In the Wake of Rana Plaza, Fashion Revolution Wants You to Meet the People Who Made Your Clothes
The 2013 Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh was the deadliest clothing factory tragedy in history, killing 1,138 people and injuring approximately 2,500 more. The disaster brought to global attention the poor working conditions involved in making inexpensive clothes most of us take for granted today. A worldwide public outcry demanded change. That’s when Fashion Revolution was born. Founded by Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro, it brought together a diverse group of policy makers, academics, designers, brands, marketers, producers, business leaders, and writers. This month, their Policy and Research Coordinator, Sienna Somers, shared how they are collaboratively transforming the fashion industry.
Parvati Magazine: When Fashion Revolution was in its infancy, what was that time like for you and your colleagues? How have your goals and efforts shifted since then?
Fashion Revolution: When we began, we wanted to begin to raise awareness of the lack of transparency in the supply chains and give faces to those who are rarely seen. Since then, the environmental and social movement has shifted tremendously. People have a thirst for knowledge and a desire to take action. We provide consumers with the tools to become “Fashion Revolutionaries” and demand action from brands and policymakers as well as reduce their own impact. We lobby policymakers internationally to introduce new legislation to ensure the industry respects human rights and the planet.
Parvati Magazine: “Who Made Your Clothes” connects consumers to producers. What has it meant for these workers to be seen by the world?
Fashion Revolution: Our #WhoMadeMyClothes and #IMadeYourClothes hashtags have given producers visibility and a voice. In 2018 we had 3,838 brands post images of people in their supply chain using the #IMadeYourClothes hashtag, from cotton farmers and fishing net collectors for recycled polyester, to dyers, weavers, spinners and sewers across the world. This enables wearers of fashion to make the connection between what we’re wearing and the people who make it.
Parvati Magazine: What other campaigns and grassroots initiatives are you working on?
Fashion Revolution: One initiative we have been working on since 2017 is “Fashion Open Studio”, where designers open their creative spaces to the public. We hope to shine a light on emerging designers and major players. We believe initiatives such as this can become the new model to showcase great design, innovation and sustainability.
Parvati Magazine: As a rule, you do not boycott or call out specific companies, because you want to invite engagement, not shame. What strategies have you found to be effective for transparency and radical change in the fast fashion industry so that it can swiftly become sustainable?
Fashion Revolution: We have set out to be collaborative, to build connections across the industry, to involve as many voices as possible, from the fashion leaders, to the factory workers, to the farmers who grow our cotton. Fashion has always been clouded in mystery, but we are breaking those barriers down. One of our most successful tools for engaging with brands is our annual Fashion Transparency Index. It reviews and ranks 200 of the biggest global brands and retailers according to how much information they disclose about their suppliers, supply chain policies and practices, and social and environmental impact. Brands are competing against their peers and themselves and this is driving them to disclose more information.
Parvati Magazine: Which countries and companies have been the most responsive to transforming their business in a way that serves the workers and environment?
Fashion Revolution: There has been considerable progress in many countries. Today, hundreds of factories in Bangladesh are now safer places to work. Four hundred and sixty five factories and over 80 percent of garment exporters in Cambodia have published data about their working conditions compliance. Minimum wages for garment workers have increased in places like Bangladesh and Cambodia, but more still needs to be done. We need all brands to take human rights and the environment seriously. Ultimately, legislation will be required to ensure those laggard brands, who are currently doing nothing, to take action.
Parvati Magazine: You call for a radical change. What will it take to see that happen?
Fashion Revolution: As consumers, we hold the money and the power. We need to educate children, adults, policymakers, designers, CEOs, suppliers alike on how to make more sustainable decisions. The next big step is for sustainability to be integrated into business models. Ultimately, we need to be producing and consuming less as our current overconsumption is damaging people and planet. We will need to move to quality products over quantity. Yes, that means we will have to pay more for what we wear. Otherwise, our children and grandchildren will end up paying for the costs of unsustainable production—loss of biodiversity, climate change, soil erosion and poverty.
Fashion Revolution is a global movement that unites people and organisations to radically change the way clothes are sourced, produced and consumed, so that it is made in a safe, clean and fair way. We celebrate fashion while also scrutinising industry practices and raising awareness of their most pressing issues.