Who made my clothes? Join the Fash­ion Revo­lu­tion

Move­ment founder, Or­sola de Cas­tro, dis­cusses ini­tia­tive which sparked global con­ver­sa­tion fol­low­ing the Rana Plaza dis­as­ter in 2013

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY ELIS KISS

#whomade­my­clothes? The ques­tion is fired by Fash­ion Revo­lu­tion, a global cam­paign aim­ing to raise aware­ness in matters re­gard­ing so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters in the fash­ion in­dus­try.

The move­ment was born fol­low­ing strong in­ter­na­tional re­ac­tion sparked by the Rana Plaza tragedy of April 24, 2013, the day an eight-floor build­ing hous­ing five cloth­ing fac­to­ries, a bank and of­fices, some 30 kilo­me­ters from Dhaka, Bangladesh, col­lapsed, re­sult­ing in the deaths of at least 1,127 peo­ple and an­other 2,450 in­jured.

In 2016 alone, Fash­ion Revo­lu­tion reached 195 mil­lion peo­ple on­line through its hash­tag, while the move­ment is cur­rently present in 95 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Greece.

Dur­ing a re­cent visit to Athens to at­tend an event fo­cused on sus­tain­able fash­ion co-or­ga­nized by the Bri­tish Coun­cil and cul­tural or­ga­ni­za­tion Ato­pos CVC, Fash­ion Revo­lu­tion founder and di­rec­tor Or­sola de Cas­tro, an Ital­ian-born, Lon­don-based for­mer fash­ion de­signer and en­tre­pre­neur, spoke to Kathimerini.

It is cer­tainly not be­ing over­looked any­more, and the stigma that was for­ever as­so­ci­ated with it, hemp socks and so on, is now no longer part of the equa­tion. We are see­ing some in­cred­i­bly cool de­sign­ers – the younger gen­er­a­tion in par­tic­u­lar – ex­press them­selves with ethics and sus­tain­abil­ity at the core of their de­sign ethos. So yes, we are now look­ing at this be­ing the new avant-garde, the next fron­tier, in fash­ion de­sign.

In­ter­est­ingly, some brands are, but many clearly aren’t. Talk­ing is dif­fer­ent from do­ing and we are re­ally see­ing some amaz­ing green­wash­ing through­out the in­dus­try. Trans­parency still eludes most of the large main­stream brands and it will take some time be­fore we will be able to see a real trans­for­ma­tion across the fash­ion in­dus­try. But the com­bi­na­tion of some big brands in­no­vat­ing and the ma­jor­ity of small brands em­bed­ding sus­tain­able and eth­i­cal prac­tices will inevitably fa­cil­i­tate and speed up this change.

Well, for me it’s about giv­ing de­cent jobs to peo­ple who would oth­er­wise strug­gle: not that we have achieved this by all means.

Eighty per­cent of gar­ment work­ers are female, and many are not be­ing paid enough to live on, but if they would, if the fash­ion in­dus­try were to prop­erly em­ploy, to ex­port dig­nity and skills to de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, then I think we would see a very pos­i­tive ef­fect of glob- al­iza­tion, a sys­tem to em­power and not ex­ploit.

Sure. Es­pe­cially in terms of trans­parency, prove­nance, trace­abil­ity and clos­ed­loop tech­nolo­gies. Ev­ery­thing can part­ner sus­tain­abil­ity if the in­ten­tions are right, and right now, tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion seems to be the next hori­zon. What is in­ter­est­ing to me though is the mar­riage be­tween past and fu­ture: We need tech­nol­ogy as much as we need skills and crafts – fash­ion is about making, and that el­e­ment is ir­re­versible. Hu­man hands should al­ways be a part of the making of fash­ion – the com­bi­na­tion of ar­ti­sanal and tech­no­log­i­cal is a space I be­lieve will cre­ate some amaz­ing hy­brids.

We are look­ing at a mas­sive shift of cul­ture here, chang­ing this throw­away men­tal­ity we have been served for the past 20 years, so ed­u­ca­tion is the crux: whether its ed­u­ca­tion in schools, or peerto-peer ed­u­ca­tion via so­cial me­dia. At Fash­ion Revo­lu­tion our mantra is Be Cu­ri­ous, Find Out, Do Some­thing: That to me is what oils the men­tal ma­chine of peo­ple and makes them feel a part of the so­lu­tion. Knowl­edge, making one’s own mind up, learn­ing.

