On April 24, 2013, Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh that housed garment factory workers making clothes for the world’s biggest fashion brands such as Zara and H&M collapsed, killing 1,100 people and injuring another 2,500. It was the fourth largest industrial disaster in history and a wake-up call for the fashion industry. The workers were forced to continue the work in unsafe and hazardous infrastructure despite several pleas. This incident made us sit up globally, to take notice of who is actually paying the price for the inexpensive high-street clothes.
Launched in 2013 as a response to the tragedy, Fashion Revolution is a non-profit global movement founded by Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro, and has been campaigning passionately for a clean, safe, fair, transparent and an accountable fashion industry. Headquartered in the UK with teams in a 100 countries, the organisation advocates for a global fashion industry that conserves and restores the environment, and values people over growth and profit.
Why Is Transparency Important?
Transparency is important to bring systemic changes in the global fashion supply chains to prevent brands from operating in unsafe working conditions, employing environmentally damaging practices. Of course, transparency by itself doesn’t translate to sustainability but is a crucial first step in achieving a fairer fashion. Through Fashion Revolution’s campaigns, we ask brands to be more transparent by asking them #whomademyclothes and #whatsinmyclothes
Fashion transparency is all about unambiguity between the brand and the end consumer. From how and where to who is making the product—all the information has to be made crystal-clear. This initiative spotlights the need to bridge the gap. From fiber to fashion, a piece of clothing passes through many hands—a farmer, ginner, spinner, weaver, dyer, printer, embroider, sewer, and packer amongst others. Every year millions of people across the globe ask brands the question #whomademyclothes urging them to share the faces, stories, and working processes behind their label. Brands and retailers are responding to this question with posts and information on #imadeyourclothes.
Cotton production is water intensive, acrylic causes deforestation, and oil extraction is done to create polyester. It is estimated that 60 per cent of garments are now made from polyester. Washing synthetic fibers release microplastics into the environment that pollutes the rivers and oceans, impacting biodiversity adversely. Microplastics have now been found in the human bloodstream and freshly fallen snow in Antarctica. Environmental degradation is accelerated and the industries are using resources at a faster rate than the Earth can replenish or sustain.
Fashion Transparency Index
An annual report published by Fashion Revolution scrutinises public disclosure of the world’s biggest 250 brands and retailers on their social and environmental policies, practices and impact on their supply chain operations. From 2016, when the first index was published, to this year, we can see progress in brand disclosure on certain aspects such as sharing of tier 1 manufacturing factories which do the final stage of clothes production. Nine brands shared this information for the first time, which shows that brands are listening to what people want. There’s still a lot to be done on other fronts as the majority of brands (85 percent) do not disclose their annual production volumes despite mounting evidence of clothing waste around the world. Most major brands and retailers (96 per cent) do not publish the number of workers in their supply chain, that are paid a living wage. Fashion business goals prioritise profit by minimising labour costs, leading to garment workers being caught in a cycle of poverty. One of the ways living wages can be mandated is through policymaking and legislation.
Policymaking And Change
In India, we did two policy dialogues in partnership with the British Council India and published the findings in our reports. The first one was on Gender Equity and its Impact on Sustainability in Cotton Farming in India. This study and policy dialogue with stakeholders explored the roles, challenges, and opportunities for women farmers to understand whether gender equality and equity can be a key component in making cotton farming process more sustainable, economically, socially, and environmentally. The gendered analysis of cotton farmers has shed light on several important issues and highlighted why it is important to actively engage with women farmers to solve the sustainability crisis in cotton farming.
Why Are Education And Peer-Learning Key To Unlocking Fair Fashion Practices
Sustainability education is focus of our work in the past few years. We’ve collaborated with leading design institutes like Pearl Academy, ISDI, Istituto Marangoni, IICD Jaipur to conduct workshops on unpacking sustainability principles, circular businesses, supply chain transparency, and ethical business practices. During the Fashion Revolution Week, mending and up-cycling workshops were conducted in collaboration with Pearl academy professors to learn the art of visible mending, zero waste design techniques and upcycling waste fabrics to give it new fashion journey. United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDG) intersection with fashion is explored through an annual art contest in collaboration with Fairtrade. Students from 24 colleges have participated and the most impactful artworks have been featured on social media. The idea is to raise awareness about fashion’s role in achieving the UN SDG targets.
Engaging Young Designers
During Fashion Revolution Week each year, slow fashion brands across the world, as part of Fashion Open Studio, open their workshops, factories, and studios to invite consumers to see how fashion products are made, speak to the makers and artisans, and learn more about the processes. Indian designers Ka Sha, Iro Iro, Bodice, and Oshadi have been part of fashion open studios.
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