On April 24th in 2013, the eight-story Rana Plaza building outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed – killing 1,134 people and injuring thousands of others. The building housed several shops, a bank and garment factories: a painful symbol of the fashion industry’s labour rights issues. Eight years later and the fashion industry is still in an environmental and human rights crisis (a recent report by the Worker Rights Consortium details that there are more than 150 million workers in lower-income countries producing goods for export to North America, Europe, and Japan).
Fashion Revolution, a global non-profit organisation calling for greater transparency in the fashion industry, was founded after the disaster. Like their name, they’re convinced we need a “fashion revolution,” advocating for both garment workers and the environment (let’s not forget, this is an industry which produces 10% of global carbon emissions and about 20% of global water waste.)
This week, Fashion Revolution will connect the global community through Fashion Revolution Week, with hundreds of events scheduled online highlighting the interconnectedness of human rights and the rights of nature. A highlight of the week? Fashion Open Studio, where you can virtually step into designer's studios, across 20 countries, through a series of digital events. Other events range from clothing swaps to talks covering human rights and setting a new standard for sustainable fashion, each one curated by local Fashion Revolution teams and enthusiasts from around the world.
“Rana Plaza happened eight years ago and I fear the industry hasn't at all taken preventable measures to ensure that history doesn't repeat itself,” says Aja Barber, a writer, and consultant focusing on fashion's intersections with feminism, race, and colonization. “The industry never does actually take these measures, it just moves business to another country with a lower wage.”
With this in mind, and the fact that the pandemic amplified many of these issues, there’s no doubt that we need to evoke real change in the way we produce, and consume, our clothes. Orsola de Castro, Fashion Revolution co-founder and global creative director reminds us that we are a fundamental part of the supply chain. “The minute we buy something, we become responsible for what we pulled,” she tells us. “We are in that supply chain responsible for the use and end of life.”
Making your clothing consumption more sustainable will look different for every budget and circumstance. But, a general rule of thumb is to invest in second-hand or ethically-made garments (design, production, and distribution that focuses on paying people a fair wage and reducing harm to the planet). The ethical shopping app Good On You is a good place to start, so too is doing your own research about workers’ rights from the website of a brand you love (or better yet, enquiring).
Lengthening a product's lifecycle beyond the trend-based cycle also has a real impact. If we wear our clothes twice as long, we can reduce our environmental impact by 44%. This can be a creative process, where you restyle, hand-dye, sew and patch your clothes for longer use. It could also include washing your clothes less, at low temperatures, and avoiding the tumble drier (to avoid damaging the fibres, and water wastage). For an average shirt over the span of one year, 80% of the emissions produced during the in-use stage of its life cycle are from washing and tumble drying.
Castro urges us all to spend as long as we would take choosing a perfect pair of trousers to research how that garment was made, what materials it’s made from, and if people were paid adequately. In essence, investing as much time as we do when looking for new clothes as we do researching about the people making them. We can also get further involved in advocating for garment workers by writing a letter to a brand or legislature.
“The reality is that an enormous amount more needs to be done to ensure that all of fashion’s workers are unionized,” says Castro. “This does involve radical and mandatory transparency throughout the fashion supply chain so that we can see where those abuses of human rights are happening. This is not something that can be undertaken in a week. It's a lifetime change.”
Images | fashion revolution