Humans have been making cloth for hundreds of thousands of years. The earliest type of fibres for cloth would have been flax, wool, silk and cotton. Since those early days of textiles we have developed and invented so many different types of cloth to be used in a vast variety of ways not just for fashion.
However have we created an environmental monster with some of the synthetic fabrics we have created? There are of course ecological pros and cons to any type of fibre or material proceeded from it as they all have an impact on our planet and people.
As the Boy Wonder is getting older (he is now 7 and a half, I don't quite know how that happened!) and more exposed to the wider world around him I begin to consider how much to make him aware of. As a mother my instinct would often be to protect him from the nastier side of life, but having lost his dad at a young age I know this isn't realistic. With so many terror attacks happening all around us these days, I imagine many of us are struggling to know what to tell our kids in order to explain such things while not frightening them. I have the same quandary in some ways with what I tell my son about fast fashion and my work in fighting against it.
Many of us mums have probably said to our kids when they won't eat their dinner that there are starving children in Africa, but how much of that can they really understand? I know I didn't when my mum said it to me as a kid and I would tell her to post it to them! So, maybe that distance and separation will help me to protect him a little from the worst horrors of my industry, but it could also make it very unreal to him.
Having been brought up a vegetarian the Boy Wonder is maybe more aware than some on ethics in regard to animals so maybe this is a start. As a middle class, white boy growing up in the western world I want him to be fully aware of his privilege and to know there are many others less fortunate. Therefore, I believe that openness and honesty is the only way to stimulate empathy and understanding in him while maybe steering clear of the more gruesome and complicated areas.
So, how could I explore ethical fashion and yet engage my son? I have come up with a few ideas for this based on the Fashion Revolution course I recently did.
1) Be curious: Firstly kids are naturally curious, so getting them to investigate like a detective will become a fun task. Getting them to find out about their own clothes - maybe the ones they are wearing or a favourite of theirs? Looking at the labels to find out where they are made, and what they are made out of is a great start. Which country are most of their clothes made in? How many are made from polyester? Asking in shops where the clothes are made or whether they have organic cotton.
2) Find out: Then delving deeper into finding out who could have made them, what the countries are like where they live and where the raw materials come from. The difficult part is making it real to children, for example, finding out that a child the same age as them could have made their clothes makes more of a connection to them. What can they find out about the materials used and their impact? Researching, imagining and maybe drawing the journey their clothes have taken to get to them will make them aware of the resources and carbon footprint involved in the fashion industry. How many miles has it travelled? How many litres of water used in production? How much pesticides and their affect? Your local library, school and of course the internet will have all sorts of resources.
3) Do something: The concluding part could be to work out how to change the way you shop together for clothes. They could try out different ways to make our clothes last longer by repairing, revamping, reusing or swapping them with friends. Look at donating and also buying from second hand shops or finding out what clothes you can buy locally? Maybe even considering hiring clothes for a special occasion and explaining the reasons why all these things matter in relation to what you found in your investigations.
Obviously this has to be age appropriate and younger kids would need more hands on help with it. Don't forget to ask your kids their thoughts and ideas at every stage, you will often be surprised by their insight or practical ideas. By the age of 7 most kids already have a fixed idea of the world, however these ideas can be challenged and changed. So for me and the Boy Wonder that time is now!
#FashionRevolution #EthicalFashion #WonderKids
Wake up to Child Labour
Who Made my Jeans? Pt1
Who Made my Jeans? Pt2
As denim is such a reliable favourite in our wardrobes and brilliantly functional for our kids I thought it would interesting to find out about it's history.
The name denim is derived from 'Serge de Nîmes which was originally made by weavers in Nîmes, France who were trying to recreate a cotton corduroy from Genoa, Italy. The famous twill cloth we know and love from jeans to jackets was developed from this. It's distinctive nature comes from the warp being dyed indigo and the weft white, giving it the blue outside colour and white-ish interior. Indigo is the original type of organic dye that was used for denim and came from an Indian plant called Indigofera tinctoria. Indigo dye sits on the outside of the cotton thread rather than penetrating it, thus creating the fading effect that happens over time. Natural indigo was later replaced in the 19th century by a synthetic indigo dye that far cheaper.
Levi Strauss started selling denim in the US. in around 1853 and a Nevada tailor, Jacob W. Davis, started to use this durable fabric in his new 'jeans' that he sold for work wear. Labourers, miners and farm workers of the American west needed something easy to wear yet strong and functional. He made these new trousers stronger using copper rivets. When they become sought after he made a deal with his fabric supplier Levi Strauss and hence Levi Strauss and Co. were created.
