Fashion Revolution Week

Thinking about who made my clothes for Fashion Revolution Week.

For most consumers buying clothes is about choice…

 What style suits me best? Which colour do I prefer? What is it made of? Which size is most flattering? How much will it cost?

 We ask ourselves any number of stylistic questions before arriving at a decision. But the question that is so often forgotten is who made it? Most of the time we don’t stop to ask what life is like for the 75 million people in the global apparel market or how much they are paid.

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This matters because as consumers we hold the power. Every purchase we make says something about what we value. Fashion Revolution week is about raising awareness and empowering individuals to change the way fashion works. By asking brands ‘Who made my clothes?’ we are part of a global movement demanding greater transparency in the fashion supply chain. This is an essential step for improving the lives of people across the fashion landscape, from cotton farmers to garment workers.

 What you can do…

  •  Pressure your favourite brands

Hold them to account for the social and environmental impact of their business. Share the label of a piece of clothing on social media and ask the brand #whomademyclothes?

  • Write to a Politician

Let them know the welfare of the planet and the people making your clothes matters to you.

  • Buy better

Choose fair-trade or second-hand where you can – even if this means buying something more expensive less often.

  • Repair, reinvent, revive

Instead of buying new, try updating something you already own.

Find out more here.

Antiform; The Attraction of Opposites

Sustainable fashion is a perplexing subject, for some even an oxymoron. However, as pioneering brands like Antiform prove, this does not have to be the case.

The notion of fashion appears to rely on a framework of aesthetic obsolescence that is at odds with the principles of sustainability. Designers consistently rework and update styles in order to promote fresh sales, causing older garments to become undesirable despite being perfectly fit for purpose. At the heart of the fashion industry, this unsustainable rate of growth and renewal is entirely wasteful, transient and somewhat superficial. Sustainability by contrast is based on concepts of longevity, increased usefulness and the dramatic reduction of waste. Yet if approached in right way, fashion does not need to be unsustainable.

The term fashion revolves around the notion of popularity and time; styles go in and out of fashion, trends appear and die down. Ultimately fashion is about change, which is not an inherently negative or positive concept. In fact, as Stuart Walker puts it “fashion in design fosters creativity and the exploration of new, untried solutions”and thus has great potential to adapt to sustainable principles.

Antiform, founded by Lizzie Harrison in Leeds almost 10 years ago is an excellent example of the versatility of fashion. The brand addresses many of the conflicting issues of sustainability through creative designs and an forward thinking approach to business. Using my experience as a freelance production assistant for Antiform over the last few months, I hope to convince you to buy more sustainably in the future.

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Design Innovation

The traditional role of the designer does not usually involve consideration of the waste created through the design process. Designer’s sketches are often sampled in a separate department by garment technologists employed to recreate the design to strict specifications. This method leaves little margin for increasing the efficiency of the materials used and leads to the creation of waste throughout the supply chain. In contrast, Antiform’s holistic approach to design balances stylistic elements with inventive, waste saving techniques; from zero waste pattern cutting to utilizing remnants in patchworked garments.

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Locally available and reclaimed materials

Most commercial fashion companies conduct their supply chain around the most economical production route on a global scale. For commercial businesses while quality, service and reliability are important factors to consider when choosing suppliers, in this system the direct cost of production and distribution is the main motivating factor. This causes a race to the bottom effect whereby the environmental and human cost is often forgotten about or waylaid in favour of profit.

Small, local level production by contrast enables designers to directly feel and respond to the effects of their business while fostering relationships between communities and materials. Antiform works with reclaimed materials sourced from British Mills and produces each collection in Bristol. Short production runs mean the business can respond quickly to demand and even create unique made-to-order pieces via ‘Antiform x You’; an innovative, bespoke service enabling the customer to take part in the design process by supplying a personal piece of fabric or design idea.

