BURO. chats to Fashion Revolution founder Carry Somers about what ethical fashion really is, and what their revolution entails
“Fashion Revolution is the world’s largest fashion movement. We started it after the deaths of 1138 workers in the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh. We are working towards systemic reform of the fashion industry.”
“At Fashion Revolution, we love fashion. We come from a fashion background, we speak the language and use the visuals of fashion, but we don’t want our clothes to exploit people or destroy our planet. We believe that positive change can happen, but we need to take radical, revolutionary action to change the culture of fashion. We believe this change needs to happen at three levels: culture, industry and government.”
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“We believe that transparency leads to greater accountability, which eventually will lead to real change. Historically brands have been pursuing policies and strategies with little thought, or care, for their wider implications. Human rights abuses, gender inequality and environmental degradation are still rife throughout supply chains. While brands are starting to incorporate sustainability into their everyday language and beginning to publish more about their social and environmental efforts, the industry as a whole remains opaque. Greater regulation is definitely the key to levelling the playing field and obliging brands to publicly disclose information about their supply-chain activities.”
On The Fashion Transparency Index
“Our annual Fashion Transparency Index (FTI) ranks the world’s largest 200 fashion brands and retailers according to their level of transparency. We benchmarked their performance against five key areas: policy and commitments; governance; traceability; supplier assessment; and how they fix any issues they find. We will continue to use the Index to measure brands’ progress towards transparency and help push them harder and faster towards taking on more responsibility for their policies, practices and impacts.
The FTI has been a highly effective tool for opening up conversations with the world’s largest fashion brands and retailers about what they can do to be more transparent.”
On The Meaning Of Sustainability
“Sustainability is certainly a complex concept and there isn’t one universally agreed-upon definition. When it comes to sustainability in the fashion industry, we see it as a holistic approach throughout the whole process – the design, production, sale, consumption and use of clothing, accessories and footwear. It is fundamentally about maintaining life on Earth and the ecosystem required to support it.”
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“It’s been estimated that by 2050 an 80% industry-wide emissions cut is needed to align the industry’s emissions to 2°C warming [the temperature widely understood to be a tipping point in global climate change]. However, fashion’s CO2 emissions are currently projected to increase by more than 60% by 2030. In practice, the science is clear: we have very few years to mitigate the disastrous consequences of climate breakdown. Every action matters. Sustainability is no longer optional.”
On Making A Difference
This is the first year brands will score over 60%, which demonstrates that progressive brands are now taking real, tangible steps to disclose more about their social and environmental policies, practices and impacts. Adidas, Reebok and Patagonia each score 64%, followed by Esprit and H&M. It’s a marked improvement from 2017 when no brands scored more than 50%. The overall average score among the 200 brands and retailers is 21% and this score has not increased since last year when we reviewed 150 brands.
The area where we’ve seen the most significant progress is in Traceability. This year, 35% of the 200 major fashion brands are publishing a list of their first-tier manufacturers, up from 12.5% three years ago. Ten brands are disclosing some of the facilities or farms supplying their fibres. This is a significant increase from 2018 where a solitary brand disclosed this information.
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The world’s largest fashion brands certainly have the ability and, I would argue, the moral imperative to fully embrace sustainability and thus effect change on a global scale for the large numbers of people in their supply chain and for the world’s ecosystems. Fashion brands know that they’ll have to embrace more sustainable practices in order to survive into the future as climate breakdown and scarcity of resources like water will dramatically affect our society and economy. That puts them in a really powerful position and we’re witnessing a seismic shift towards sustainability in the fashion industry. Moreover, they know that their customers care about sustainability and are increasingly adept at spotting greenwashing.
On Getting Involved
Our mantra is: Be Curious, Find Out, Do Something. Our downloadable resources, videos, fanzines and online learning courses to help people on their journey. This attitude helps to ensure we keep our audience interested and active on both fronts.”
On The Main Concerns
“One is that progress on human rights and gender equality may be overlooked in the race towards more environmentally responsible practices and we cannot allow this to happen.
We know the two are interlinked and that women’s economic empowerment – closing gender gaps at work, from management to the factory floor – is key to realising women’s rights.”
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On Having Faith
Research shows that with the right impetus, people can change their habits relatively quickly. For instance, the fashion resale market is exploding – it has grown 21 times faster than the retail market over the past three years and is expected to be bigger than fast fashion within the next decade. Hiring, swapping, upcycling and mending are all becoming mainstream activities. Fashion brands need to innovate in order to keep their customers engaged as they seek to enjoy fashion in new and different ways.
At the moment they just aren’t doing enough, but major fashion brands have the potential to improve the lives of millions of people – particularly women – around the world. With greater transparency and accountability, investment in innovation and in new industry models, this can become a reality.
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