The Designer Toolbox to Join The Fashion Revolution
As one of the leading organizations paving the way for a better future for both the industry and the planet as a whole, Fashion Revolution is one of the most important resources for designers and consumers. From their newly launched MOOC titled Fashion's Future: The Sustainable Development Goals to an endless amount of resources online, Special Projects Curator Tamsin Blanchard takes us through the ways in which designers can learn to incite and empower to change.
By posing simple questions such as “who made my clothes?” you connect the two major ends of the fashion industry: consumers and producers. How important is initiating human connection when it comes to igniting change with Fashion Revolution’s work?
Clothes are made by people and worn by people. The whole process is about human connection. As consumers we must not forget that our clothes are made by people like us, with families to support, mouths to feed and decent lives to lead. Unfortunately, the fashion industry involves a lot of exploitation in the chase for wider margins and higher profits. People at the bottom of the food chain get crushed by poor pay and inadequate care for their working lives. It is important that we ask “who made my clothes?” so the brands who produce them know that we want the garment workers, the spinners and weavers who make our clothes to be fairly paid and treated with respect. We as consumers have more power than we think.
Fashion Revolution encourages change without malice. Do you think change is reliant upon an approach that includes rather than alienates?
Change will only happen when everybody works together and feels as though change is possible. Fashion Revolution is a campaign that loves fashion and wants to promote an industry that we can all be proud of. We hope to work with the industry, not against it, to increase transparency across the supply chain. If you don’t know that there’s a problem, how are you going to fix it? By being curious, finding out and doing something, we all have the power to make a difference.
Fashion is about empowering and celebrating creativity, but when capitalism steps in, it gets convoluted. How can we work within this paradigm to ignite change?
It is vital that environmental and social impacts are taken into account alongside financial profit. We must change the culture to incentivize businesses to understand the importance of social and environmental capital. Real creativity is about responding to the world around you in a responsible way—finding solutions rather than creating more problems. We need to create a new business culture where success is measured in terms of how much we give back, not just how much we take and make.
How can emerging designers most effectively use their voice and vision to help shift the landscape of the industry?
First of all, I would urge any emerging designer (or any industry insider or student) to take part in Fashion Revolution’s new MOOC Fashion's Future: The Sustainable Development Goals, which goes online with Future Learn on Monday, June 10th. Sign up for the free 4 week course here to learn about the Sustainable Development Goals and how they are linked with the industry’s impact on the planet and people.
Emerging designers have so much power to shape the future landscape of the industry. The new generation is making it clear that they need—and expect—the industry to change. They can use their voice to insist that they don’t want to be part of an industry that creates so much waste. They can use their vision by showing how waste is a precious resource for up-cycled collections. They can create new brands that have strict criteria on the sorts of materials they use; the supply chains they use; limiting production runs; creating closed loop systems where the clothes they make are designed to be disassembled and recycled at the end of their use; making better systems to build a culture of repair and longevity into the way they promote and market their clothes; renting rather than selling; putting people and the environment on an equal footing with financial profit.
Recent RCA Fashion graduate Laura Frandsen made a powerful statement when she chose to graduate without making a collection. Instead, she collected the textile waste from the studio and produced a research book explaining why she felt it was unsustainable to bring another collection into the world. She is introducing a textile recycling system to the studio and working out how to use her activism creatively to change the industry.
What are some year-long practices that both producers and consumers of fashion should aim to enact?
- Buy less, buy better.
- Sell less, make better.
- Think about what you are bringing into the world and how it will impact on the planet.
- Think about what you are buying and how you will dispose of it/pass it on once you have finished with it.
- Use the resources we already have—buy second hand, or use existing textiles and clothes as a resource.
- Slow down.
- Value the clothes you have, and make more of them.
- Repair, reuse, recycle.
- Think creatively and resourcefully.
- As both producers and consumers, choose where you put your money and invest wisely and intelligently.
Someone walks into a store and ponders purchasing that $10 shirt—a complete example of the fast-fashion landscape and the consumer cycle. What would say to them?
