Why we need to join the Fashion Revolution
I became Fashion Editor at the Sunday Telegraph Magazine 20 years ago and loved it. My job was at the pumping heart of the fashion industry, doing a shoot every week with brands from High Street to designer – as long as it made a good picture, I’d select it.
After 3 years on the merry go-round of shows and seasons my enthusiasm started to wane – I longed to do something more meaningful than promoting mindless consumption. Back then it was all about what looked good – sustainable fashion was hardly even a thing. In 2000 Panorama did an exposé on a factory in Cambodia making clothes for Gap and Nike – girls working 7 days a week, 16 hours a day – only then did questions start to creep into the industry.
In 2003 I moved to Cambodia to start a magazine for factory workers, because there was nothing like that for them and I saw a need. I wanted to know more about the lives of these 300,000 young women working to make high street clothes for the West.
I made friends with a group of factory workers and lived with them in their digs for a week. I couldn’t have done any longer. At night I slept with 6 other girls on a wooden platform with rats the size of cats roaming underneath.
In 2007 I got married and moved to a remote part of West Africa with my husband who was living there among the Fulani, a semi-nomadic people group in Burkina Faso. There I saw another side of the fast fashion industry – piles of second hand clothes on market day and artisanal crafts that had just been wiped out with the competition.
My world tour of the ravages of fast fashion has helped make me what I am now – passionate about justice for the people who make our clothes in the industry.
But what about most Westerners, who’ve never met a woman who works in an Asian garment factory, or spoken to craftspeople who have no market for their skill anymore? Why should they care? Because it’s human to care. When we buy clothes, we have the choice to empower the underprivileged and the voiceless or we give more power to those that abuse and neglect people and the environment for their own profit. Who in their right minds would choose to support an abusive boss?
The fashion industry is also the world’s second biggest polluter after oil. We need to take responsibility for that. Fashion is produced at a faster rate than ever before and the waste is phenomenal. Fashion brands need to take sustainability seriously and take responsibility for their impact on people and the environment. The Fashion Revolution campaign believes that transparency is key to this, so that brands can’t hide their heads in the sand or wash their hands of responsibility.
As for consumers – that’s anyone who buys clothes – we need to be mindful of our choices , support more independent brands, buy less and look after what we have. The current high street model is unsustainable. Clothes just can’t be made that cheap, unless you make a lot – too many – of them.
As an independent brand, I am struggling to turn a profit. Without the kudos of a celebrity endorsed brand, I find it hard to add a decent margin onto bags which are so much more costly to make than mass produced bags. There’s a war raging for custom in every inbox, postbox and timeline in the country, and a small brand like mine does not have the artillery or heart to fight. I’m after comrades, not victims of mindless consumption.
Joining the Fashion Revolution is a heart issue more than an economic issue. According to a Telegraph article last year, 79% of women say they are at their happiest when wearing something new, and 52% say they feel lacklustre or less confident when wearing something old. Clearly our fashion choices say more about how we feel about ourselves than our actual need. And until we can face up to the heart of the matter – valuing ourselves for what we are, not for what we wear – nothing will change.
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