Fashion Revolution Week was started to commemorate the anniversary of a tragedy that took place at the Rana Plaza garment factories on April 24, 2013. The purpose of this week is to not only remember this atrocity, but to enact change and to “come together as a global community to create a better fashion industry.” (fashionrevolution.org)
Rana Plaza, an eight-story building located in the Dhaka District in Bangladesh, housed multiple garment factories and employed around 5,000 people. The people working in this building were manufacturing clothing for many of the biggest fashion brands in the world — including Benetton, Bonmarché, The Children’s Place, Joe Fresh, Mango, Matalan, and Primark — and were working in unsafe conditions that became fatal.
The Rana Plaza factory collapse killed 1,138 people and injured many more. It is considered the deadliest structural failure accident in modern human history. This event made international news and led many people to realize the poor working conditions of people who made their clothes.
In 2021, Fashion Revolution Week is focused on the interconnectedness of human rights and the rights of nature. Since this Fashion Revolution week takes place in tandem with Earth Day, it is imperative to examine the negative impacts the fashion industry is having on the planet, while maintaining focus on uplifting the conditions of garment workers as well. This year’s week-long campaign will “amplify unheard voices across the fashion supply chain and harness the creativity of our community to explore innovative and interconnected solutions.” (fashionrevolution.org)
Why Is It Important?
It’s critical to focus on both people and the planet when discussing revolutionizing the fashion industry, because the injustices that occur within the industry are so interconnected to both human rights and environmental impact. The human right to a healthy environment is enshrined in over 100 constitutions (UN Environment Programme), but that right is currently being violated globally with the ongoing climate crisis, pollution, and other environmental injustices. The fashion industry emits about the same quantity of greenhouse gases per year as the entire economies of France, Germany, and the UK combined (McKinsey & Co, Fashion on Climate, 2020). Considering current trends, the fashion industry misses the ‘1.5 degree by 2030’ pathway to mitigate climate change by 50% (McKinsey & Co, Fashion on Climate, 2020). By its massive environmental impact, the fashion industry is impeding on all of our human rights to a healthy environment.
While there is so much work to be done to make the fashion industry more sustainable and more equitable, there is good news of incremental changes being made. Secondhand clothing resale has grown 21 times faster than the retail apparel market over the past three years (ThredUp, 2019). Eliminating any portion of new clothing production is a positive thing! In the last 15 years, clothing production has approximately doubled (Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 2017), but by extending the life of clothes by just nine months of active use, it would reduce carbon, water, and waste footprints by around 20–30% each (WRAP, 2015).
Choosing more sustainable materials when purchasing new products is also an essential piece of creating positive change. Between 75 and 85% of Certified Organic cotton is rain fed (Textile Exchange), which reduces water waste during production of raw materials versus conventional cotton. Knowing more about which materials are more sustainable while shopping is a great way to make a more positive impact on the environment.
While the fashion industry’s injustices impact every global citizen’s human rights, the industry is also harming its workers — not only with poor working conditions that lead to atrocities like the Rana Plaza factory collapse — but also daily injustices happening to workers all over the world. Globally, nearly one in three female garment workers experience sexual harassment in their workplaces (CARE International, 2017). Many workers don’t have the means — over 90% of workers in the global garment industry have no possibility to negotiate their wages or conditions (IndustriALL) — or security to fight back and are vulnerable to poor working conditions. Garment workers are the second highest at-risk production category for modern slavery (Walk Free Foundation, 2018).
All workers deserve livable wages, and paying sweatshop workers in apparel supply chains that living wage would result in only a small price increase — typically 2 to 7% — for consumers (Pollin et al., 2004 & Miller & Williams, 2009). Paying people a living wage would make a positive impact on the lives of manufacturing workers, while not making much of a difference to consumers.
How to Get Involved
During Fashion Revolution Week, and every week of the year, we need to ask brands #whomademyclothes and #whatsinmyclothes on our social media accounts and demand transparency in their entire production cycle — from sourcing and harvesting raw materials through manufacturing and distribution. We should also encourage our friends to do the same! The larger the community is who demands this information, the bigger the impact will be! To see radical changes, we must engage in radical action.
At Made Trade, we value transparency at every level. When curating ethically sourced and sustainable made goods to sell on our site, we ask the critical questions so every customer can feel confident in their purchase that workers were paid a living wage, materials were sourced sustainably, and the safety of both people and the planet were considered every step of the way.
A Few Brands on Made Trade Taking Part in Fashion Revolution Week
With a mission of lighter living, VALANI designs sustainable, plant-based clothing for women who want a playfully chic wardrobe without harming the planet. Their garments are strategically designed to minimize waste and made in small batches to lighten their impact on the earth. With a bit of restyling, VALANI’s garments are versatile enough to wear throughout the year, making them ideal pieces for a sustainable, capsule wardrobe. They use plant-based fabrics — including hemp, Tencel eucalyptus, and banana fabric — that are dyed with non-toxic, low impact dyes, and that are synthetic-free and biodegradable. VALANI’s USA-based design team and seamstresses work with a GOTS-Certified production partner in Tamil Nadu, India. This factory adheres to stringent environmental and ethical standards, ensuring that their small-batch productions are low waste and low impact while providing safe working conditions and fair pay for their tailors. VALANI believes in transparency from first sketch to the final garment, and that lighter living is easier when you know where and how your clothes are made.
Anchal Project is the creation of sisters Colleen and Maggie Clines. Maggie and Colleen were inspired to create Anchal after visiting Ajmer, India and learning about the extreme oppression some women in the region faced as commercial sex workers. They were moved by the economic opportunity presented by the region’s rich textiles. Anchal’s contemporary geometric designs are defined by sophisticated patchwork and aggregated stitch patterns. Their approach revolutionizes the traditional Kantha quilting techniques from Northern India to create modern, heirloom quality pieces. All Anchal products are handmade in India using eco friendly dyes, natural fibers, and organic cotton. They are Fair Trade Certified by the Fair Trade Federation.
Symbology is an ethical fashion label that partners with women artisans in India and developing countries to produce handcrafted fabrics combined with modern, figure-flattering designs to create unforgettable everyday pieces. Symbology uses fashion as a platform to empower women, preserve handmade crafts, and provide sustained employment and fair wages to artisans. Each piece is handcrafted by women artisans around the world using traditional fabric techniques like block printing, tie-dye, and embroidery. Following fair trade guidelines, Symbology pays each of their artisans a living wage, promotes gender equality, and employs eco friendly production practices. Symbology’s pieces are made from natural fiber textiles and dyed with AZO-free dyes, then block-printed or embroidered by hand to create stunning designs.