I can’t remember the exact moment I started questioning the ethics behind my ‘bargain’ hauls from Primark, but the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse certainly made me revaluate the true cost of my fashion choices.
Fashion Revolution was set up in response to the Rana Plaza tragedy and is a global movement calling for greater transparency, sustainability and ethics in the fashion industry. This year, to coincide with the five-year anniversary of the factory collapse, it ran a global campaign for Fashion Revolution Week focusing on transparency in the fashion supply chain; it encouraged us, as wearers of fashion, to join their global campaign and ask brands #whomademyclothes.
In support of this campaign, Ethical Hour and Where Does it Come From? brought together independent ethical clothing brands from around the UK at London’s Museum of Brands. (PS If you love vintage tins, this place is heaven).
There were three great panels throughout the day hosted by Georgina from Pebble Magazine (you can watch them all on their Facebook page). One point that particularly stayed with me was made by Sarah from Mosami Jewellery, who suggested that the word ‘ethical’ is very vague, and easy to hide behind; she said ethical brands need to go further and talk about what in particular makes them ethical.
The real highlight of the day for me was getting to meet the people behind the brands I’d seen online, and finding out why they started, how they did it and exactly what makes their clothes ethical.
Jo Salter set up Where does it come from? after she became concerned that when she that the clothes she was buying for herself and her children were being produced unethically, and associated with cruel labour practices and pollution problems. Their clothing range is FULLY traceable: each item has a code on the label which can be typed into their website. Here you can find out about the farmer who grew the cotton, the spinners, the weavers, the hand block printers; their names and personal stories are all there for you to read.
I also met Kishore Shah from Khadi CIC. This social enterprise works to promote and produce khadi – a traditional Indian cotton cloth championed by Ghandi and used by Where Does it Come From? for their lovely shirts; they’re also working with Birdsong London on their new range. And there was a brilliant khadi spinning demonstration by Asha Buch from the Khadi Initiative, which was especially fascinating for a craft geek like me.
I spent a long time chatting to Tze Ching Yeung from Jake and Maya about kids clothes, and how fast they grow out of them. In fact, it was for exactly this reason she started Jake and Maya; so many of the clothes her children had grown out of were still in great condition, and getting rid of them seemed so wasteful. Instead, she wanted to find a way way to make make their clothes last longer, and the result is genius! The hoodies and sweatpants have extra long cuffs to allow for growth, the t-shirts have roll up sleeves, and the tunics have a cleverly adjustable length and neckline. All are made from organic cotton in the UK using ethical manufacturers, paying a fair wage and/or social enterprises supporting disadvantaged women. But the best thing is that once your kids have eventually grown out their clothes, many items can be sent back and extended for free!
Birdsong are one of my favourite brands, so I was really excited to meet co-founder Sophie Slater. We chatted about their current projects and plans, and it was great hearing about how they empower women in local communities by paying them a living wage and enabling them to work in the comfort and safety of their women’s group or charity. Sophie was also modelling one of their fab new ‘No Borders‘ tees which is available for preorder. Be quick though!
Finally, I met Rob Marsh, co-founder of new brand Wynad, who is “On a mission to create gender equality through sustainable fashion.” Their t-shirts are printed and stitched by a Freedom business in Kolkata’s red light district that supports women who were previously trapped in the sex trade. And the rest of their clothes are made in Bangalore, India, using fair trade, organic fabrics and low-impact dyes; they are then stitched by a production house that provides working opportunities, training and development to young people from low-socioeconomic backgrounds with the vision of equipping them with the skills needed to start their own businesses. Their gorgeous lotus silk kimono was especially popular on the day, and I’ve got my eye on one of their playsuits!
Thanks everyone for such a great day! I learnt so much and am really grateful to the organisers for bringing together so many inspirational people and brands, and showing us why it’s so important to ask #whomademyclothes as well as how accessible truly ethical, transparent fashion really is.