Have you ever heard of the Fashion Revolution, or seen the hashtags “Who made your clothes” or “I made your clothes”? Well, last week across the world it was Fashion Revolution Week. Seeing these hashtags continually across the social media, has pushed me to have the conversation with myself again about where the clothes that I purchase come from.
It was in the early 1990’s and the establishment of a free trade agreements across the globe, that started the influx of off shore made clothing and footwear into our stores. We all relished the opportunity to purchase brands and styles of clothing that had previously only been available overseas. As time went on our shops became flooded with inferior quality, low cost clothing that was fast turnaround stock that was often being released weekly. Most consumers had become accustomed to updating their wardrobe continually, and regularly discarding items that had only been worn once or not at all. Gone were the days when consumers would save for quality items that would last them for many years, while being continually worn.
On 24 April 2013, many of us sat and watched in horror as we witnessed across our television screens and in social media, the fire and collapse of the Rana Plaza clothing factory complex in Bangladesh. Where approximately 1130 workers lost their lives and another 2500 were seriously injured. For most of us, I think this was probably the first time that we had seen up close, the working conditions of those that made the fast fashion items that we were purchasing at an increasing rate. Since that horrific day in 2013, there has been a flurry of activity across the globe drawing our attention to the impact that fast fashion has on those in third world countries where fast fashion is made and dumped when discarded by its western consumers.
In 2015 I was the lucky winner of some tickets to the Premier viewing of The True Cost, a documentary by Andrew Morgan that showed an ugly side to the fast fashion retail world that we had embraced. Very quickly the mood went from lively chatter that had been accompanied by yummy nibbles and bubbles. To a very sombre quiet room, where I’m sure many were starting to feel sick about the way that they had been consumed by the fast fashion epidemic. There was no hiding from the impact that our shopping habits were having on those who were making our clothes, in horrendous conditions, earning a pittance for the many hours that they were required to work. We were also witness to the tonnes and tonnes of clothing waste that was being dumped in third world countries, away from the eye of the fast fashion consumers. The cold hard facts of this documentary hit me hard initially. I did not purchase any new clothing for a long while after that night. Then after a while of being overwhelmed by the situation and not knowing where to start, I once again started to be enticed by the fast fashion options. At the time, I was on a very limited budget and in desperate need of some new clothing, so purchased a few items of fast fashion.
Over the summer break of 2016/2017 and doing a mid seasonal wardrobe edit and checking the ware and tare of individual items. It became obvious, which groups of items were not lasting the distance. The items that were standing the test of time, were from quality brands, that I had saved for and purchased new or had bought second hand. There was no denying the fact that the few items that I had purchased from fast fashion stores, were not the well shopped bargains that I initially thought they were. The penny was finally dropping, fast fashion will always cost you more in the long run.
Wanting to make changes, but still not sure which brands were manufacturing their items ethically. I took to good old google to find some answers.
Baptist World Aid Australia, has a very user friendly website, that provides a wealth of information about the brands that are commonly purchased from. Each year since the Rana Plaza disaster, they publish The Truth Behind The Barcode, an in depth report into the ethical and environmental practices of brands. In reading the report I was surprised to uncover that some of what I would call higher end brands were not as ethically minded as I would have thought they would be.
Good On You, is an app that can be downloaded to your phone and enables you to type in the names of brands you love and find out the ethical and environmental rankings of their manufacturing. There is also a weekly newsletter that comes with your free subscription that offers information on the ethical status of a wide variety of consumer products.
Fashion Revolution is a global network that has set out to support manufactures and consumers to make positive changes within the fashion industry. Their aim is to empower rather than shame people into making changes. On the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster, Fashion Revolution day was launched with a campaign to bring transparency to the fashion industry. In 2016, this evolved into Fashion Revolution Week. launching a media campaign, urging consumers to have conversations with the brands that they purchase from. About where and how their clothes are manufactured. Seeing #WhoMadeMyClothes & #IMadeYourClothes continually posted into my Instagram feed over that week has really worked on me, and from the start of May this year am committed to making life long changes about the purchase of clothing.
The way that I embrace fashion has now come full circle and I’m going back to the ways of purchasing clothes that I was brought up with. When I was growing up in Auckland, there was not much choice when it came to buying brand new. However, what there was, was of high quality and able to be shared around after it had been grown out of. Like many of her generation, my mum was a sewer and made many of our clothes. I can still remember the excitement of a trip into the city to choose buttons and fabrics for a much wanted item. I also have fond memories of foraging through the local Baptist Church Charity shop for treasures to add to my cherished collection of clothes. An old way of doing things has now become fashionable again and been termed Slow Fashion. I’m all about knowing my own style, purchasing better quality items that will last the distance and can be easily repaired if needed. There will be time spent foraging for quality second hand items and getting to know brands before purchasing from them. There will not be a sudden overnight dumping of the items in my wardrobe that are fast fashion. This is going to be a gradual process, and will take place as items from my existing wardrobe are replaced.
This is my own private journey and I will never make judgement about your decision to purchase clothing how you do.