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 whomade 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.
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.
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.
Denim jeans are a global staple with more than 1bn pairs being sold worldwide each year. Jeans are bought by 96% of American consumers with an average ownership of 7 pairs for women and 6 for men*. Documentaries such as China Blue have exposed the harsh conditions garment workers face in the denim industry often working more than 12 hours a day, in compromising conditions for less than a dollar a day.
Jeans are made almost exclusively from cotton, a fibre that uses vast amounts of water, land and pesticides to produce. Including the growing, dying and treating process, 11,000 litres of water is required to make a single pair of jeans. Further more the trend for pre-worn looking denim requires a method called sandblasting which according to War on Want is ‘often performed without proper ventilation, safety equipment or training’ and ‘exposes workers to serious risk of silicosis, the deadly lung disease caused by inhalation of silica dust’.
While the process of making denim raises many ethical and environmental questions, the fabric itself is particularly hardwearing and practical for everyday use. Furthermore, the vast quantity of denim on the second hand market makes it a great resource for upcycling and resale in vintage stores. Companies such as Re/done successfully take apart quality vintage denim to refashion into new jeans that are in keeping with modern styles. In contrast to the sterile nature of mass produced trousers, the faded patches and old stitch lines on Re/done’s individually crafted pieces celebrate the longevity of the fabric and create a narrative making them desirable on another level.
Swedish denim label Nudie Jeans is similarly transforming the way consumers view their denim items. The brand encourages customers to take care of their garments with a free repair service at satellite mending stations around the world and even offers to recycle your jeans when they are no longer wearable. While they admit that process of making their denim is still highly water intensive, they recommend new trousers are not washed for at least six months in order to properly ‘break them in’. A process they encourage to give the jeans a ‘worn look’ which tells the story of the wearer and gives an improved, personal fit. They also recommend hanging jeans outside to air rather than washing them unless significantly stained, saving water in the consumer stage of jeans life cycle.
Exploring the practicalities of using second hand denim.
Inspired by visual and sound artist Cibelle Cavalli Bastos, who creatively uses found objects in her art installations, I created a denim look with materials sourced entirely from charity shops and kilo sales. Elements such as the buckles from a pair of dungarees and buttons from fly fastenings were utilised in new and creative ways, serving both practical functions and as a reminder of the garments previous lives.