‘To change the system, we must change the culture it thrives on. We must begin with ourselves. Individual actions on a collective scale. This revolution starts with thinking differently…’ *
This is the call of the Fashion Revolution, a global movement that rose from the dust of one of history’s worst industrial disasters. On April 24, 2013, Rana Plaza collapsed killing 1,138 people. The Bangladeshi building housed five garment factories that produced clothes at low wages and in poor conditions for some of our favourite fashion brands, whose profit margins exist only because of the exploitation of people and the environment.
The scale of Rana Plaza’s catastrophe shook the unjust foundations of the fashion industry — and voices joined in unity to call for a safer, fairer, cleaner industry. A revolution was born. Every year on the anniversary of this tragedy, April 24, Fashion Revolution Week begins. And the roar is getting louder.
As consumers we have power. What we buy shapes trends and sends a message to big brands. In 2017, 2 million people from around the globe engaged in Fashion Revolution Week — events included catwalks, clothes swaps, panel discussions and film screenings. However, the heart of the movement is expressed through people taking a photo of their favourite fashion piece turned inside-out, showing the label.
The photo is then posted to social media and the brand is tagged with the question #whomademyclothes. This simple act tells brands we care about the lives who grow the cotton, as well as the hands who weave the fibres and dye them — we want all who sew the threads we wear to be treated fairly and for no unnecessary harm to be inflicted on the environment.
As Emma Watson, a champion for sustainable fashion says, ‘It’s not enough for me anymore that it’s a beautiful item. I want to know who made it and where it came from.’
But is this revolution working? The above quote is taken from Vogue Australia’s sustainability issue, which Emma Watson guest edited. This indicates that mainstream fashion is beginning to shine a light on these issues.
In Australia, David Jones participates in Fashion Revolution Week with a number of their brands involved in the campaign, including Kelly Slater’s ethical clothing label Outerknown, Australian-made Nobody Denim, and the popular label Tigerlily. All these brands are making moves toward a more transparent and responsible industry.
A Chic Prince
’Sustainability…is, at last, so chic,’ writes Marion Humes in a recent article for the Australian Financial Review. Her subject is the somewhat unlikely fashion icon, Prince Charles. Since 2010 he has been campaigning for wool to be the ecological fibre of choice in the fashion industry.
Unlike synthetic fibres, which are made from fossil fuels and often flimsy, wool is kinder to the planet and endures. When woollen garments finally reach the end of their life they don’t need to end up in landfill: as a natural fibre they can biodegrade, enriching the soil they’re composted in.
Keeping garments out of landfill is an admirable motive, considering the work and resource that goes into each item. When you throw away a t-shirt, you’re not just ditching a piece of cotton. You’re also throwing away the 2720 litres of water that went into making that shirt. You’re effectively saying you have no regard for those who produced your clothing.
75 million people, mostly women aged 18-24, work long hours to produce our clothes for little pay. And in extreme cases, for no pay at all. According to the International Labor Organisation 25 million people are victims of forced labour, many of whom toil in the cotton and garment industries. These industries produce over 100 billion pieces every year. That’s a lot of clothes! With new fashions and styles constantly being marketed to us, we need to clean out our wardrobes to make way for the new. As a result, Australians throw away 6 tonnes of clothing every ten minutes.
Prince Charles offers this insight: “It is extraordinary how fashions change and, speaking as someone who, on the whole, hates throwing away things without finding another use for them or mending them, I couldn't be more delighted if, at last, there is a growing awareness of the urgent need to get away from the 'throwaway society' and to move towards a more 'circular' type of economy.”
Be the change
What does moving away from a throwaway society look like? We can learn about how clothes are made and the impact they have on people and the planet by using resources like Good On You, an app with the goal to point consumers toward 'fashion without harm.’
Or we can op-shop with purpose as we breathe new life into pre-loved garments. We can hold clothes swaps with friends, refreshing our wardrobes as our old pieces find new homes.
A friend recently gifted me with bags of beautiful clothing. I adore every piece. Not just because they’re stylish, but because of the love she expressed in this act of giving. This is what Fashion Revolution Week is all about. By being purposeful, generous, and caring about others we are changing the culture that the system thrives on. When we cultivate a culture driven, not solely by profit, but by purpose we are taking steps toward a more just world.
To find out more about Fashion Revolution Week, and what events are taking place near you head to www.fashionrevolution.org or follow along @fash_rev.
*Fashion Revolution Zine, Loved Clothes Last: Issue #2, 19, 2017.
Amy is a photographer / videographer from Adelaide. A portfolio of her work can be found here: www.vimeo.com/littlelightcreations.
Amy is a Press Services International Columnist from Adelaide. She has a BA in Creative Writing and Screen & Media, and now works as a freelance photographer, videographer and writer. She was runner-up in the 2018 Basil Sellars Award. Her previous articles can be viewed here: http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/amy-manners.html