We are. Cheap fash­ion has no al­lure. We will get bored of it, we will start to look for qual­ity. I have been quoted many times with th­ese few lines: “Look for qual­ity, not just in the prod­ucts you buy, but in the lives of the peo­ple who make them.” I think we are slowly get­ting there.

Just think­ing a lit­tle more about our shop­ping habits can have a pro­found ef­fect. Buy­ing for love rather than im­pe­tus, keep­ing things longer, treat­ing clothes well, mend­ing and re­pair­ing, in­vest­ing in pieces (and they don’t have to be nec­es­sar­ily ex­pen­sive) emo­tion­ally... small ac­tions, big changes. And, of course, al­ways ask brands #whomade­my­clothes.

Rana Plaza was in­evitable. There are ever longer sup­ply chains and a re­sult­ing shift in re­spon­si­bil­ity. How­ever, this was a tragedy that could have taken place in any fast-fash­ion pro­duc­ing coun­try. Rana Plaza hap­pens to be in Bangladesh. What hap­pened re­flects a global trend of in­creased de­mand, which feeds the fast­fash­ion sup­ply chain.

There have been many im­prove­ments in the fash­ion sup­ply chain since the dust set­tled on the Rana Plaza dis­as­ter, al­though it is un­for­tu­nate that it has taken a tragedy of this scale to start to bring about change.

The ac­cord signed fol­low­ing the tragedy – a five-year, in­de­pen­dent agree­ment signed be­tween in­ter­na­tional brands and Bangladeshi la­bor unions – has led to some progress on safety stan­dards. How­ever, as we have heard through nu­mer­ous re­cent re­ports in the me­dia, 90 per­cent of the struc­tural, elec­tri­cal and fire-safety im­prove­ment plans are be­hind sched­ule. Thir­teen per­cent of sup­pli­ers still haven’t re­moved locks from doors which could be used as fire ex­its. So far, 2,185 fac­to­ries have been au­dited through the ac­cord, but this only cov­ers around one-third of ex­port­ing fac­to­ries.

Most of the fac­to­ries, par­tic­u­larly un­reg­u­lated fac­to­ries where sub­con­tract­ing takes place, and all of the home­work­ers in Bangladesh, fall out­side of the scope of the agree­ment. Th­ese are the places where the work­ers are most vul­ner­a­ble. It has been es­ti­mated that 3 mil­lion gar­ment work­ers aren’t cov­ered by th­ese au­dits.

What will re­ally keeps fac­to­ries com­pli­ant is when all work­ers have a voice and they can speak out when some­thing is wrong. Ninety per­cent of gar­ment work­ers in Bangladesh are women and the Na­tional Gar­ment Work­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion re­cently found that 85 per­cent of all women gar­ment work­ers in Bangladesh had been abused at their place of work.

Fash­ion Revo­lu­tion will be launch­ing the Trans­parency In­dex at the be­gin­ning of Fash­ion Revo­lu­tion Week [April 24-30] be­cause we be­lieve that every stake­holder in the sup­ply chain should be able to an­swer the ques­tion #whomade­my­clothes. Brands score points for hav­ing poli­cies, how they im­ple­ment them and whether they com­mu­ni­cate them to the pub­lic. The idea of the in­dex is to en­able peo­ple to see just how much or how lit­tle in­for­ma­tion brands pro­vide about their prac­tices and prod­ucts. While the first edi­tion of the Trans­parency In­dex only con­tains 40 com­pa­nies, we’re ask­ing that mem­bers of the pub­lic con­tact their fa­vorite brands to en­cour­age them to opt in to the In­dex. This in­vi­ta­tion is open to all fash­ion brands world­wide.

Or­sola de Cas­tro, founder of Fash­ion Revo­lu­tion (left). Cen­ter: Cot­ton farm­ers in Kas­rawad, Mad­hya Pradesh, In­dia. Right: Model Am­ber Val­letta is seen mod­el­ing eco-friendly la­bel Stella McCart­ney.

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