Have you ever heard of the Fashion Revolution, or seen the hashtags “Who made your clothes” or “I made your clothes”? These hashtags are part of the Fashion Revolution Week campaign, which draws your attention to the impact of fast fashion.
The early 1990’s saw the establishment of free trade agreements across the globe. This is started the influx into New Zealand of offshore 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. Our shops became flooded with inferior quality, low-cost clothing that was fast turnaround stock. Consumers become accustomed continually updating their wardrobes and regularly discarding items that had only been worn once or not at all. Gone were the days when consumers saved for quality items that would last for many years.
On 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza clothing factory complex in Bangladesh collapsed. This tragedy took the lives of 1130 workers and seriously injured another 2500.
Watched in horror from our tv screens and social media platforms, was probably the first time that we’d seen up close, the appalling working conditions of those that made our fast fashion items.
Since that horrific day in 2013, there has been a huge shift from many brands and consumers to a more ethical way of shopping and manufacturing. Each year in the week of the anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster. There are several media campaigns that draw our attention to the impact that fast fashion has on those third world countries where fast fashion is made and then 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 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 were hard-hitting and for a long while afterward, I didn’t purchase any new clothing. Now, I’m an avid recycled fashion shopper, who stops and thinks before making a new or 2nd hand purchase.
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 manufacturers and consumers to make positive changes within the fashion industry. Their aim is to empower rather than shame people into making changes.
This is my own private journey and I will never make judgment about your decision to purchase clothing the way you do.