Friday, April 24, 2015

Inspire // Who Made My Clothes?



The hashtag #whomademyclothes will be everywhere today, marking the second annual Fashion Revolution Day.  It made quite a stir last year, as it marks the anniversary of the tragic Rana Plaza disaster, a factory formerly used by the likes of Joe Fresh and JC Penney, where 1,100 workers were killed in 2013.  Many supporters will be snapping selfies of their clothes turned inside out as a demonstration to support ethically-made garments.  The mission is for clothing companies to respond to the outpouring of consumer cries for transparency regarding where their clothes are being made and who is making them.

From what I've been reading, it seems there is more to the matter than a brand simply "hiding" this information.  For many, they're in the dark as much as their customers are.  Subcontracting is common in the apparel industry.  If a factory gets too busy or finds someone to make it cheaper, they'll hire out--making the supply chain increasingly shady and difficult to track.  And in countries like Bangladesh, there is always someone willing to do it for cheaper.


Unfortunately, it gets worse.  So far we've just talked about the 'cut and sew' factories, what we imagine an apparel factory to look like (rows of sewing machines and workers), that's usually the last step in production.  Before the cut and sew factory there's generally at least one farm that produces cotton or wool, at least one factory that cleans that fiber, at least one factory that turns the fiber into yarn and at least one factory that weaves or knits that yarn into fabric. Many people are employed by each of those farms and factories in total obscurity, and they happen to be the ones who are subjected to the worst working conditions. 

Cotton is actually a SLAVE TRADE.  Can we stop here for a moment?  Cotton, essentially everything in my closet, is a slave trade. Clothing companies have no contact with farms or gins or spinning mills, and accordingly have no idea who is working there or in what conditions.


All this is thoroughly depressing and while I understand that selfies and social media alone can't fix this, it's certainly not hurting the cause by raising the right question of "who made my clothes?"  Another important question: what else can we do?  I think supporting brands who embrace this theory of ethical garments is a step in the right direction.  Everlane is one of my favorites and claims "radical transparency".  You can read about each factory and they even disclose how much it costs them to make each item.  Reformation is another brand where fashion and sustainability coexist.  They've put alot of thought into every aspect of their supply chain.  Zady is another great company working to reform the apparel industry, one piece at a time. 

I know my own closet is filled with merchandise that contradicts everything I've written today so I'm not passing any judgement but instead hope we can collectively do better in the future.  I read something on Zady's website, that struck a chord with me:

"It’s all part of the movement of the “conscious consumer.” In the past decade, our collective buying decisions put enough pressure on the food industry to make major waves in revolutionizing it. Who would have imagined that now even Wal-mart carries organic food? We’ve opened our pantries for examination and have demanded better—now is the time to open our overflowing closets. We’ll look and feel better if we do."

So ask #whomademyclothes on Fashion Revolution Day, then keep asking it until we get actual
 answers.

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