If you really need the $10 shirt and it’s the best you can afford, then buy it. But make sure you wash it carefully, look after it, wear it a lot, treat it as well as you would if it cost $100 because, chances are, it was made in the same factory, by the same garment worker. And when you are finished with it, think about whether you could customize it and make it last longer. Tag the store where you bought it on social media and ask #WhoMadeMyClothes? Find other ways to get involved to put pressure on brands to make them know that you care.
To create a better industry we have to unlearn many of the practices and models that have been at work for decades, yet many of the iconic brands have these models in their lifeblood. How do we begin to reshape some of these massive brands?
The best way to reshape the biggest players in the industry is to make your voice heard because your voice really does count. Read the Fashion Transparency Index and arm yourself with information so that you know the best questions to ask—and to find out what brands are publicly disclosing about their sustainability practices. While we are seeing companies share their policies and commitments on human rights and the environment, there is still much crucial information about the practices of the fashion industry that remains concealed—particularly when it comes to impacts on the lives of workers in the supply chain and on the environment.
The Fashion Transparency Index 2019 reviews and ranks 200 of the biggest global fashion and apparel brands and retailers according to how much information they disclose about their suppliers, supply chain policies and practices, and social and environmental impact.
We are seeing some improvement in transparency, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Fashion Revolution is pushing brands to look at their supply chains and their purchasing practices so that they can highlight their own challenges and problems and fix them.
Your efforts and successes speak to the power of social media to spark change. How important do you think social media is for changing the future of fashion? Why has it functioned as such a powerful tool?
Social media has enabled thousands of people around the world to come together as a single voice and ask #whomademyclothes. In April 2018, we saw almost 3.25 million people engage with Fashion Revolution through events, posting on social media and viewing our videos or downloading resources from our website. Over 55 thousand posts on social media asked #WhoMadeMyClothes? during FRW 2019.
Global brands such as Zara, Fat Face, Massimo Dutti, Pull and Bear, G Star Raw, Marks and Spencer, Marimekko and Gildan are among more than 3838 fashion brands and retailers that responded with real information about their suppliers or photographs of their workers saying #imadeyourclothes, almost double the number who responded in 2017. And for 2019, these figures are set to increase. When big brands respond to the question 'Who made my clothes?', it's often the result of swarms of people who come together and use their voices. Fashion Revolution provides a platform for citizens to unite and find like-minded people who together can have massive impact.
Social media is such a powerful tool as it is totally transparent and public. Fashion Revolution’s global Country Coordinators use social media to connect with their communities—often with their own focus and perspective. If you ask a brand to disclose information about their products, they have to be seen to be taking a responsible approach, not just in answering your question but in doing something about it too. There is nowhere to hide. Everybody can now be held publicly to account. We encourage citizens to use social media to ask brands to be more transparent as well as asking policy makers to put pressure on brands and governments to regulate the industry. But we also value the power of writing a postcard to a policy maker or organizing other activations to spark change. It might be hosting a clothing swap and talking to friends about why we can’t keep on consuming clothes at the rate we are, or organizing a screening of a film like The True Cost. We have other ideas for films on our Film Library on Pinterest. You can also use your vice creatively on social media by making a Haulternative video.
We like to encourage creativity as well as activism and that makes for increased engagement. Our global community knows how to inspire and together we can create maximum impact. As social media tools continue to evolve, so our campaign will evolve with it too, with richer, more responsive ways to communicating our message directly and authentically, without borders, age limits, or any boundaries.
We see social media as the entry point into our campaign. On Instagram, our 270k+ following is our widest audience that we communicate to. Not everyone among that group may ask #WhoMadeMyClothes, and of the ones that do, not all may follow up on the conversation. Social media activism is sometimes referred to as 'Clicktivism' when it's criticized for having a surface-only impact. But at Fashion Revolution, social media begins by empowering our audience, letting them know that their actions can spark change, and then educating those that do want to act on how they can most effectively do so.
What does transparency in fashion look like in 2019?
Take a look at the Fashion Transparency Index 2019 and you can see exactly where the industry is at—and how much work is still to be done.
Ready to make a change? Sign and share the Fashion Revolution manifesto today!