Fashion Revolution Week is a humbling reminder amid the Spring launches and the sales and the pretty, shiny things, that the fashion industry still has big issues. On April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,134 people. Most of those people were female garment workers. The factory – which was built on an unstable foundation using shoddy materials, and which workers were forced to enter even after they notified the building owners of the cracks that appeared in the walls the day before the collapse – produced clothing for fast fashion brands for American and European markets.
The Rana Plaza collapse was an undeniable tragedy, but in shining a light on the horrific crimes of the fast fashion industry, it became the impetus for activist organizations that have since made huge strides in implementing more strict regulations in garment factories that protect worker health and safety.
Fashion Revolution is one of those organizations. Its mission? Educate, educate, educate. Fashion Revolution began as a direct response to the Rana Plaza tragedy, and since 2013, it’s grown into a global organization comprised of people from all backgrounds with the common goal of educating the public on how to improve the fashion industry and the lives of garment workers.
Fashion Revolution Week happens every year to commemorate the Rana Plaza collapse, and whether you’re a long time advocate for ethical fashion or just beginning to learn about the fashion industry, it’s a good time to reflect on your own relationship with fashion and what you can do to support a healthier garment industry.
I’ve been a witness to the textile industry my entire life. The state of Rhode Island, where I was born and raised, was the epicenter of textile production in the United States during the Industrial Revolution. By the 1930’s, the industry had waned and largely moved elsewhere, but the remnants of it are everywhere you look – from the old mill buildings that now house shops, breweries, artist lofts, apartments, and offices, to the polluted rivers and waterways that are still recovering nearly a century later.
I know that my own ancestors toiled away in textile factories, probably as children, working long hours under conditions that could have killed them, making products that ultimately polluted their home beyond recognition for their children and their children’s children. That history is a part of me. I want my future to be part of making it better.
So, what can any of us do to contribute to a healthier fashion industry during Fashion Revolution Week? I’m so glad you asked.
Get involved in a local advocacy group. I’m lucky to have the incredible DC Sustainable Fashion Collective here in my city, which organizes events around ethical and sustainable fashion throughout the year and has a few exciting things going on this week. (Anyone in DC going to the talk at Optoro on Wednesday night? I’m waitlisted but I’m hopeful!) If you’re not in the DC area, check out Fashion Revolution’s list of regional contacts, or just do some googling and see what might be going on in your neck of the woods!
Make. Mend. Thrift. Some of the best things you can do to mitigate the human and environmental toll of the fashion industry are to take care of the stuff that you have, buy used stuff, or learn to make something yourself. I managed to save my white t-shirt from a turmeric stain this week, and although I somehow accidentally stained my white Keds yellow by trying to clean them with hydrogen peroxide, I’m determined not to give up on them.
Do your research. Learn more about your favorite brands and how transparent they are through their supply chains. Do they have published codes of conduct on their websites? Do they say how those are enforced? Do they have any meaningful third party certifications for things like environmental responsibility or fair trade practices?
The Good On You App is a solid place to start when doing this type of research, but I will warn that it’s not a perfect metric (it rates both Zara and H&M higher than Everlane, for example – and I’m not saying that Everlane is a perfect baby angel, but I do think there’s a pretty obvious problem with a rating system that would grade it lower than two of the leading producers of fast-fashion in the world).
Ask who made your clothes. One of Fashion Revolution’s biggest and most successful campaigns is the #WhoMadeMyClothes tag, in which participants are encouraged to take photos of themselves with their clothing labels visible, and ask brands pointedly, who made my clothes? The reality is, a person made your clothes. Were they paid fairly for their labor? Is their workplace safe and healthy? Most fast fashion brands are still keeping mum on these issues, so we need to keep pressing them. And don’t forget to follow the tag #imadeyourclothes to see the faces and read the stories of the garment workers who produce the things we wear every day.
Support ethical makers. Especially support businesses that are owned by women and people of color. Not sure where to start? I highly recommend heading on over to the Instagram account @buyfrombipoc, which is run by women of color and highlights BIPOC makers of ethical fashion. I also learned that my friend Jenny Hwa of Loyale Studio is offering 30% off her glorious tees with code fashionrev2019 through Friday (I don’t make a commission or anything from sales with the above link or code, I just genuinely love Loyale and want to share this Very Good Deal with anyone who may have been eyeballing one of those luxury tees).
Are you participating in Fashion Revolution Week this year? What are your plans?