I love fashion. As a teenager I was obsessed, and studied Textiles and Clothing Design on leaving school. Each day we can express a little of our personality in the clothes we choose to wear. But I have to admit I’m not much of a shopper these days – it is a long time since I derived much pleasure from hanging out in a shopping mall, but it is fun to occasionally go clothes shopping with a girlfriend. I love the fact that I have a few items in my wardrobe that are nearly 20 years old, and lots that are over 5 years old.
But have you noticed that the cost of clothing has reduced dramatically over the past few decades? How can that be when all other goods and services increase? Trend-driven, cheap, ‘fast fashion’ is why – the type of clothing we find in chain stores. I watched The True Cost early this year. Have you seen it? This documentary delves into the garment industry and shows us why it is possible to have $7 T shirts for sale – I mean how is that possible…really? It is fascinating, disturbing and confronting to watch. If you haven’t, I urge you to. Watch the trailer here.
Another fascinating watch is Sweatshop…a reality tv show following two gorgeous young fashion bloggers from Sweden who are immersed into the textile industry in Cambodia. They arrive looking glamorous and sounding naive but quickly the experience transforms them as their eyes are opened to the reality of what life is like for a garment worker. They finish the season as activists – fighting for textile workers to receive a living wage – and fundraised to create season two where they could continue to raise awareness and see change in action.
In 2013 an 8-storey garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh, killing 1130 people, and brought immediate media attention to the hideous conditions in many of these factories. How is it that a T shirt can sell for $7 in a chain store? Only by exploiting people, and often children. The 3 year anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse was last month – April 24 – and I read with interest to see what had changed since then.
Behind the Barcode is a guide produced by Baptist World Aid, allowing us to easily see if the brands we like to purchase rate well for ethical work practices…or not. First created in 2013, it has been updated each year since, and the 2016 results are interesting. My young teenage daughter discovered Glassons last year – the look and the prices work – but I was devasted to see that they rated F in early 2015. However they rate as C+ in this years report and have spoken publicly about their desire to keep improving. Take a look at this report – some of the brands that you expect to score low are actually reasonably high, and vice versa.
The Good On You app operates in Australia, allowing consumers to instantly assess the ethical ratings of fashion brands, rated for their impact on people, the planet and animals. While not currently available in New Zealand, there is currently a crowdfunding campaign happening to allow the app to be customised to our market. I would love to see this happen, and you can help show your support by clicking here. This campaign ends on May 22nd, so time is running out to reach their $12000 target.
Another organisation raising awareness globally around the true cost of fashion is Fashion Revolution. They are working hard to make traceability through the supply chain an everyday reality in the fashion industry. Because this isn’t just about those in garment factories, but those further back in the chain; those making the zips and buttons, those making and dying fabrics, etc. They challenge people to ask their favourite labels “Who Made My Clothes?”.
Unfortunately just yesterday in the news I heard about a hidden camera placed inside a textile factory in Instabul, exposing many children – some as young as 11 – toiling away on machines. Apparently most of these children, if not all, are Syrian refugees and easily exploited….
So in closing, I hope you’ll join me in helping to change the conditions for those working so hard in the garment trade. Perhaps you already are… As consumers we simply need to support those brands that are making big efforts to create transparency in the supply chain. There are brands available locally who use 100% organic Fairtrade cotton to make ethically made garments, like Kowtow, but I can’t afford to buy more than the occasional piece. Recreate and We’ar are more affordable.
I will not wear a garment that sells new for $7.