I’d love to be considered revolutionary. But I know I’m not. When I was teaching, I was a bit of a change junkie; I loved to try new things. Sometimes weird things. But revolutionary? Not really. I know that I’m not revolutionary in my fashion sense. I’m too married to my classic pieces for that. So the idea of the “Fashion Revolution” movement and the realization that I can be a part of it is really appealing to me.
I’d heard of the Fashion Revolution before, mostly through reading about it over the years on Alyson Walsh’s blog That’s Not My Age. You can read her 2019 post on “three women who are changing the face of fashion” here. But I’d never moved past reading those posts. I can’t explain why. It was Alyson’s recent podcast chat with Orsola de Castro, global creative director and co-founder of Fashion Revolution and author of Loved Clothes Last, that finally galvanized me into action. Here’s the link to Alyson’s podcast.
The Fashion Revolution was begun in the UK by Orsola de Castro and Carry Somers in response to the Rana Plaza garment factory disaster in Bangladesh. On April 24, 2013, eight years ago today actually, over 1100 workers were killed and many more injured. Fashion Revolution is now a global movement and hopes to effect systemic and structural change in the fashion industry. Among their many initiatives is a yearly Transparency Index. As the Fashion Revolution website says, systemic change starts with transparency which leads to accountability. And systemic change will help the environment, make workers lives better, and even save lives.
The Index is a tool to incentivise and push major brands to be more transparent, and encourage them to disclose more information about their policies, practices and supply chain. Transparency isn’t about which brand does the best, but about who discloses the most information. Transparency does not equal sustainability. We know that the pursuit of endless growth is in itself unsustainable. However, without transparency we cannot see or protect vulnerable people and the living planet.
But Fashion Revolution is not just about calling brands and manufacturers to account. It’s also about encouraging ordinary citizens to become active in the movement. The goal is not to make consumers feel guilty, but to convince them that they have the power to make positive change. And one small act that we can all do is to ask questions of brands and retailers. Who made my clothes? or What’s in my clothes? Take a selfie holding this sign and post it on social media with #whomademyclothes, then copy it to your favourite brand. You can find out how to take action in many ways here on the Fashion Revolution site. You can download signs and other resources. There’s even a list of social media accounts for major brands. There is also a wonderful list of resources for educators, activities you can do with students of every age.
There has been so much rhetoric about the evils of the fashion industry these past few years. It’s mind numbing. The toll that the fashion industry takes on the environment, the waste, the abuse of workers. The shocking statistics. The contradictory articles exhorting us to do one thing or another. Where do we even start? I know about buying less, buying better, and shopping second-hand. We all know that fast fashion is a dirty word. I’ve written before on my blog about slow fashion, about shopping consciously. About buying quality clothes and keeping them for years. And about the complex task of finding sustainable clothing brands that suit my style.
Every year in January, when I do my shopping report card, I set some goals for myself. How can I do better? I say I’m going to try to be better at shopping ethical brands. I scour websites which rate companies on their sustainability, their relationship to the environment, and their treatment of their workers. This is the site I found most helpful. But still, every year, after a while, I give up. Then I feel guilty about giving up. Then I probably make tea and sit down with my book until the feeling passes. Ha.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer size of the problem. To ask the question: how can I, as one person, make any difference? Most years, I do feel overwhelmed. I feel that my efforts are futile. But then, eventually, I get my mojo back. I find something that excites me again. I make a new plan for what I can do. And I begin to set goals for myself, however small.
But you know, the getting my mojo back thing hasn’t happened for a while.
The other day when I was listening to Alyson’s podcast, I realized that I had let pandemic paralysis get to me. My excitement with the idea of slow fashion and becoming an ethical shopper had waned. And I needed to get it back. I needed to do what Orsola de Castro said to do, start small. And follow the Fashion Revolution mantra: “Be curious. Find out. Do something.”
So I began to explore the Fashion Revolution website. I made a donation to the global fund. And I found the two graphics above on their site that changed how I view my own contribution to change. Just by hanging onto my clothes, by extending the life of my clothes by taking good care of them, I’m doing something. Something that has consequences for the environment. Something measurable. Slow fashion is not just a fashion philosophy, it has measurable effects. That pleased me no end.
Of course effecting change means I can’t just rest on my laurels. I already shop consciously with a plan and a list, I buy the best quality I can afford, and I take care of my clothes so they last a long time. So I need to find something else. Something that I’m not already doing. I’d love to be able to experiment with upcycling some of my old pieces into new “creations.” But sadly that would involve sewing. And we all know how I feel about sewing. I may have a look at some of the pieces in my “maybe” pile to see if I can have them altered by a tailor to wear them again. That’s what I did with my old Max Mara pantsuit.
So. That’s where I’m starting. I’m donating to the Fashion Revolution movement which has done so much good in bringing abuses to light. I’ve also ordered Orsola de Castro’s book Loved Clothes Last: How the Joy of Rewearing and Repairing Your Clothes Can Be a Revolutionary Act. I love her philosophy that clothes need to be valued, that we should buy “with love and respect,” and then take care of our clothes. And I ordered another book called The Conscious Closet: The Revolutionary Guide to Looking Good while Doing Good by Elizabeth Cline. Cline wrote Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion back in 2012.
The planning around things I already have in my closet I can do. Respecting and repairing my clothes I can do. The reading I can do. I can donate to the cause. When I decide that I need something new for my wardrobe, I will make a bigger effort to shop ethically. And I will make the best choice I can afford.
And I will talk about all of this to you guys. Of that you can be sure.
You know, I wonder if trying to be a fashion revolutionary is like quitting smoking. The more you try and fail the more likely you are to be successful. Every attempt you make gets you closer to your goal. I finally succeeded with quitting smoking, back in November 1983, after smoking for ten years. I think I can do this.
Now, how about you, my fashion friends? Are you interested in becoming a fashion revolutionary? Maybe you already are. Do tell.
P.S. The book links are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link I will earn a small commission.