During the last month I have been taking an online (free!) course called Who Made My Clothes through futurelearn.com and the University of Exeter. Having watched The True Cost film on Netflix which investigates the Rana Plaza tragedy where over 1000 garment workers died during a factory collapse and subsequently getting involved with Fashion Revolution week back in April this course appealed to my interest in ethical fashion.
We were asked to choose some of our own clothes to investigate and try and uncover stories about the people who made them. I enjoyed playing super-sleuth, but it wasn't an easy nor happy task. I thought I already knew a lot about the rotten core of the fast fashion industry having done a lot of research on the subject for my business. However I still found myself shocked and tearful when faced with the human stories I uncovered.
I chose three different garments to start with but then had to focus on one which ended up being a pair of black skinny jeans (92% Cotton, 6% polyester & 2% elastane) from River Island which were made in Turkey. I focussed on these mainly because River Island customer service was initially quite helpful when asked where the cloth came from. They actually responded whereas French Connection when asked about my white dress didn't bother and stayed ominously silent. River Island stated through Twitter that they would contact their production team and look into it for me. However I have had no answer on this now for a month and don't imagine that I will.
Many of the other course participants had similar problems so we were asked then to investigate the countries of manufacture for information about garment workers and then what we could find out on the countries that were likely to have produced the materials involved. Furthermore what was the track record of these chosen retailers on ethical issues? This way we could uncover likely or possible stories that the brands are not keen to tell us themselves.
As my jeans were made in Turkey it became obvious from news articles such as this one from The Guardian that they could have been made by Syrian refugees. (NB. This is a guess not a fact)
"On this weekday morning most Turkish children are in school, but this Syrian boy is busy supplying the 15 sewing machines producing clothing mainly destined for the European market. Shukri, a Syrian Kurd who fled with his uncle from Qamishli in northern Syria 10 months ago, often works 60 hours a week earning 600 Turkish lira (£138) to help support his family. “I can’t go to school here because of work,” he says ".
"The factory’s supervisor agrees that 12 years old is very young to be working so many hours, but shrugs off responsibility. “It’s not our fault that they need to work,” he says, “the state failed to provide for them.”
In the Fairwear Foundation's 2016 report on the clothing industry in Turkey it states
"Syrian families who are trying to survive in Turkey end up in the lowest paid and most precarious segments of the workforce, due to economic pressure. Since Syrians often lack the residence or work permits that would allow them to work legally in Turkey, without any official sources of income they have no other choice but to accept to work in very hard conditions"
In February 2016 The Independent reported that The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) asked 28 major brands about Turkish suppliers and what strategies they had in place to prevent Syrian children and adults being exploited within their supply chain. Ten companies including River Island have yet to respond.
So as I am already feeling rather ashamed of my River Island purchase and only covered half of what I found I shall save the rest until next week! I just hope you have to stomach to stick with me and read on!
#WhoMadeMyClothes #FashionRevolution #RiverIsland #FairWearFoundation #FutureLearn
I am wary about writing about too many negative things in my blog posts in case it puts people off reading any more. However as the fashion industry is rife with horrors this is difficult to avoid and such issues need to exposed and discussed before anything will change. So while this will be hard to read (and hard to write) I believe it is necessary, I hope you can bear with me.
Being a mother of a young child myself I find the exploitation of child labour within my industry particularly shocking and sadly it is still very prevalent even today. Child labour is defined by the UN as “work for which the child is either too young – work done below the required minimum age – or work which, because of its detrimental nature or conditions, is altogether considered unacceptable for children and is prohibited”. Global estimates are that 168 million children aged 5-17 are engaged in child labour across all types of industries. These numbers are the highest in Asia and the Pacific and are stated to be nearly 78 million or 9.3% of the child population according to the International Labour Organisation.
Many of these children work in garment manufacture. Most highly sequined and embellished garments that often people will assume are done by machine are actually finished by children as their little fingers are more deft. This kind of time consuming and precise work is often contracted out by the factories who received the orders and completed in the families homes, out of sight. Children work in all parts of the fashion supply chain including in the fields picking cotton, which is particularly hazardous due to the pesticides and cotton dust which causes lung disease.
These vulnerable kids are often exposed to many hazards including toxic chemicals used in the various processes such as dying, without any protective safety gear. Industrial machinery operated by untrained children often leads to terrible accidents leaving them unable to work and forced to beg on the streets. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse is also sadly very common and used to manipulate or discipline. Children are often chosen as workers as they are more compliant and as they are afraid to question the authority of their bosses.
