As another fire swept through a Bangladeshi’s clothes factory this week, it becomes harder to justify our love for fast fashion. How many people do have to die or work in appalling working conditions just because of our insatiable appetite for cheap clothes?
It’s not only about the environmental cost of the clothing industry it is also about its human cost. We are all at fault. As consumers we want to spend less on clothes while buying more of it. In an effort to keep costs down, brands often overlook basic working and safety conditions. Ecouterre just published a shocking article on Gap’s “forced labour“, one brand amongst many.
It is a complicated issue. Marketing gets us to believe that some brands are “good” brands while behind the scenes ethic and social values disappear in the background. And it is not always because we spend more money that workers and the environment were cared more about.
Andrew Morgan, is looking to produce ‘The True Cost‘ is a documentary film exploring the impact of the global clothing industry on people and the planet.
They have taken a first step in creating the teaser and building a growing team of experts around the world. They are now raising this money to begin full production on the final film. Funds will go to principal photography and the post-production process.
The film will feature interviews with top industry leaders from the international clothing industry, illuminating this complex dilemma. In addition to these professionals, the audience will get to see the human side of the issue as they take cameras around the world to capture the lives of the people affected by these issues every day. More than just underscoring the problem, this is an effort to highlight real solutions that we can all take part in. The road we are on is not sustainable, but there is an opportunity here; a defining moment in history for us to set a new precedent for the future we will create.
The good news is that as consumers we have the power to change things. First we need to understand or be reminded of the issues. This is why documentaries such as ‘The True Cost‘ are so important.
Despite a series of revelations for the Observer about the brutal conditions in garment factories, companies, western consumers and India are still complicit in turning a blind eye.
Until three years ago I did not believe in magic. But that was before I began investigating how western brands perform a conjuring routine that makes the great Indian rope trick pale in comparison. Now I’m beginning to believe someone has cast a spell over the world’s consumers.
This is how it works. Well Known Company makes shiny, pretty things in India or China. The Observer reports that the people making the shiny, pretty things are being paid buttons and, what’s more, have been using children’s nimble little fingers to put them together. There is much outrage, WKC professes its horror that it has been let down by its supply chain and promises to make everything better. And then nothing happens. WKC keeps making shiny, pretty things and people keep buying them. Because they love them. Because they are cheap. And because they have let themselves be bewitched.
Last week I revealed how poverty wages in India’s tea industry fuel a slave trade in teenage girls whose parents cannot afford to keep them. Tea drinkers were naturally upset. So the ethical bodies that certified Assam tea estates paying a basic 12p an hour were wheeled out to give the impression everything would be made right.
For many consumers, that is enough. They want to feel that they are being ethical. But they don’t want to pay more. They are prepared to believe in the brands they love. Companies know this. They know that if they make the right noises about behaving ethically, their customers will turn a blind eye.
So they come down hard on suppliers highlighted by the media. They sign up to the certification schemes – the Ethical Trading Initiative, Fairtrade, the Rainforest Alliance and others. Look, they say, we are good guys now. We audit our factories. We have rules, codes of conduct, mission statements. We are ethical. But they are not. What they have done is purchase an ethical fig leaf.
In the last few years, companies have got smarter. It is rare now to find children in the top level of the supply chain, because the brands know this is PR suicide. But the wages still stink, the hours are still brutal, and the children are still there, stitching away in the backstreets of the slums.
Drive east out of Delhi for an hour or so into the industrial wasteland of Ghaziabad and take a stroll down some of the back lanes. You might want to watch your step, to avoid falling into the stinking open drains. Take a look through some of the doorways. See the children stitching the fine embroidery and beading? Now take a stroll through your favourite mall and have a look at the shelves. Recognise some of that handiwork? You should.
Suppliers now subcontract work out from the main factory, maybe more than once. The work is done out of sight, the pieces sent back to the main factory to be finished and labelled. And when the auditors come round the factory, they can say that there were no children and all was well. Because audits are part of the act. Often it is as simple as two sets of books, one for the brand, one for themselves. The brand’s books say everyone works eight hours a day with a lunch break. The real books show the profits from 16-hour days and no days off all month.
