What is Fashion Revolution Week and why should I care?
Who here likes fashion? Grew up flipping through Vogue in a daze? Spent too much time drooling over shoes during her lifetime? I hate to admit it, but that would be me. As I’ve grown older, though, my priorities have changed. I no longer give fashion a free pass from the scrutiny I use to examine the sustainability of other domains.
The nitty gritty details of fashion ethics take us beyond the symbolic plane to the backstory of fashion, which can be tough to swallow. It involves worker exploitation, strikes, pollution, and waste--lots of it. Yet, the tragic undertones of this backstory are nothing to back away from. They should at least provoke us investigate more deeply, more courageously.
The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh in 2013 threw salt on age old wounds. The exploited workers there were crammed into an unsafe building that caught fire and eventually crushed them. Some 1,138 women were killed and over 2,000 were injured. This event has lodged in the memory of anyone working to reform the fashion industry. It stands as an emblematic symptom of a much larger problem.
Beyond the poor working conditions and labor standards of many garment workers, the industry largely perpetuates sexism both in its production and in its branding. Women are either portrayed as objects or they are treated as objects, through modern day slave labor or as recipients of the lowest wages.
Moreover, the fashion industry has a huge environmental footprint:
Garment dyeing and treatment contributes to roughly 20% of the world’s total water pollution.
Cotton makes up 90% of the natural fiber in clothing, and it takes roughly 10,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of cotton.
Textile waste leads to the leaching to toxic chemicals into the groundwater.
The fashion industry accounts for roughly 10% of the world’s global greenhouse gas emissions.
Consumers in the US create over 15 million tons of used textile waste each year
High end fashion designers even burn the excess they produce, which means that some of their goods are created and destroyed without ever having been worn.
Synthetic textiles account for 35% of the microplastics in the oceans.
Fashion Revolution unzips the fashion industry
The organization Fashion Revolution wants to reverse the negative trends that make up the backstory of our clothes. Fashion Revolution is a UK-based non-profit that coordinates a global network of country offices and volunteer coordination teams. Its aim is to ensure "clothing is made in a safe, clean and fair way."
Each year, the organization commemorates the week of the Rana Plaza factory collapse with a campaign to peel off the lid of the fashion industry. Fashion Revolution Week is currently underway (April 22 through 28) and events are organized across the world. However, even if you're unable to attend an event, you can still participate.
Fashion Revolution calls on consumers, labels, workers and anyone else in the fashion supply chain to get involved online using social media. If you’re a consumer, you can photograph yourself holding up a sign to ask, "who made my clothes?" Be sure to include the hashtag #whomademyclothes. In response, fashion labels and workers can respond with the hashtag #imadeyourclothes and hold up their own sign with a selfie in the workplace. Through a call-and-response-style interaction, producers and consumers can reach out to one another.
In an effort to promote transparency, Fashion Revolution hopes to raise the transparency of major fashion labels They produced a Fashion Transparency Index this year, which makes it easier to inspect the supply chain of the brands listed on your own. By encouraging consumers to probe the supply chains of their fashion labels and to ask for clarification online, Fashion Revolution is helping to promote a proactive consumer culture. This should appeal to millennials, who are accustomed to doing their research before making purchase and vocalizing their opinions online.
With massive participation among ethical fashion labels, this campaign shows that sustainable fashion doesn't have to be a buzzkill. When the stories behind the creation come forward, we can associate a human face with our objects and empathize with them. This can help us respect the objects more, just as one respects the work of an artisan.
Personally, as a writer, I pride myself by embracing ownership of the work I produce. This is granted to me automatically in the form of intellectual property. Just the same, garment workers deserve the right to feel proud of their skills and creations. Fashion Revolution’s campaign gives them an opportunity to do stand in the spotlight and receive global exposure.