Marie Claire (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - WORDS EM­I­LIE GAMBADE

Turn­ing fash­ion in­side out

the col­lapse of the Rana Plaza build­ing in Savar, Bangladesh, last year left graphic im­ages of hor­ror as 1 130 gar­ment fac­tory work­ers were trapped and killed un­der the rub­ble. Im­ages of faces, bod­ies, arms hold­ing each other in one last em­brace, cov­ered with dust and de­bris, splat­tered screens around the world and tinted with blood the ‘Made in Bangladesh’ la­bels that hang at the back of most fast­fash­ion and large re­tail­ers’ gar­ments.

It wasn’t the first time that fash­ion was be­hind a tragic dis­as­ter: a fac­tory fire de­stroyed the Tri­an­gle Shirt­waist fac­tory in New York in 1911 and trapped 146, mostly women. Mad­den­ingly, many of them jumped through the win­dows to their death, be­cause the com­pany’s own­ers had locked all the safety ex­its to pre­vent theft by the work­ers. The Tri­an­gle Shirt­waist fac­tory fire is still com­mem­o­rated as one of the dead­li­est events in New York City be­fore 9/11.

In 2012,the fire that de­stroyed the Tazreen Fash­ion fac­tory in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing 117 people, and the ones that rav­aged two Pak­istani gar­ment fac­to­ries in Karachi and La­hore, killing at least 257 people, are con­stant re­minders that fash­ion’s cur­rency trades some­times in hu­man lives.

Yet, al­though the dis­turb­ing im­ages of bod­ies crushed by con­crete and a mass of fabrics in Dhaka shocked the world, and while the un­bear­able sto­ries of sweat­shops have been told many times over, the ma­jor­ity of us will keep buy­ing gar­ments be­cause of an at­trac­tive price tag or some eye-catch­ing aes­thet­ics rather than be­cause they are made lo­cally and eth­i­cally.

The call to buy af­ford­able clothes is of­ten stronger than the call to eth­i­cal­ity, and clos­ing your eyes to one gar­ment’s jour­ney to the rails and the shelves seems eas­ier and more com­fort­able than re­fus­ing to buy some­thing pro­duced in a sweat­shop in Asia.

Carry Somers, founder of the Fash­ion Revo­lu­tion cam­paign which aimed to raise aware­ness on the true cost of fash­ion, ex­plains: ‘In the days fol­low­ing the Rana Plaza dis­as­ter, it be­came clear that sev­eral brands did not know whether or not they had been man­u­fac­tur­ing there,’ adding: ‘Re­cent Aus­tralian fash­ion re­ports found that 61 per cent of brands did not know where their gar­ments were made and 93 per cent didn’t know where the raw ma­te­ri­als came from.’

The dom­i­na­tion of fast-fash­ion, with ma­jor re­tail stores Zara, Gap and Mango pop­u­lat­ing malls around the world or its lo­cal equiv­a­lent, Mr Price, has speeded up the pace at which we con­sume fash­ion. In an in­ter­view with the Daily Mav­er­ick at the time of the launch of Zara in South Africa in Oc­to­ber 2012, Spree.co.za fash­ion di­rec­tor Chris Viljoen noted,‘They want you to come to the store and want [a gar­ment] be­cause it might not be there to­mor­row; they make a lot of ranges that are very short; they de­sign and pro­duce eight for ev­ery store; if you go to the store and if you don’t buy it now, it might not be there to­mor­row; they are cre­at­ing a bunch of fash­ion ag­nets around the world who need to go to the store and get their “fix” now; if you love those trousers, you need to buy them now be­cause to­mor­row they will be gone.’

‘In the days fol­low­ing the Rana Plaza dis­as­ter, it be­came clear that sev­eral brands did not know whether or not they had been man­u­fac­tur­ing there’

Short ranges, up­dated reg­u­larly, re­quire shorter pro­duc­tion pro­cesses and that’s what gar­ment fac­to­ries in Bangladesh, Pak­istan or China of­fer. But not all of them do it eth­i­cally and the poor work­ing con­di­tions in the fac­to­ries can lead to ter­ri­ble con­se­quences.

Since Rana Plaza, a new agree­ment has been cre­ated to im­prove work­ing con­di­tions. The Bangladesh Safety Ac­cord on Fire and Build­ing Safety ( Banglade­shac­cord.org) is ‘an in­de­pen­dent agree­ment de­signed to make all gar­ment fac­to­ries in Bangladesh safe work­places’; but only 150 re­tail­ers from 20 coun­tries (mostly from Europe), have signed it; Wal­mart and Gap have re­fused, pre­fer­ring a less strin­gent agree­ment also signed by 27 Amer­i­can brands; for the rest of the fac­to­ries, it is left up to the brands’ good­will and con­science, and that has not, more of­ten than not, been good enough.

