Just a quick, mid-week post and reminder that it’s the 5th annual Fashion Revolution Week.
If you’ve ever been saddened and horrified by the workings of the modern fashion industry, then you know that the human and environmental costs of what has come to be known as ‘fast fashion’ are huge. By fast fashion, I refer to the high-turnaround cycles of seasonal clothing production that mass-produce largely disposable — but also ‘higher priced’ — clothes. The costs of fast fashion include environmental degradation (a result of both the chemically-intensive production of textile fibers as well as the fallout of having countless t-shirts and stretchy jeans wind up in landfills or sent back to countries in the global south); inequitable and exploitative international trade arrangements; and, perhaps already best publicized, forms of worker-exploitation (low wages or unremunerated work, disregard of labor laws, physical attacks on workers who attempt to unionize, unsafe/unsanitary conditions, etc.). It is no secret that the working conditions of the textile workers whose labour creates the brands and goods for sale on our fast fashion marketplace are, to put it simply, dismal. The 2013 Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh was the deadliest structural failure accident in recent history (wiki): after structural instabilities in their building were found, garment-labourers were ordered to return to work. 1,138 workers died in the building’s subsequent collapse. To call this, and events like it, ‘tragedies’ — and the workings of the global fast fashion industry that produced it ‘unethical’ — is an understatement. And, this is not new. Textile-production and social inequality have a very long history.
Clothing and textiles are central not only because they’re necessities, but because they reflect the ways we are compelled to be in the world. We have all known the need and pressure to find economical ways to clothe ourselves, for instance, in a world that often requires us not only to wear ‘many hats’ (garment-pun intended) but in which all kinds of social judgments are made about the hats we do wear. Unless one has access to all the right resources, it’s understandable to be compelled to reconcile our ethical vision of how textiles should be made and sourced with life’s very real demands and constraints (I may choose not to wear a handmade outfit for a job interview…. but, now, I’m thinking that the place that would hire me in handmade garb would kind of be awesome?).
Because of its importance, clothing is also transformative. As so many great bloggers have taught me (and as my grandma taught me, as she happily sewed clothing on her Singer while listening to the greatest hits of Julio Iglesias), how we source, approach, handle, create and care for the things we wear makes us, in turn. I don’t think the spirit of Fashion Revolution Week is to become an exemplar, or an ethically spotless consumer. Nor is it to say that we should all be makers (though, that could be a nice thing to aim for!). And, the point is not to take the fun out of clothes and replace it with the wagging finger of moral rectitude.
I see its spirit as bringing greater awareness, first, of the actual people and the supply chains by which most of us must already source our clothing and textiles so that we can generate better, more just, more humane, and human-centered practices (and, with that, more environmentally sustainable textile practices as well). And, to the extent that a kind of consumer-driven ‘desire’ and overconsumption are both the engines as well as the manufactured by-products of the fashion industry (I’m not above this!), I also think the spirit of Fashion Revolution Week is to examine my own motives and desires when it comes to clothing. This led me to ask myself a series of questions:
If it is true that I ‘vote with my dollar,’ how can I vote more ethically and sustainably? Where and when can I replace the shorter-term gratification of that ‘perfect steal’ with a longer-term, but richer gratification that comes with, say, making a garment, loving it, and wearing it (down) over time?
How can I develop a sense of style that feels right and timeless and enduring to me in a way that makes me a bit more autonomous from the pressure, generated by the logics of fast fashion, to run out and buy each seasonal must-have?
Finally, how can I more creatively use what I do have — what is already on hand: materials, talents, resources — to meet my needs, not only for “clothing” in the bare sense but also for a sense of identity, justice, and also community?
Just some thoughts on where I stand. Thank you for reading. Read more about this worldwide week-long event at fashionrevolution.org
What is your view on fashion and its ethics? Does FRW inspire any new ideas or directions for you? I would love to hear about it in the comments!