Child workers miss out on the benefit of an education as the need to provide extra income for their family is far greater. This however leads to less opportunities for them as they get older creating a poverty trap that feeds into another generation. Many children are also forced to work to pay off family debts and become bonded to employers. This means they work for no pay and often have to pay their employers for food and accommodation becoming virtual slaves.
Fast fashion demands cheap labour and quick turnarounds which creates such systemic exploitation of all workers, children in particular. To combat this we all need to slow down our consumption and be more aware of what we buy. Purchasing from ethical brands that do not use child labour can make a big difference but also demanding more transparency from others about their suppliers and practices. The Fair Wear Foundation has a list of over 120 companies that have signed up to it's code of practices which does not allow child labour and other certifications like Fairtrade and GOTS help consumers to know they are buying an ethical product.
#ChildLabour #FairWear #Fairtrade #GOTS
Renting clothes is a great way to have a more sustainable wardrobe and reduce that fashion foot print and there are more brands around now who offer this.
It started off in the high end designer sector with companies like Rent the Runway and now Dream Wardrobe and Girl Meets Dress offering styles from over many designers including Roksanda Ilincic, Stella McCartney and Christopher Kane. Why fork out hundreds of pounds for something you may wear only once and will then just take up space in your wardrobe? Some offer a free back up size in case it doesn't fit or a try on service and all have free returns. Sounds good doesn't it?
The rental concept could be a great antidote to a fast fashion addiction, enabling the buyer to regularly wear new styles without harming the planet at the same time. Le Tote offer high street brands and even style your look for you. Some hotels in Europe and the US now offer clothing rental to guests allowing them to pay on check out thus allowing for less suitcases needing to be sat on to fit in all those sensational holiday outfits!
This idea is now moving into children's clothing with websites like Rainey's Closet doing a similar thing but with less expensive girlswear brands that you can hire for a specific time period - perfect for a wedding or party. Rentals are insured for that disaster moment too and there is no need to wash them either (always an added bonus for busy mums!)
As all mums will know having a baby is an expensive business. There is so much stuff you need and we all want the best for our little bundles of joy. Vigga is a Dutch brand who have been working with my old friend Ellen MacArthur on their circular concept babywear. Parents pay a subscription and receive a bag with a range of eco-friendly clothes made by the company themselves which are then updated as the little one grows. The same clothes are then worn by other babies and toddlers (after washing and repairing of course!) creating far less waste and energy to create more new garments.
I did come across several other, now defunct, kids clothing rental sites which makes me wonder if the demand for this is not quite there yet. What do you think about the idea of renting clothes? Does it work better for women's clothes than kids? Would you consider it for yourself or your kids? Would love to know your thoughts x
#ClothingRental #Vigga #EllenMacArther
As I am hoping to include the most classic of coat shapes, the dapper duffle, in my launch collection I thought you might like a potted history of Paddington's favourite attire.
A long frock hooded coat with toggles is seen in the Polish military in the 1820's which may have influenced the design of British classic. In 1887 John Partridge, an outwear specialist, designed and sold a toggle closure overcoat. This looked somewhat different to the ones we know today as it was shorter and roomier but had the characteristic toggle fastenings. A few years later this was adapted by the British Navy to protect their servicemen against the inclement weather at sea. They were then worn on military ships all round the world.
At this point the duffle was a large one-size-fits-all so that one could be worn by any sailor over other clothing and also have the maneuverability needed for ship work. The toggle closures were used to make the coat easy to fasten with cold, wet or gloved hands. The two piece hood was cut loose to pull over a woolly hat or cap and the cloth used was generally a heavy course wool which was water repellent.
It became most popular during world war 2 thanks to General Montgomery, allied commander of the British forces, who created a signature look worn with a beret at a jaunty angle - hence it's pet name the 'Monty', As the coat saw more service at sea, design changes were made to suit the sailors and their working lives. These included shoulder yokes, throat tabs on the front of the hood and a cross over front, thus becoming the style we recognise today.
Army surplus duffel coats and fabric were sold on by the Ministry of Defence in 1951 to wholesalers Harold and Freda Morris who sold them to camping and leisure wear shops. This was such a huge success with the general public that H&M Morris set up the company Gloverall to produce and sell duffle coats alongside other outerwear. Gloverall still make duffle coats today which are loved around the world particularly by the Japanese.
In the 1960's these army surplus duffles were snapped up cheaply by students, artists and intellectuals, most notably the poet Jean Cocteau, and became the staple garment of the counterculture movement. Paddington bear first appeared in the duffle coat in 1958 and it has been a favourite of children ever since.
#DuffleCoat #Monty #Paddington
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