Need fire extinguishers to tick the safety box? Hire them in for the day. The lift is a deathtrap? Stick a sign on it to say it is out of use and the inspector will pass it by. The dark arts thrive in the inspection business. We, the consumers, let them do this because we want the shiny, pretty thing. And we grumble that times are tight, we can’t be expected to pay more and, anyway, those places are very cheap to live in.
This is the other part of the magic trick, the western perception of the supplier countries, born of ignorance and embarrassment. India, more than most, knows how to play on this. Governments and celebrities fall over themselves to laud India for its progress. India is on the up, India is booming, India is very spiritual, India is vibrant. Sure, the workers are poor, but they are probably happy.
No, they are not. India has made the brands look rank amateurs in the field of public relations. Yes, we know it is protectionist, yes, we know working conditions are often diabolical, but we are in thrall to a country that seems impossibly exotic.
Colonial guilt helps. The British in particular feel awkward about India. We stole their country and plundered their riches. We don’t feel able to criticise. But we should. China still gets caught out, but wages have risen and working conditions have improved. India seems content to rely on no one challenging it.
Last week India’s powerful planning commission claimed that poverty was at a record low of 21.9% of the population. It did so on the basis that people could live on 26 rupees (29p) a day in rural areas (33 rupees in urban areas). Many inside India baulk at this. Few outside the country did so.
But times are tough, consumers say. This is the most pernicious of the ideas the brands have encouraged. Here’s some maths from an Observer investigation last year in Bangalore. We can calculate that women on the absolute legal minimum wage, making jeans for a WKC, get 11p per item. Now wave your own wand and grant them the living monthly wage – the £136 the Asia Floor Wage Alliance calculates is needed to support a family in India today (and bear in mind that the women are often the sole earners). It is going to cost a fortune, right? No. It will cost 15p more on the labour cost of each pair of jeans.
The very fact that wages are so low makes the cost of fixing the problem low, too. Someone has to absorb the hit, be it the brand, supplier, middleman, retailer or consumer. But why make this a bad thing? Why be scared of it?
Here is the shopper, agonising over ethical or cheap. What if they can do both? What if they can pluck two pairs of jeans off the rail and hold them up. One costs £20. One costs £20.15. It has a big label on it, which says “I’m proud to pay 15p more for these jeans. I believe everyone has the right to a decent standard of living. My jeans were made by a happy worker who was paid the fair rate for the job.”
Go further. Stitch it on to the jeans themselves. I want those jeans. I want to know I’m not wearing something stitched by kids kept locked in backstreet godowns, never seeing the light of day, never getting a penny. I want to feel clean. And I want the big brands and the supermarkets to help me feel clean.
I want people to say to them: “You deceived us. You told us you were ethical. We want you to change. We want you to police your supply chain as if you care. Name your suppliers. Open them to independent inspection. We want to trust you again, we really do, because we love your products. Know what? We don’t mind paying a few pennies more if you promise to chip in too.”
And here’s the best part: I think they would sell more. I think consumers would be happier and workers would be happier. And if I can spend less time trawling through fetid backstreets looking for the truth, I’ll be happier.
Do not miss the Rapanui Sale with up to 40% off on selected style.
Based on the Isle of Wight Rapanui champions eco fashion with organic clothes made from organic cotton, bamboo and eucalyptus. Rapanui‘s organic clothes are certified to Fairtrade or GOTS standards; but also made in factories powered by wind and solar renewable energy. Each Rapanui’s product has a traceability map tracing the entire product supply chain from the planting of the seed, the processing of the fabric, manufacturing, energy use and transport.
While the use of leather in fashion is questionable, the latest eco fashion collaboration between Livia Firth and Gucci is worth mentionning.
Their new bag is 100 per cent traceable and free of links to deforestation. Leather and deforestation? That’s when this story becomes interesting.
