Fashion Revolution Week this year was April 24-30, 2017. April 24th marked the 4th anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, where 1,138 people were killed and many more were injured in 2013. Have you heard of or seen the hashtag #whomademyclothes? Have you heard of Rana Plaza? If you haven’t, I strongly urge you to read about it. It will change your perspective on the clothing industry and your part in it. And the Rana Plaza disaster was just one circumstance of the abhorrent conditions millions of people work in every day who make your clothes.
The global fashion industry historically has been a non-transparent and extremely secretive industry, which exploits the people who work in the factories as well as the surrounding environment. Fashion Revolution Week encourages people to ask fashion brands “who made my clothes”? and demand greater transparency in the fashion supply chain. It’s about time!
I have loved fashion and clothing my entire life. As a kid I kept a book of sketches of different models in their unique original outfits that was like my diary or bible. As a teenager I was obsessed with vintage and thrift store shopping. I loved the excitement of finding a vintage treasure and giving it another chance at a new life, or turning it into something new. I went on to study fashion design and work in the apparel industry for 15 years. But I don’t want my clothing to come at the cost of the planet or the people who make it. For me, it is more than just demanding transparency into how my clothes are made, what is most important to me is reducing my footprint by reducing the amount of clothing I buy, and if I do buy, purchasing goods that are second hand, used, or already existing. I have challenged myself for the entire year of 2017 to buy only pre-loved or used clothing, and not any new clothing. If I did need to buy new clothing for any reason (such as I couldn’t find it used), then I allowed myself to buy locally made or if that wasn’t available to me, made in Canada or the US. Since Jan 1, 2017, I have bought only two articles of clothing, both from a wonderful vintage shop called Duke and Duchess in Victoria, B.C. If you don't understand how big of a deal this is for me, ask my husband - he swears there were packages arriving at our house on an almost daily basis! In Vancouver, I love Community Thrift and Vintage. I needed to practice what I preach in regards to sustainability and being environmentally conscious and this self-imposed challenge has been an awakening for me.
Before I started, I was an admitted online shopping addict, which started when I was home with a newborn. It was easy and fun, came to my door, shipping was free over $50, and the returns were hassle free. Also, I was now buying for two, and the sweetest ever baby clothes! But I was starting to feel guilty and conflicted about purchasing any garments made from synthetic materials, after learning how harmful the processing of the chemicals and fiber creation process is, how much effluents and waste water are created and disposed of carelessly, and how micro-plastics are shed every time you wash a polyester garment. So I committed to only buying natural fibers such as cotton, linen, wool and silk (don’t trust what you hear about bamboo – although the natural fiber is highly sustainable and re-grows quickly, the process to turn the wood pulp into usable fibers uses harsh chemicals and the process creates substantial pollution from air emissions). That being said, it can take more than 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton; equivalent to a single T-shirt and pair of jeans.[i]
I was satisfied with this natural fiber challenge for a few years, but then my conscience finally kicked in and I acknowledged that my go-to online shop had terrible practices that were neither ethical nor environmentally considerate. The Rana Plaza disaster had a lot to do with it, but so did my personal experience working in the apparel industry. Their total disregard for the impact of the fabric creation, garment making, and post-consumer waste of fast fashion was so disappointing and careless to me – and I no longer wanted to be a part of it. So my first self-imposed challenge turned into my current one. To overcome any addiction is a challenge, no matter what kind of addiction it is, but the more you practice abstinence and see your obstacle as an opportunity instead, then it becomes something else entirely. Mine was an opportunity to live more authentically and to practice what I preach. I feel more knowledgeable, more in control and most of all empowered. I no longer feel the need to purchase clothing or possessions to fulfill me. And I am now part of the movement for advocacy for change in the fashion industry.
You see, the problem with the clothing industry isn’t singular but multi-faceted and it occurs at every stage of the lifecycle: over production of clothing (simply making too many clothes), over consumption by consumers (simply buying too many clothes), consumers expectations and demand to buy inexpensive clothing, lack of consideration for the safety and rights of garment workers or the health of the environment, the use of (very likely) toxic chemical dyes & finishes on fabric, the illegal or unethical disposal of waste water, the epidemic of textile waste in landfills as people throw away their disposable clothing, the epidemic of cotton farmer suicides, the increase in occurrence of terminal illnesses in cotton farmers and birth defects in the communities surrounding the farms due to pesticide and insecticide use. Farmers inhale or ingest the pesticides sprayed onto the cotton plants, which cause a horrendous array of health hazards, and as the chemicals leak into the soil, water supply and food, they affect the surrounding communities, poisoning the land and causing cancer, reproduction issues, and birth defects. Water consumption is also a major consideration. In certain parts of the world, where clean drinking water is scarce, cotton crops are consuming thousands of gallons of water that could be going to other sources.
The reason I insisted on using existing materials for my products instead of new ones is because new fabric production is one of the worst stages of the supply chain for pollution, waste, and water and chemical use. I have taken a stand on this point, to only use existing or reclaimed fabric because I feel so strongly about it. Polyester creates micro-plastic waste that pollutes the oceans, cotton uses excessive amounts of water and pesticides – there is an argument against the use of so many of the fibers used to make fabric. But there is also so much fabric already existing in the world, why do we need to keep making more and more of it? I believe we can make clothing and home décor products – anything that is made from fabric – in a more sustainable way, by using existing materials.
Fashion Revolution is a global movement calling for greater transparency, sustainability and ethics in the fashion industry. [They] want to unite the fashion industry and ignite a revolution to radically change the way our clothes are sourced, produced and purchased, so that what the world wears has been made in a safe, clean and fair way[ii].
Join the Revolution!
image source: www.fashionrevolution.org