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The buyer, the stitcher and the wardrobe: How to start a fashion revolution

How much thought do you put into what you are wearing? No, not whether you can pull off your mum’s old flares, or a lime green and pastel pink combo - but the story behind your clothes? Where were they made? What fabric are they made from? Who stitched them? Did they get a fair wage and safe working conditions?

Fashion Revolution Week asks all of these questions and more. The organisation was set up in 2014 following the Rana Plaza factory collapse, which killed more than 1,100 people and injured thousands more. The week long campaign, which takes place each year on the anniversary of the tragedy, aims to help consumers pick apart the narrative behind their clothes and think more deeply about the things they buy and wear.

Founders of Fashion Revolution Orsola De Castro and Carry Somers are demanding more transparency in the fashion supply chain and encouraging us all to become fashion activists in a bid for a safer, fairer fashion industry. On the 23rd of April, you’re invited to join the conversation by posting a picture of a beloved garment on social media and using the hashtag: #whomademyclothes. Brands and garment workers are then encouraged to respond with the hashtag #imadeyourclothes to illustrate transparency in their supply chain.

So why should we all be asking who made our clothes? And what’s the true cost of our high street bargains? A sobering statistic revealed by Oxfam stated that it will take a CEO from one of the top five global fashion brands just four days to earn the same amount that a Bangladeshi garment worker will earn in their lifetime. Orsola says: “It’s still an industry which is rife with imbalances of power, and until we start really shining a spotlight on these stories it won’t change.”

Low wages, worker safety and environmental pollution are just a few of the issues covered up by many big fashion brands. And while there are some initiatives in place, such as the Bangladesh accord (a signatory to ensure companies comply with fire and building safety in Bangladesh), these guidelines remain optional. According to Orsola: “The Bangladesh accord expires in May and not many brands are signing up to continue this really groundbreaking, law abiding initiative.”

This is where you come in. Forming a deeper connection to your clothes and the issues surrounding the fashion industry can help us to understand our part in changing it. As consumers we hold a lot more power than we give ourselves credit for, and while we can’t change global industry standards, Orsola believes consumers can start with one simple step, she says: “Begin by opening your wardrobe.”

Prompting us to think before rushing into fast fashion buys (something we’ve all been guilty of), Fashion Revolution is about acknowledging that change can be instigated by the consumer.

There are a number of ways we can become more mindful consumers of fashion. We can start by buying clothes with love. Highlighted in the second edition of Fashion Revolution’s fanzine ‘Loved Clothes Last’, the magazine contained content to inspire the fashion savvy to “buy less, care more, and know how to make the clothes you love last for longer.”

Fashion Revolution asks us to rethink our relationship to clothing, Orsola says: “Buying consciously doesn’t mean buying one brand over another - it means forming a relationship with the piece of clothing that you are buying. If you love it alot, you’ve thought about that purchase, it has a room in your wardrobe, it has a life to live, it has places to accompany you, it has stories to share with you and you can potentially pass it on to your daughter or your best friend - buy it.”

As well having a strong social media community, Fashion Revolution motivates people across the globe to come together for a series of events throughout the year, from inspirational talks to open studios and clothes swaps. Many of the workshops are free and help to arm people with skills and knowledge. Tutorials include upcycling old garments and  textile printing workshops (so that you can cover up the spag bowl stains on your favourite tee.)

Whether it’s about reviving the make-do-and-mend movement, or learning something new, these events help to bring people together. Orsola says: “Whether it is a workshop, panel, screening - any kind of an event - it is as important as connecting online. Forming communities is really important and this is something that Fashion Revolution have always wanted to keep alive - this sense of forming collectives and nurturing them with real conversations.”

And this isn’t a publicity stunt, change really is happening as a result - in 2017 two million people engaged with the campaign with 66,000 people attending Fashion Revolution events. This Fashion Revolution Week, instead of feeling exasperated and powerless against the deep rooted problems within the industry, be inspired to play your part, even if this just means sitting down and discussing the problems with a friend over a cuppa.

Get involved by taking a label selfie and using the hashtag #whomademyclothes. You can find lots of useful information on how to take action on Fashion Revolution’s website, as well as a list of upcoming events. Looking to read more? Find more tips and tricks on reducing your fashion footprint here.

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