Fashion Revolution: caring for the people who make our clothes

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A year after the Rana Plaza disaster killed 1,133 garment workers, Fashion Revolution Day issued a simple call, says Clare Lissaman: be curious, find out, do something.

How many of us ever think about the people who made our clothes? Once upon a time we would have known who they were: we would have made them ourselves, our mother would or our local dressmaker or tailor. The spinning and weaving mills were here on our doorstep; we worked in them or had friends or family who did. Now, in our globalised economy, we’ve lost that connection.

The first Fashion Revolution Day took place on Th ursday 24 April, the day of first anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster. The collapse of the factory complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killed 1,133 people, mainly garment workers, and injured many more. The tragedy highlighted the poor conditions suffered by millions of workers in the fashion supply chain, from farmers in the cotton fields to machinists in garment factories.

As consumers, we no longer know who makes our clothes, but shockingly, neither do those who work in the industry. A recently published Australian study showed that 61% of fashion companies didn’t know where their garments were made and over three quarters had no clue where the fabric was milled.

If we don’t know where our clothes are made, how can we ensure they are made in decent conditions? The garment industry supply chain is fractured and producers have become faceless. This is costing many lives. Over 60 million people work globally in the textile, apparel and footwear industry and 100 million households are involved in growing cotton.

The Rana Plaza disaster may have been the worst industrial accident in the history of the garment industry, but sadly it is not an isolated one. Just four months earlier over 100 workers died when the Tazreen factory, also in Bangladesh, caught fire and exits were locked, blocked or non-existent. In 2012, over 300 garment workers died in factory fires in Pakistan; and again, in many of these cases the fire doors were locked. The list continues.

However it’s not just about fires, accidents and industrial safety. The fashion industry is also one of the world’s great polluters: the second largest polluter of water after agriculture. Not that the two are separate – remember those cotton farmers.

On 24 April 2014 thousands of people in over 60 countries joined in the Fashion Revolution Day, an initiative that demands greater transparency, and brings together the work and experience of organisations and campaigners who are already working to make a difference. It creates connections throughout the supply chain, connecting the cotton farmer, the mill dyer, the seamstress, the designer, the stylist, the journalist with the end consumer. The call was simple: be curious, find out, do something.

Be curious: that day people turned their clothes inside out, to think about who made them. In our de-humanised supply chain world it is extraordinary how transformative this one simple action can be. I’ve found myself thinking about my own clothes in a whole new way and wondering about the lives of the men and women who handled them before they came to me. And that’s the first step: individual change.

Find out: Fashion Revolution Day calls on people to look at the labels and then to ask the brands and retailers ‘who made my clothes?’. It’s easy to contact brands using social media; take a look at the #insideout hashtag across Twitter, Facebook and more to see what the responses were.

Do something: just contacting those who make the clothes we wear is of course doing something. Businesses respond to customer demand, but Fashion Revolution Day is also a coming together of the many people – from campaigners to trades unions to businesses – who have been actively trying to improve conditions for years. Thus we are encouraging people to join up with those who are already active.

The campaign aims to bring together everyone who believes in a fashion industry that values people, the environment, creativity and profit in equal measure. We understand the challenge ahead. This movement is made up of brands, retailers, producers, academics and NGOs who know that the pressures and complexities of our global fashion industry make sustainability tough.

By collaborating and collecting evidence, and by working alongside experts, Fashion Revolution Day is showcasing realistic and sustainable solutions and translating them into a reality that works for fashion.

Because people should not be dying for fashion, we call on everyone to join the campaign. It is just the beginning of a call for a change.

Fashion Revolution Day at: www.fashionrevolution.org

Clare Lissaman is the co-founder of Arthur & Henry and a member of the Advisory Committee for Fashion Revolution Day



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