Their first pair of jeans sold in 1879 and had only four pockets, just one on the back and two on the front along with the very small one. This small pocket on the right hand side is called a watch pocket and was just that, to hold a man's pocket watch. It is too small for much use today but is a nice touch of history that we all wear without realising. Initially made in denim and cotton duck it soon became apparent that it was the denim jeans that were more popular. Originally they were sold 'raw' meaning the fabric was untreated and unwashed but as time went by people realised they could shrink them to fit.
Marlon Brando turned jeans into casual wear in the 1958 film 'The Wild One' followed not long after by James Dean in 'Rebel without a Cause' They represented a counter-culture that appealed to many teenagers (especially when they were banned from schools!) which later spread to GI's stationed abroad who wore them as a symbol of home. American college students adopted them during the 60's to show solidarity with the working classes. Since that time nearly every generation has had their own style of jeans and denim has spread to every garment imaginable. I remember wearing ripped Levis during my Bros days as a teenager!
#Denim #Jeans #Levis #FashionHistory
So I continue on from where I left off last week looking into who made my River Island skinny jeans.
Our investigations turned at this point from the garment workers and factories, or tier one to tier two, which is where all the materials and components that go into the product come from. As I have still had no response from River Island on where the cotton came from that my jeans are made out of I had to make some educated guesses.
The largest exporter of cotton is the United States but the second largest is India. I presume this is the more likely country of origin for my jeans fabric as their cotton would have been cheaper. India is again well known for using child and forced labour according to the United States Labor Dept.
In 2014 Mani, was working in the cotton fields of Karnataka aged just 14. She spoke about her abusive employer to the United Nation's Children's Fund.
“He scolded us with bad words and would strike us on the legs, back and shoulders,” Mani said. But because a farmer had loaned her parents 20,000 rupees (about $326) in exchange for four years of their daughter’s labor [sic], she could do nothing."
“We have a lot of poverty. That’s why we sent her,” said Mani’s mother, Sundamma. “I don’t want her to work. After the fields, she has red eyes, her hands are sore, and sometimes she vomits and gets dizzy from [the] sun. I do want my daughter in school. She’s happy there.”
In every stage of the cotton process child workers are reported, from seeding, picking and onwards in all major cotton growing countries; China, Pakistan, India, Uzbekistan, Brazil and Turkey. They are at high risk of developing Byssinosis or brown lung disease from the cotton dust and are exposed to high levels of toxic pesticides with no protection, as well as being vulnerable to sexual abuse and even fatalities.
The BBC spoke to Mr. Katiyar, a campaigner for labour action, about the child workers who reported that "there have been cases of them (the children) falling asleep through exhaustion and suffocating in the piles of raw cotton."
Another child worker in the cotton fields of Gujurat talked to the Environmental Justice Foundation
‘The owner used to beat us if a single plant got missed. He used to beat us with pipes. We would get up at 4 in the morning and work for 12 hours a day…The partner of my farm owner used to switch off the lights at night and forcibly carry the girls sleeping on the floor, on to his cot.’
The cotton growers of India are also victims themselves . The Daily Mail reported how farmers were encouraged to buy expensive genetically modified cotton seeds that promised bumper harvests and more pest resistance. They would then become severely indebted after frequent crop failures and subsequently hundreds of thousands of Indian cotton farmers have committed suicide
'We are ruined now,' said [Suresh Bhalasa's] 38-year-old wife. 'We bought 100 grams of BT Cotton. Our crop failed twice. My husband had become depressed. He went out to his field, lay down in the cotton and swallowed insecticide.'
These stories are very hard to hear and of course I have to add the caveat that I don't know for certain that my jeans and the cotton they are made from were made by the hands of children or grown by impoverished and indebted farmers. I don't know because River Island can't or won't tell me but there is a possibility and that makes me very sad. I do hope that by doing these investigations for the Who Made My Clothes course that I have encouraged some of you to ask more questions about where your clothes comes from too.
Demanding transparency from our fashion brands is an important way to shed light on the lives of the workers and bring about positive change. I hope reading these stories hasn't put you off following my blog, I don't want to brow beat anyone into submission simply just tell you a little more about your clothes.
#WhoMadeMyClothes #FashionRevolution #RiverIsland #IndianCottonWorkers
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