1.2 million garment workers lost their jobs without pay this past month thanks to global retailers cancelling orders worth £1.2bn due to Covid-19 store closures. These were all in Bangladesh, whilst staff were making ‘cheap-n- cheerful’ clothing for us to buy fashionably, frivolously, and fast.
Fashion Revolution Week was born in 2013 because blood was shed. As we now face an extraordinary time to critically re-evaluate our recent past and re-orientate our immediate future, we call for a Fashion Reformation to activate the systemic change and make this decade count.
Whist our daily reality now involves checking death-tolls and job-losses, it’s imperative we remember that 1,134 garment workers died from a factory building collapse 7 years ago this week.
Fashion Revolution was born to drive public awareness and structural change across the globe for human dignity and environmental conservation.
You may wonder why the Bangladeshis’ plight deserves such focus, when our own lives have turned upside-down; re-acting and re-arranging to cope with the spiralling speed of the world, whilst remembering what to wear for the Zoom meeting today.
‘RE’-doing seems the mantra of our era. Inconveniently, it seems we can’t re-wind or re-cycle our way out of this current predicament.
The big change we can’t wish away – even whilst Covid-19 commands our focus – is Climate Change, and the associated environmental and humanitarian crisis.
But what impact do our own clothing choices have on these issues?
To stitch the headlines into our clothes, consider well-made ‘value’ versus cheap luxury. When we buy a quality garment, well-crafted from sustainable material, it makes us feel great with every wear for years at a price that affords a reasonable wage. This is good value.
When we buy a cheap garment for around £20 – numerous times a season – that, we can afford; the luxury of environmental and human cost that we simply don’t have the resources to replenish.
And when at 50% off for £10 (after VAT = £8), the retailer and manufacturer will each still make their 2x margins, leaving £1 max. for the wages split between 3 people who cut, sew and finished this garment.
Because this garment was produced so cheaply it soon ends up in landfill or incinerators producing toxic methane gas to pollute our air, soil and waters. We cannot buy the cleanness back.
Collectively, global fashion industries pump-out some 100bn garments using 25% of the world’s chemicals whilst contributing towards 10% of its carbon emissions accelerating temperature rise (more than aviation & shipping combined) each year. We can’t recycle any of that.
1 in 6 people in the world now works ‘in fashion’, with 98% of them making less than their national living wage, whether in Bangladesh, or in the UK.
Are we ok with that? Have we spotted care labels from Bangladesh in our own laundry basket, for which people died, were laid-off, or – at best – are still paid too little to make ends meet? Suddenly, we wonder what has actually changed since the Fashion Revolution 7 years ago?
As I journeyed through the industry to head up a luxury brand in the glamour and grit of New York, the biggest battle that seized me daily was not a creative or commercial one, but an ethical one.
What struck me was the deep darkness in the loss of care and connection; with people and with the environment. Enormous pressures and colossal waste were piped through and tossed out in the flash of a show, and on we moved to the next collection. It became clear to me that the problem is so great that re-hashing bits of it wouldn’t change anything meaningfully.
That’s why I had to start; A blueprint for reforming the Fashion System with thorough Sustainability & Equality; piloting a holistic business model with thoughtful design, environmental sourcing, zero-waste supply chain, responsive retailing, specialist renewal service and charity partnerships.
Dr. Bernice Pan, Founder & Creative Director of DEPLOY London