Life goes on despite being in lockdown, and this week of April brings back memories and commemorations of people who suffer from the consequences of fast fashion. This week is Fashion Revolution Week, a week where (more consciously) fashion is revolutionized and cries out for change.
Although it has been celebrated for 7 years now and a very active movement has been created in all parts of the world. You may not know what it is about, so here I bring you some of its history, its mission and its objectives.
What is the Fashion Revolution?
On April 24, 2013, some 1,130 people died when the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. 2,500 more were injured. The people trapped under those eight floors were working for well-known fashion brands; in one of the many negligent accidents that plague the fashion industry.
Fashion Revolution was born that day; it was like a call to fight a model that doesn’t stand up. The cost of fashion should not be worth someone’s life, nor the brutal environmental impact that the textile industry brings. Although there is much to change (and more now with the crown virus crisis), this movement has opened a window for significant change. The Fashion Revolution is here to stay.
We have used clothing almost since the beginning of our existence; but it has not always been produced and consumed as we are now. Since the 80’s we started to copy catwalk styles very quickly, with a low production cost and putting them in stores in a short time. By 2005, fashion was already a big business all over the world; where production had moved to countries with lower wages, less regulations and protections for workers (especially women) and the environment.
Why join the Fashion Revolution?
There are several fronts on which the Fashion Revolution is focusing, which I explain here.
⁃ HUMAN RIGHTS AND WORKING CONDITIONS
Fashion is one of the most influential sectors in terms of financial issues, trends, beliefs, attitudes, identity and culture. It is also one of the most labour-intensive industries and involves many people in agriculture, factories, design, craft production, mass production, transport, sales…
What Fashion Revolution is denouncing are the working conditions where exploitation and human rights violations are still present in too many places; with compulsory overtime, lack of safety, poor health, discrimination and sexual harassment … In reality there is no need to go very far, as these kinds of problems exist in northern countries as well.
Although it has been five years since this report was written; I would like to share it with you so that it is clearer how the brands work in terms of production and the lack of control they had at that time (unfortunately it is not very different from now). The ‘Behind the Barcode’ report found that out “… of 219 brands surveyed 91% did not have full knowledge of where the cotton they used came from; 75% did not know the source of their fabrics; and only half took into account where their products were cut and sewn. If companies do not know how and where their clothes are made; then there is no way for them to ensure that human rights are being protected in their supply chains.”
36 million people live in modern-day slavery and manyxs work for Western brands.
Waste is one of the biggest problems for the fashion and textile industry. Only 20% of textiles are recycled each year worldwide.
They can be classified into two types:
1) Pre-consumption: materials left over from the production of clothing. A textile factory can produce between 5% and 25% of pre-consumer textile waste in its total annual production.
2) Post-consumption: this is what is discarded by consumers after use.
⁃ WATER, CHEMICALS AND COAL
Cotton accounts for 90% of all natural fibres used in the textile industry and is used in 40% of the garments produced in the world. It requires a large amount of water. A cotton shirt uses about 2,700 litres of water; the amount we normally drink over a period of 3 years. In addition, non-organic cotton uses 22.5% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of all pesticides, which is 2.5% of the world’s agricultural land.
17-20% of industrial water pollution comes from textile dyeing and treatment; and an estimated 8,000 synthetic chemicals are used to convert the raw material into textiles. These wastes can be carcinogenic, toxic, mutagenic and have harmful effects on human reproductive systems.
⁃ LOSS OF CULTURE AND SKILLS
The artisan heritage is disappearing. Due to mass production, we risk losing the ancient techniques that are passed on from generation to generation in communities around the world. We have to give value to these crafts that are gradually dying out and do more to preserve traditions and techniques.
The way we consume clothes has changed in the last 20 or 30 years. We buy 400% more clothes and pay less. More than 80 billion pieces of clothing are produced each year
There have always been two clothing collections a year, now they come to the stores every one or two weeks.
⁃ TRANSPARENCY AND TRACEABILITY
Much is hidden within the fashion industry, due to its size and complexity. The public does not know how everything works, from the fiber to the final product; and what happens to the clothes when we get rid of them.
We need more transparency. This means openness, communication and accountability. Transparency is an approach to doing business and professional behaviour. Transparency is a means to a better industry, not an end in itself.
We want to be confident that what we buy is not made up of the scarcity of someone else’s life or the destruction of the environment.
How many liters of polluted water or slave labor does it take for us to realize the need for change?