It's two weeks since we launched the 'Keep on Asking' slogan t-shirt, and now I'm asking: Why? What difference are our questions making? Are big brands even listening?
It was fantastic to see actress Lauren McCrostie (Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children, Falling) wearing Keep On Asking this week, and prompting her fans to ask 'investigative and inquisitive' questions about the clothes they buy and where they came from.
Meanwhile, on her blog, Tolly Dolly Posh gave us 10 Simple Ways to Keep on Asking, including using your voice in the places you can be heard, and how to avoid being greenwashed.
So, what do we hope to gain from these questions, beyond a right-on feeling of being conscious and the fun of being a rebel?
Does change ever happen from ordinary people making a bit of noise?
I'm feeling optimistic. Here's why.
How I became a tea addict
Way back in the 1990s I was off to university with the beginning of an awareness of ethical trade - having dressed in Oxfam's finest for a few years due to lack of funds and a generally scruffy grunge style, I had also discovered their Fairtrade dark chocolate. And like drugs, one thing was leading to the next, and I was considering moving onto the hard stuff: Fairtrade tea. Fairtrade was pretty niche then, but it seemed to be a good way to show how mature and principled I was now my 'End Apartheid' poster wasn't relevant. So I bought a box of Fairtrade tea from Oxfam, and that lasted my the whole first year, as I didn't actually drink tea. However, sometime early in the second year that changed, I developed the tea addiction that still rules my life now, and I promptly dropped the Fairtrade for something cheap that I could buy easily in Asda.
Jump 20+ years, I'm firmly back on the Fairtrade mark, and most supermarkets sell a choice of Fairtrade products, including their own branded teas. Universities, offices and even towns (thanks, Devizes Fairtrade Group!) have become 'Fairtrade' due to their commitment to buying fair for their coffee breaks, and almost one in three bananas sold in the UK is Fairtrade.
How did this change happen? Because customers asked them to. While the pioneering work ensuring fair supply and workers premium was done by the Fairtrade Foundation, the shops sell what customers will buy. And enough of us pestered and then bought the stuff for it to go mainstream. I see a lot of encouragement in that.
What about clothes?
There's been progress there in the last year or so too. Ethical Consumer Magazine's August report covers fashion, and they note big leaps forward in the reporting and transparency of the big mainstream clothing brands. We did that! Okay, not just us, but one of the reasons is thought to be the increase in consumer pressure - after factory disasters and news of the horrific conditions of garment workers, customers and pressure groups have asked questions: 'Were your products made there? Are your workers treated well?' and they simply can't answer without a clear idea of their supply chain. Ethical Consumer write: 'We were surprised to find that over half of the high-street retail brands investigated scored an Ethical Consumer best for their supply chain management rating. This was a huge improvement from 2011 when it was around 20%.'
The Fashion Revolution 2017 report shows a similar story, with a big increase in brands responding to their #whomademyclothes campaign. The big brands are listening to us, because they're nothing without good PR and loyal customers.
So are we done with the questions?
Does that mean all these big brands are fine now, and we don't have to worry about ethical clothes any more?
Ooh no no no no... here's why we're gonna Keep On Asking:
1. Publishing your policies is a very small step - it makes it easier for us to check what's going on, but it doesn't guarantee they actually comply with their aims. Read this investigative report on Zara, H+M and Gap in China, for example.
2. If it's about pleasing customers/ good PR, we can't let them think it doesn't matter now.
3. We haven't even started on sustainability and pollution...
"As citizens, we have more power than we think. Our questions, our voices, and our shopping habits can have the power to help change the industry for the better. United we are even stronger ...
The more people who ask #whomademyclothes the more brands will listen."
You can buy your own Keep on Asking t-shirt just here.
Irregular musings and pretty pictures from the heart of LOST SHAPES.