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 A skilled, flexible and diverse team

For most brands success means a commercial agenda that revolves around a continual increase in production, consumption and sales. Alone commercial success in the private sector is not enough to combat the vast, multidisciplinary issues of sustainability. In order to most effectively innovate the industry designers need to diversify and take on new roles across economic sectors. Antiform is run by a team of local designers, researchers and communicators who offer research, consultancy and lecturing work as well as freelance design, sampling and ethical production services. This level of flexibility means the brand does not rely solely on selling product; Antiform has the capacity to teach, facilitate and encourage a more sustainable fashion system as a whole.

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 Community

Antiform is based in a shared studio space with the Bristol Textile Quarter. The room is divided in to small individual workshops that bring together a diverse mix of local artisans and designers working in similarly ethical and environmentally conscious ways. While each business is independently run, there is a sense of the importance of collective success and wellbeing. Ideas are brought together over communal lunches and there is an open approach to the sharing of knowledge, materials, contacts and expertise. In some cases even waste is shared.

This sense of community is essential for creating a new fashion system. It is time to move away from precisely measured systems, based on self-interest and impersonal, anonymous transactions.

Please follow the links to see a few of the incredible artists and brands operating from BTQ;  Tamay and Me, MademyWardrobe, Naomi Wood Photography.

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Britain’s Cheap Clothes

British highstreet exposed for outsourcing production to factories paying workers just £3 per hour in the UK.

In the late 1980s, growing concern for worker welfare led to the creation of the Clean Clothes Campaign. The NGO was founded to help empower and protect labour rights in the globalised apparel industry and kick started the anti-sweatshop movement. Since then, the mobilisation of citizens across Europe and North America has marked a growing awareness of the exploitation inherent within the fashion industry. Particular attention has been placed on the treatment of the labour force in developing countries.

In 2013, the disastrous Rana Plaza collapse – widely considered the deadliest garment factory accident in history – sparked a fresh out cry from the global press. The disaster exposed many high street brands including Primark, Walmart, Bonmarche, Bennetton and Mango who out sourced production to Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh. In the course of the investigation it was revealed that the factory workers were being paid less than 38 Euros a month and had expressed concern about the safety of the building within days of the disaster taking place.

Protests outside Primark and Benetton in Oxford Circus, London, sought to pressure brands into taking responsibility for the event and the future welfare of their work force. A new accord on Factory and Building Safety in Bangladesh was created to improve conditions for workers though several brands refused to sign, since it meant paying more for their stock. In the UK, MPs sought to push new legislation forcing high street brands to audit their supply chains and ensure slave labour was not used.

Despite this tragic history and new legislation, last week Dispatches exposed garment factories in Leicester paying staff as little as £3 an hour to supply high street chains. While there is a general awareness that poor labour practice occurs in countries where federal law is not as strong, what is particularly shocking in this case is the location. The UK purports a minimum charter of employment rights which should be provided by law; paid holidays, breaks from work, limits to excessively long working hours, enrolment to a basic pension fund and a minimum wage of £7.20 per hour for over 25 year olds.

Undercover reporter, Belal worked for two days labelling River Island dresses at Fashion Square Ltd before being told his salary. After a weeks work he received £110, less than half the minimum wage per hour. When confronted about the low wages one factory manager revealed he considered himself in direct competition with other countries to meet orders at a minimum cost.

“we don’t get paid much for our clothes, and we need to compete with China and Bangladesh….if we pay everyone £10 or £6 then we will make a loss”

This statement is in stark contrast with River Island’s most recent accounts that show an operating profit of £144 million in 2014.

An investigation in 2010 discovered high street chain, New Look were associated with a factory paying workers just £2 an hour, the brand promised all its suppliers were required to pay a living wage. Yet despite this, in 2016 New Look was again found to be using a factory paying staff less than half the minimum wage; just £3.50 per hour. This figure seems to directly contradict the statement on New Look’s website which claims to protect workers in its supply chain and is at odds with their pre-tax profit which rose to £59.1 million last year.