More than ever, it seemed ur­gent to change the nar­ra­tive and on 24 April, the

‘The mar­ket­ing teams fo­cus more on sales than on ed­u­cat­ing con­sumers, and a num­ber of com­pa­nies sim­ply cut off the “Made in In­dia”, or “-China” [la­bels] and re­place it with their own “de­signer brand” la­bel’

Fash­ion Revo­lu­tion Day did just that: launched a year af­ter Rana Plaza, it asked the ques­tion ‘Who made your clothes?’ and aimed it at cel­e­brat­ing fash­ion as a force for good while spark­ing con­ver­sa­tions around the global fash­ion sup­ply chain.

The brain­child of Carry Somers, the de­signer be­hind eth­i­cal fash­ion brand Pacha­cuti, the cam­paign for ‘eth­i­cal and sus­tain­able fash­ion’ trended world­wide on Twit­ter with the hash­tag #in­sid­e­out. The idea was to ask celebri­ties – top model Christy Turling­ton, Amer­i­can ac­tress Am­ber Val­letta and French singer Zaz were among the ac­tive sup­port­ers – and other people around the world to turn their clothes in­side out so that la­bels would ap­pear and let their [dirty] se­crets out. Thanks to lo­cal teams spread out across the world, the Fash­ion Revo­lu­tion move­ment praised a dif­fer­ent way of think­ing and con­sum­ing fash­ion.

In Kenya, the coun­try co­or­di­na­tors or­gan­ised a spo­ken word and po­etry com­pe­ti­tion on the sub­ject ‘Who made your clothes?’ In Barcelona, Spain, 2 000 people gath­ered around an out­door cat­walk while the team in Ger­many pro­duced a mu­sic video on the same theme. In South Africa, the cam­paign didn’t go much fur­ther than an in­ter­view on SAfm but that’s not to say that it didn’t prompt some con­ver­sa­tions. South Africa’s co­or­di­na­tor Tammy Ni­col ex­plains that ‘many in­dus­try play­ers were hes­i­tant to jump on board’ but she is con­fi­dent that the move­ment will grow stronger in the years to come.

In­ter­est­ingly, de­spite a lack of gen­eral aware­ness of the pub­lic, South African de­sign­ers are work­ing hard at pro­duc­ing their ranges lo­cally. Kim and Natalie El­lis, two sis­ters who founded The Join­ery, a boho fash­ion brand mainly pro­duced by cer­ti­fied Fair Trade sewing co-op­er­a­tives in Cape Town town­ships, or MaXhosa by Lad­uma Ngx­okolo, a line of knitwear based on Xhosa de­signs man­u­fac­tured in Port El­iz­a­beth are a few ex­am­ples of the ef­forts de­sign­ers put into keep­ing the pro­duc­tion lo­cal.

Yet, pro­duc­ing lo­cally only works if con­sumers also buy lo­cally. While some brands are ex­plicit about where they pro­duce their col­lec­tions, oth­ers make sure that the ori­gin of the gar­ments re­mains un­clear.‘The mar­ket­ing teams fo­cus more on sales than on ed­u­cat­ing con­sumers, and a num­ber of com­pa­nies sim­ply cut off the “Made in In­dia”, or “-China” [la­bels] and re­place it with their own “de­signer brand” la­bel’, says Ni­col.

There is no doubt that it will re­quire more than just one day of revo­lu­tion to change the way we think and con­sume fash­ion. But it’s a start and one that has ig­nited a much-needed de­bate around the global sup­ply chain. It is also up to us in­di­vid­u­ally to make sure that we change the way we buy clothes. As Jim Mor­ri­son once said: ‘There can’t be any large-scale revo­lu­tion un­til there’s a per­sonal revo­lu­tion, on an in­di­vid­ual level.’

This page Fash­ion Revo­lu­tion Day posters pho­tographed by Kieron O’Con­nor.

Left Stu­dents form a‘fash­mob’ on Ox­ford Street on Fash­ion Revo­lu­tion Day.

Left At least 80 people were killed and 600 in­jured in 2013 when a build­ing in Savar on the out­skirts of the Bangladeshi cap­i­tal Dhaka col­lapsed in 2013.

Be­low The in­te­rior of New York’s Tri­an­gle Shirt­waist Fac­tory, gut­ted by a fire on 15 March 1911 that killed 146 work­ers.

Right Bel­gian fash­ion de­signer Bruno Pi­eters launched his Hon­est brand in 2012, which has a 100 per cent trans­par­ent sup­ply chain.

A se­ries shot by UK pho­tog­ra­pher Trevor Leighton for Fash­ion Revo­lu­tion Day in­cluded celebs and fashionistas such as (clock­wise from left) Baroness Lola Young; Caryn Franklin; and Me­lanie Rickey and Mary Por­tas.

Be­low Sushil, a gar­ment worker who makes cloth­ing for YesOuiCare, a French/In­dian brand; Yan Wang, a worker at Rag­time Cloth­ing; a worker in Swazi­land.

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