If you're not in a public place right now, turn your clothes inside out and have a look at the labels. What brand are they? Do they say where they were made? Do you know WHO made them?
Because the fact is, even in these crazy modern times, clothes aren’t made by magic, or even robots. It’s still people sewing them. So if you look at a pair of jeans, every seam, every pocket detail is guided through the machine by a person – yes, in production lines for efficiency, but it’s still people doing it. Which, over the last few years as clothes have got cheaper and cheaper, has made a lot of us wonder how it can possibly work.
3 years ago on Apr 24th, the deadliest garment factory accident in history happened in Bangladesh, when an eight storey building, the Rana Plaza, collapsed, crushing the hundreds of workers who were in it. By the time the search for bodies was stopped 3 weeks later, the death toll was 1,130. Approx 2,500 were injured too. This came in a year when approx. 800 people also died in garment factory fires in Bangladesh, caused by overcrowding, blocked fire escapes, unsuitable buildings, cheap building materials.
While we can't be over simplistic about the causes of a desperate situation like this (bad building, bad regulation, bad government, mega-bad building owner all played a big part) the Rana Plaza disaster was a wake up call to the world. People died making our clothes in unsafe factories, and they weren't even being paid much to do it. We started to realise that there is no such thing as cheap clothes*, it's just someone else paying the price. Clothing companies giving in to pressure to admit involvement and pay compensation made us realise that as consumers we have power, but also responsibility (I think Spiderman had something to say about that too...).
*that's not to say expensive clothes are any better - one of the things that struck me about this situation was how price, and perceived value, of high end brands didn't translate to any increase in pay or working conditions.
One of the campaigns that came from this was Fashion Revolution, whose simple message #whomademyclothes aims to start a revolution in the clothing industry that will make us realise how connected we are, and push brands to improve conditions and accountability. I encourage everyone who knows this is the right thing to join the campaign and ask some questions.
"Who Made My Clothes should be a simple question. Most people would expect a brand to at least know the final factory where their garments are cut and sewn. The Behind the Barcode Fashion Report published last year found that 48% of brands hadn’t traced the factories where their garments were made, 75% didn’t know where their fabrics came from and 91% didn’t know where the raw materials came from. " Carry Sommers, founder of Fashion Revolution on ethical.market blog.
And finally, you'll be relieved to know that Lost Shapes is in the 52% who do know where our garments are made, so I drew a little poster to fill you in! Detailed assessment of the garment suppliers we use can be found on the Fair Wear Foundation website.
Last night I got to see another side of the fashion world: Structural engineer Ruth Haynes from Build Collective talking about her work assessing Bangladesh garment factories in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza building collapse nearly 3 years ago, when 1134 people died. My main conclusion? Keep the pressure on clothing companies to insist on safe conditions for the workers, and support the companies that prioritise this. Thanks Architecture Club Frome for hosting this.
I wouldn't kick a homeless person even if it would up my social media viewings. I wouldn't mug a child even if he had a really nice phone that would help my business. I wouldn't hold up the local post office at gunpoint even if I could do with the extra cash flow.
These are things that I assume that you assume about the way I run Lost Shapes.
But there are other things I also wouldn't do that I realised recently aren't quite so obvious. Last week, my son wanted to buy a hoody from a range that had a strong loving change-the-world kind of vibe on the print, but as far as I could see from the labels, and as far as the stall holder knew, there was no consideration of who made it and how. (I won't name and shame, but I will get in contact with the brand and offer alternative options). I was slightly taken back that they were either happy to live with this contradiction or genuinely hadn't thought about it.
I haven't generally branded Lost Shapes as an 'Ethical Business', because for me it was primarily a chance to print designs I enjoyed making on tops for other people to enjoy wearing. When I sourced those tops there was no way that I was going to exploit other people or the environment for the sake of a bigger profit margin, so I didn't even look at suppliers that couldn't say where they were made, or what sort of conditions their fibres were grown under. It's something I believe passionately about, but haven't spent much time talking about because, like the homeless kicking or child mugging, I didn't realise it needed spelling out.
But also last week the gorgeous Eco-boost vlogger Kate Arnell shared an instagram picture of her in a Curiouser and Curiouser sweatshirt, with the line:
'Made using only renewable energy from wind + solar power too! Neat, huh?'
And my husband, who has been wearing Lost Shapes for three years, asked why I'd never mentioned that.... Time to stop being coy. This is important stuff.
So from now, as well as insight into the designs, moans about rainy holidays, outtakes from photoshoots etc, I'll add a regular blog post sharing how passionate I feel about making Lost Shapes as ethical as possible, and how as a family we're trying to clothe ourselves without harming others on a fairly low budget.
To kick it off, some recommendations:
'Filmed in countries all over the world, from the brightest runways to the darkest slums, and featuring interviews with the world’s leading influencers including Stella McCartney, Livia Firth and Vandana Shiva, The True Cost is an unprecedented project that invites us on an eye opening journey around the world and into the lives of the many people and places behind our clothes'
I finally got around to watching the True Cost Movie this week. It's an amazing documentary film that looks at the impact of our clothing on the world and questions who really pays the price for our cheap clothes. It's hard hitting, but extremely watchable too.
Find out how you can watch it here.
And if you're impressed by Livia Firth from that film (you should be), she's speaking on Sustainable Fashion in Bath on 21st April as part of Bath in Fashion 2016.
Finally, another South West date, Architecture Club in Frome, Somerset are looking at the structural causes of the Rana Plaza disaster next Tuesday 12th April.
'Following the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2013, killing almost 1200 people, Engineer Ruth Haynes of Build Collective worked for Tim Khan in Dhaka to survey factories that supplied clothing to two major British retailers.'
I'll be at both of these, so let me know if you plan to go. Am I being too optimistic to think that we're part of something here, that the tide could be turning?
NO MORE BLOGGING
I stopped writing this blog a while ago - social media just seems a more responsive way to share ideas these days (plus I never got 'round to it!). I'll leave these posts up for now for anyone who wants to get a bit more of a sense of what's behind what I do.