Benefitting from a huge boom in online retail, brands such as BooHoo and Missguided show similarly staggering growth. Nitin Passi, founder of Missguided has a net worth of £65 million while Boohoo has seen profit rise from £260,000 to £15.3 million in four years. Meanwhile workers in United Creations, a Leister based factory are paid £3.25 per hour to produce items for these brands. Furthermore, the Dispatches reporter discovered serious violations in health and safety in the premise, with blocked fire exits, piles of rubbish and workers smoking on the factory floor.

The brands exposed in the programme responded in various ways including terminating contracts with the suspect factories, claiming they were unaware of the slip in standards or that the work was subcontracted without their consent. Missguided responded with the following statement;

“We take the allegations … very seriously and demand the highest standards of safety, working conditions and pay from all of our suppliers and subcontractors. We are committed to achieving the standards set by the Ethical Trading Initiative and conduct regular audits and spot-checks of our supply chain.”

Like many High Street shops River Island, New Look and Missguided are part of the Ethical Trading Initiative; a UK based organisation, founded to promote and support ethical trade in global supply chains. Yet inspite of such apparent concern for worker rights, the fashion industry’s consistent lack of action towards improving welfare in supply chains is deeply worrying. Terminating contracts not only leaves employees in a potentially worse position, it fails to address the root of the problem. In the current system the price of clothing is not equal to the time and effort necessary to produce it fairly. The result is exploitation at the bottom of the supply chain. I believe it is the responsibility of individual brands to ensure workers at every stage of production are paid fairly, even if this means rising the price of their apparel.

However, it is also important that change stems from consumers themselves. The individuals interviewed on Dispatches highlighted the prevailing attitude of today- “I won’t think where its come from or how its been made…I’m just looking at what I’m going to look good in”. In order for the customer to except a higher price for their goods, re-education is key. Understanding the value of production and clothing beyond trend based, seasonal wear is an imperative step towards a fairer fashion system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Offset Warehouse

Offset Warehouse is the first fabric supplier to exclusively produce and sell ethically sourced fabrics in the UK. Last week I was lucky enough to hear Charlie Ross, founder and director of the business speaking first hand about her journey into the world ethical trading at Stroud Atelier.

Charlie began by explaining the conception of Offset Warehouse. As a design student herself, she was appalled to learn about the harmful impact the industry has on both people and the planet. Documentaries such as China Blue, which highlight the sweatshop conditions of garment workers in Chinese jeans factories, motivated her to question why this form of modern slavery was tolerated and under whose authority. Environmental disasters such as the loss of the Aral Sea to cotton irrigation and news of farmer suicides caused by mounting fears over debt and pressure from suppliers similarly inspired Charlie to create change in the fashion industry. However, as a designer she struggled to find materials and fabrics that complied with her morals. As a result Offset Warehouse was born; a social enterprise that supplies the UK and abroad with ‘the most beautiful, hand-crafted and fairly-sourced fabric, trims and threads from across the globe’ at fair yet affordable prices.

The online shop offers a wide range of fabrics from cotton to silk and even some more unusual eco fabrics such as recycled polyester and is also stocked in Fabrications on Broadway Market, London. Unlike other sustainable fabric suppliers, which focus on natural and undyed cloth, Offset Warehouse has a variety of truly desirable printed and plain fabrics. Rather than sticking to a single trade certification the warehouse stocks certified and uncertified organic, fair trade, recycled, by-product, reclaimed, sustainable, co-operative, naturally dyed, azo-free and naturally bleached fabrics to cater for all audiences. Each fabric comes with its own identity tag giving information on the composition, country of origin, eco credentials and accreditors.

The success of Offset Warehouse is a testament to the dedication and passion of Charlie Ross who ended her presentation with the reminder “always do the right thing even when the right thing is the hard thing”. It is vital to support businesses such as this in order to drive further change in the industry. As designers and makers we are responsible for the fabrics we source and to encourage our employers to do the same. Transparency within the supply chain is essential to understanding and communicating the impact the fashion industry has and it is something we should push for as consumers of fabrics and as well clothes.