This Fashion Revolution Week people around the globe will be asking brands who made my clothes? This is a great way to raise awareness of the severe lack of transparency in the fashion industry and push brands to publish information on their supply chains. As customers, activists and citizens we can use our voices whether that be on- or offline to promote change in the industry by challenging brands to answer this question.
The organisation behind the 'Who Made My Clothes' campaign, Fashion Revolution, was formed following the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013 where 1134 garment factory workers died in a factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh despite employees repeated complaints that the factory was unsafe. Unfortunately, Rana Plaza was not an isolated incident and today unsafe factories continue to prop-up the trillion-dollar industry. Fashion Revolution aims to raise awareness of ongoing labour exploitation inherent to fast fashion business models and calls for a change in the way in which we consume fashion on a global level. At SOAS EF we will be participating in Fashion Revolution's Who Made My Clothes campaign by asking people if they know who made their clothes. We will take Polaroid shots of passers-by (with their consent of course!) wearing the clothes they usually wear with their labels on display. The Polaroid shots will be uploaded to social media platforms such as Instagram with the caption ‘@brand #whomademyclothes’. This is an effective way to push for transparency in the industry and we hope to create as much impact as possible by creating a campaign involving lots of students and change makers.
Even when conscious brands do genuinely wish to implement transparent production methods, this is by no means an easy challenge. With subcontracting and informal labour being the norm supply chains do not look like a neat interlinking chain of production stages but more like a web of tangled wires that seem almost impossible separate. Meanwhile, due to the sheer number of stages in supply chains tracing a garments stages of production appears to be a grave endeavour. For instance, to make a cotton t-shirt, cotton has to be grown, ginned, spun, knitted, dyed, cut, sewn and transported across multiple countries before reaching us instore or online. This doesn't even account for the production of seeds, pesticides, bleach, dyes, thread and labels which I don't think we can assume are produced in ethical conditions either. This is what is involved in making a simple cotton t-shirt. Now imagine what it takes to make a multi-fibre, quilted and lined coat complete with zips, buttons, buckles/toggles, an elasticated waistline and printed logos.
While brands may not give us a direct answer (although I was thrilled to find out that since Rana Plaza 150 brands have published information on their supply chains!) by asking #whomademyclothes we are standing in solidarity with garment factory workers who more than often get paid less than 22p an hour and endure appaling conditions to make clothing for western high street retailers. Even if we don't get answers, brands will start to notice that collectively we as citizens value ethically made clothing and that they sure better get their act together if they want to retain their customer base in the age of conscious consumerism. By asking #whomademyclothes and posting an image or simply sharing someone else's post on Facebook you are spreading the word and planting the same question in other peoples minds. Although #whomademyclothes is by no means a solution to all the problems in the fashion industry, its impact should not be underestimated. In an industry that thrives of opaque supply chains, secrecy and lies bringing light to these issues is the only way to ensure the erasure of labour exploitation in fashion. If we combine raising awareness vis-a-vis #whomademyclothes with using our wallet as a vote by only shopping from brands that value and implement ethical practices, then over time, we will without a doubt start to see change taking place in the industry.
For ways you can get involved in calling for transparency this Fashion Revolution Week check out Fashion Revolution's Take Action page.