 28. To be part of this global movement, the organisation has outlined seven things you can do to take part:
- Post a pic on social media of you showing your garment label, tag the brand and ask #whomademyclothes
- Sign the ‘Manifesto for a Fashion Revolution’ here
- Send a postcard to a policymaker or write a letter to a brand
- Take the ‘Love Story’ challenge
- Make a #Haulternative video
- Attend an ethical fashion event. Click here for a list of events
- Donate to the cause
We have the right to demand transparency from fashion brands. We want to know that our money is well spent and isn’t being used to exploit people, enslave them or pollute the environment.
Asking #whomademyclothes is the first step to accomplishing the change we wish to see. By asking this and hopefully receiving a response, we become aware of how brands are treating their workers and what they are doing to produce responsibly.
Once enlightened, we can work on what needs to be done from there. We can either continue to support them while they make changes or use our dollars to support a brand that produces in line with our values.
To learn more about how you (or your brand) can get involved in Fashion Revolution Week, visit fashionrevolution.org.
- 69 Facts and Statistics About Fast Fashion That Will Inspire You To Become An Ethical Fashion Advocate
- A Fashion Revolution Country Coordinator’s Perspective on Fashion Revolution Week
- 10 Sustainable and Ethical Fashion Podcasts to Tune Into
- Get Educated With These Free Sustainable Fashion and Ethical Business Online Courses
- 4 Must-See Short Online Films on The Topic of Fast Fashion
- 32 Thought-Provoking Quotes About Ethical, Sustainable and Fast Fashion
- The Sustainable Fashion Blueprint Report 2018: Industry Overview and Business Opportunities
All images and graphics unless otherwise stated via Fashion Revolution.