Brazilian ranches represent the biggest commercial herd of cows. Leather is a direct bi-product of this industry. According to Lucy Siegle “One cow hide makes approximately 40 pairs of sandals or 30 small bags, while a medium-sized ranch ‘processes’ 80,0000 cows a year.” Cattle ranches have expanded rapidly encroaching on rainforest land and Lucy Siegle mentions that their activities are now driving three quarters of all tropical deforestation. Greenpeace “Slaughtering the Amazon” report states that “the cattle sector in the Brazilian Amazon is the largest driver of deforestation in the world, responsible for 14% of the world’s annual deforestation”.
Enter Livia Firth, Gucci and National Wildlife Federation. Working together they have teamed up with a Brazilian cattle farm, helping them work more efficiently without cutting down trees.
The result is this new Gucci fully traceable deforestation-free leather bag that will set you off a little bit over £1000.
With only 250 bags currently being produced this is unlikely to save much of the rainforest in itself but it could be a high profile way to highlight a important issue and support the efforts fo National Wildlife Federation to stop deforestation of the Amazon.
Eco Fashion graced the red carpet last night at the 2013 Academy Awards. Skyfall actress Naomie Harris donned an eco gown by Michael Badger as part as the 4th annual Red Carpet Green Dress Challenge. The Red Carpet Green Dress is an international dress design contest started by Suzy Amis Cameron, environmental advocate and wife of Director James Cameron.
Michael Badger mentored by Vivienne Westwood, created a gown made from certified organic silk crepe de chine using recycled zippers, vintage glass beads and chocolate candy wrappers. The dress was dyed with goldenrod and chamomile and was inspired by volcanoes and the appearance of flowing lava. (source: Grazia)
Helen Hunt also opted for more affordable eco dress with a midnight blue strapless gown in silk satin from H&M’s Conscious collection.
Eco Fashion Friday is about thinking about what we wear one day a week. What we buy, where the clothes come from, what they are made from, who they are made by. And not just clothes, but shoes and accessories too.
Eco Fashion Friday is the new Dress Down Friday. Its aim is to do for sustainable fashion what Meat Free Mondays hasdone in getting people to think about what they eat and its impact on the planet.
A series of weekly challenges have been set. Start at the beginning, or start anywhere. Have fun. And share what you wear and why you wear it.
To get us thinking about what eco fashion is, Salterbaxter have set themselves a series of 10 weekly challenges. Each Friday, they are going to undertake one of these challenges. They will be posting pictures of items that we wear on this site. You can also follow them on Instagram and Twitter. Salterbaxter want to get as many people as possible thinking about eco fashion each Friday – take part, take a picture of what you’re wearing, share it with them and your friends using the hashtag #ecofashionfriday. And please let them know your stories of what you’ve learnt through doing the Eco Fashion Friday challenges. If you are taking part in the challenge, as an individual or as a company, let them know, and they’ll list you as a Eco Fashion Friday-ista!
Weekly Challenges -
1) Wear something from your wardrobe you don’t normally wear – so old it’s new!
2) Wear something second-hand or vintage
3) Wear something with a story
4) Wear something organic – or from a new fibre such as soy bean, nettle or milk
5) Wear something by a small local designer
6) Wear something repurposed/upcycled or customized – by yourself or someone else
7) Wear something FairTrade
8) Wear something British made
9) Wear something that you or someone you know has made
10) Wear your favourite item of clothing which matches any of these challenges
See our selection of eco fashion
Emilia Fox (right) donned a 1958 Givenchy haute couture strapless black silk gown with trailing sash detail while Helen McCrory (left) looked stunning in a 1963 Givenchy haute couture gown, made from princess-cut ice blue and silver silk brocade.
Also taking on the Green Carpet Challenge (GCC) were Claudia Winkleman in a 1978 Yves Saint Laurent black cloque silk dress with a marabou feather trim and Ophelia Lovibond in a 2004 Lanvin in black lace gown with a fanned train made from black lace and silk.
WilliamVintage specialises in Vintage Haute Couture travelling around the world to find beautiful pieces and bring them back to life. In an interview with GCC owner William Banks-Blaney mentions that his “greatest find was 17 pieces of the 1967 Courreges haute couture collection in a barn in Devon”. Love It!
(via Eco Age)