"Consumer demand can revolutionize the way fashion works as an industry. If everyone started to question the way we conscume, we would see a radically different fashion paradigm." - Carry Somers, co-founder of Fashion Revolution (from Safia Minney's book 'Slow Fashion: aesthetic meets ethics')
Between April 19th to the 25th, Fashion Revolution Week highlighted the need for our global fashion industry to become more ethical and green. The annual event calls on people far and wide to consider how your everyday clothing has an impact on the world and how your values and choices can change it into something better. The week is named after the global movement, Fashion Revolution, and represents the enduring call for better practices in fashion that have been long needed.
It’s no question that our industry causes far more harm to our environment than good through its conventional processes, one that we have accepted as the norm for much too long, and with global climate awareness growing day by day, we are all collectively realising the part fashion plays with more clarity. Moreover, with India’s second COVID wave devastating those all over the nation, artisan and craft communities have also suffered greatly - we explore this more in our last blog post THE INDIAN ARTISANS YOU CAN SUPPORT.
It is more important than ever that we get to know who makes our clothes to give credit where it’s due and fight for better ethical standards within fashion.
And so, today, we tell you more about why the Fashion Revolution exists and why we need it, not just for a week, but everyday.
Some history and facts
In 2013, a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, called Rana Plaza, collapsed causing injury to approximately 2,500 workers and 1,134 deaths. It was a loud and significant wake up call for the world and put the fashion industry under heavy scrutiny as it took the spotlight to answer for the disaster at hand. It’s “considered the deadliest structural failure accident in modern human history and the deadliest garment-factory disaster in history”, and from it, Fashion Revolution was born to call out to the fashion world to never let it happen again.
The issues that exist within the fashion industry, however, have been around for longer than we’d expect. Although the term ‘fast fashion’ is relatively modern, the concept of fashion made fast and cheap has existed for almost two centuries, first appearing during the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s. The invention and wide use of the sewing machine was key in that occurring - it was first patented in 1846 and allowed tailors to create faster, which then led to a “rapid fall in the price of clothing and an enormous increase in the scale of clothing manufacturing.” However, for about a century, clothing manufacturing was confined to workers' homes or small workshops until WWII in which standardised clothing using limited fabric options were made en-masse to support the war effort. This approach then carried on through the late 1900s and onwards as, notably in the 1960s, younger generations especially embraced cheaply made clothes and “Soon, fashion brands had to find ways to keep up with this increasing demand for affordable clothing, leading to massive textile mills opening across the developing world, which allowed the U.S. and European companies to save millions of dollars by outsourcing their labor.”
And so, we arrive in a world that is used to the increasing speed of ever-changing trends and has normalised a global consumer culture - one that values rapid consumption of commercial products.
And how has that affected our Earth? Well, the fast fashion industry is responsible for the following things:
- “the sector [fashion] was responsible for some 2.1 billion metric tons of greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions in 2018, about 4 percent of the global total. To set that in context, the fashion industry emits about the same quantity of GHGs per year as the entire economies of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined.”
- “Every year the fashion industry uses 93 billion cubic meters of water — enough to meet the consumption needs of five million people.”
- “what happens during a garment’s lifetime of use also contributes, as does the end of its life. Currently, fewer than one per cent of garments are made into new clothes, with only 20% of fabrics being recycled at all – the rest go into landfill or get incinerated. “
- “In the US$2.4 trillion garment industry, which employs millions of workers worldwide, labor rights abuses are rife. In countries around the world, factory owners and managers often fire pregnant workers or deny maternity leave; retaliate against workers who join or form unions; force workers to do overtime work or risk losing their job; and turn a blind eye when male managers or workers sexually harass female workers.”
Fashion is part of our everyday lives, we have so much power on an individual level to make different choices that don’t further this cycle of abuse on our planet and people. Let’s all try to make a difference.
A personal journey
Fashion Revolution has also played a significant role in Mahima’s, our founder, own growth in the slow fashion world. Here, she recounts her first encounter with the movement and how it shaped some of her values.
“Finding out about Fashion Revolution and their mission was one of my first enlightening encounters when I began my slow fashion journey, and their question 'who made my clothes?' is what played a big part in it too. I often say that asking that very question helped me realise why we truly needed to strive for an industry rooted in kindness and transparency. In fact, the very first time I heard about Fashion Revolution was via the movie The True Cost, a movie that was one of my trigger points from this journey - one that i also highly recommend for anyone who wants to begin their own green journey and find out more about the effects of fast fashion.
So, when I moved to Singapore in 2017, a newly found sustainable fashion advocate - I reached out to Fashion Revolution’s local brand to see if they were looking for volunteers and that was that. Since then, I’ve been associated with the wonderful team in Singapore and have been a part of their Fashion Revolution Weeks since 2017.
It’s given me the opportunity to connect to many individuals who in their own way are working towards helping make the fashion industry a better place to work in. Singapore plays an important part of this conversation, as many Singaporeans tend to call shopping their hobby and in-fact retail is a big part of the economy. Due to lack of manufacturing within the country, one can feel far away from the fashion supply chain. Fashion Revolution, from the time it has been around, has helped bring this very awareness into the conversation while encouraging the youth to ask questions and be curious.
Aside from looking into all the resources, studies and surveys Fashion Revolution shares here on their website, I also wanted to share a few other links to books, websites, documentaries that have greatly informed my own understanding of the world of fashion and its impact. Here are just a few:
Building your knowledge everyday is something that can really change the world so I definitely encourage you to stay curious, get involved with movements like Fashion Revolution and keep learning because it's one of the best ways we can help make a change.”
- Mahima Gujral
Who to support
Like we mentioned, in this time India’s artisans especially need support as they try to continue working and providing for themselves and their families.
Do check out our THE INDIAN ARTISANS YOU CAN SUPPORT blog where we dive deeper into this topic and who you can directly support too. The list includes funds for artisans all over the nation and brands that highlight artisan crafts generally.