Once again I’m re-evaluating the way I approach shopping for clothes.
I’ve been trying to phase out fast fashion for a couple of years now, with mixed success: I have a list of tried-and-tested ethical brands I tend to buy from when I need something, and I’ve started shopping second-hand on Depop. (I found an amazing pair of silver ankle boots that were never worn by their original owner.)
But sometimes there’s no avoiding the pitfalls. I still fall into the trap of wanting to buy something new, I’m partial to window shopping online—although I have unsubscribed from a tonne of newsletters—and if I need something quickly, a fast fashion retailer is still the easiest place to buy it from. For example, last month I panic-bought some cotton shorts to wear for a kayaking adventure in Lisbon (before the trip was cancelled due to coronavirus) because they were cheap. Being able to afford to be picky is a privilege.
That said, we can still be conscious of our consumerism if we’re on a tight budget—the most sustainable garment is one you already own. Fashion Revolution Week is the perfect time to examine your habits and see what’s in your power to change. It’s also the time we should hold retailers to account: Who made my clothes?
What is Fashion Revolution Week?
Fashion Revolution’s goal is to end the exploitation of humans and the planet in the fashion industry, by ensuring workers have safe conditions and living wages, and working towards an end to throwaway culture. From their website: “We campaign for a clean, safe, fair, transparent and accountable fashion industry. We do this through research, education, collaboration, mobilisation and advocacy.”
They were founded after the Rana Plaza factory complex in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,138 workers (mostly young women) and injuring 2,500 more. The Rana Plaza collapse was preventable, with many workers pointing out the cracks in the building, but they were forced to keep working to keep up with the fashion industry’s demand—not just from fast fashion retailers, but from mid-range brands too. No one should die for the sake of clothes.
Fashion Revolution works all year round, but Fashion Revolution Week in particular raises awareness of how clothes are made, and by whom, and the effect this has on their wellbeing and the planet. They encourage us, the consumers, to stop and ask brands, “Who made my clothes?”, and they ask brands to take responsibility for their supply chains, the working conditions in the factories they use, their impact on the environment, and their wastefulness.
Must-read Fashion Revolution Week articles
1. Transparent Is Not The Same As Ethical by Charlotte Instone at Know the Origin
There’s no doubt Fashion Revolution are doing important work. However, they recently named H&M as “the world’s most transparent brand”. And while this transparency is a huge step forward, it doesn’t count for much if the practices you’re being open about are still harmful to people, namely the underpaid workers in the factories. A reminder that brands need to back up their talk with their actions.
Must-read quote: “Here’s what we know about H&M, they generated $1,813.92m net profit in 2019, but were still unable to pay a living wage to any of the people that made their clothes. H&M is working hard to do better and they’re becoming more and more transparent/ethical as the years go on, but that doesn’t mean their products are at all sustainable, child labour free, human trafficking free or add anything back into the communities they deplete from.”
2. What’s the Future of Fast Fashion? It’s Complicated by Jasmin Malik Chua at Refinery29
A topical look at the impact of coronavirus on fast fashion, how online retailers like Boohoo and Missguided are doing better than those based on the high street, whether the fast fashion business model can survive the pandemic—and the environmental fall-out if their seasonal clothing doesn’t sell. It also warns of the possibility that everyone will overcompensate when lockdown is lifted and we are allowed to go into shops again.
Must-read quote: ‘Orsola de Castro, who co-founded grassroots group Fashion Revolution in the wake of the deadly 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh, says she worries that the fashion engine will double up production — and further squeeze already embattled garment workers — the second fetters are loose. (There’s even a term for it: “retaliatory pollution.”) People, too, will be champing at the bit for a return to normalcy.
3. What Makes a Brand Ethical? by Ethical Made Easy
It’s easy to get confused when different buzzwords are used, especially when they have linked but slightly different meanings. This article clears up what it means when a brand is truly ethical, and not just throwing the word around to boost sales.
Must-read quote: ‘What makes a brand ethical? This is a question as old as time. Well, probably not, but it’s definitely just as complicated. Like you and your high school best friend, the terms “ethical” and “sustainable” seem to be joined at the hip, and although they intertwine and complement each other greatly, the actual meanings behind the respective words differ.
To be sustainable means to be “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level” (thank you, Google). However, to be ethical means to “relate to moral principles or the branch of knowledge dealing with these”. Basically, it’s one thing for a company to portray their ethics in all of their advertising, but it’s another for them to actually walk the moral walk a lot of them talk. We don’t know about you, but we don’t want to be catfished by a company on their ethics.’
I hope this post is useful and gives you something to think about. For more information about what you can to support Fashion Revolution, check out this Instagram post by @tickover, which lists ways you can help, whether that’s signing a petition like #PayUp or Protect all workers in supply chains, emailing a brand, making a donation, raising awareness or simply staying informed so you can change your own habits.
Beth, 26, South East England.
Lover of books, dogs, yoga, travelling, and gin. Always thinking about my next meal.
I write about ethical & eco-friendly living, minimalism, and mental health, as I muddle through one step at a time. Enjoy!