Ignorance is not always bliss. More often than not, we don't know where the things we purchase come from. We blindly buy clothes that are affordable, stylish, and reflect the latest breaking trends, without giving much thought to how they came to be. A "fash mob" (flash mob and fashion show) of local designers, ethical fashion supporters, and models marched from Union Square into the Westfield Mall on April 24, 2016 to bring this disconnect to the forefront, demand transparency in the clothing industry, and ask the question, "Who made your clothes?"
This query is at the center of the Fashion Revolution, a grassroots campaign born from the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh on April 24, 2013. The tragedy occurred the day after cracks were found in the building; workers had been threatened with losing one month's pay if they didn't return to work, despite the obvious risks. Tragically, 1134 people were killed and approximately 2500 injured. The minimum wage for factory workers in Bangladesh at the time was $37 a month, despite the country being the second largest clothing manufacturer in the world, after China.
Crucial questions were raised about what our spending dollars are supporting in factories on the other side of the world. At Rana Plaza, the standard work shift was 13.5 to 14 hours, workers received two days off a month, and senior tailors earned only $12.48 a week, according to the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights. These low wages help guarantee that we pay low prices at many fast fashion retailers.
"It's time to retrain and redirect the fashion industry towards a more compassionate and sustainable future," says Joyce Hu, creative director for Wildlife Works Apparel, the world's only carbon-neutral, fair-trade factory protecting wildlife in Kenya, and a sponsor of the San Francisco event. "Fashion Revolution is spreading a very urgent message and we are proud to be contributing to its momentum." This message also touches on the environmental impact of the estimated 80 billion items of clothing delivered out of factories annually worldwide.
Revolutions start everyday with just one person. San Francisco resident Sandy Lam vowed to not buy new clothing after watching the documentary The True Cost. "I would shop at H&M or Forever 21 because I was able to find cheap and cute bargain items," admits Lam. "Empathy and guilt are huge motivating factors for why I decided to only buy secondhand. People in Third World countries are forced to work long hours in dangerous conditions for extremely low wages. It is literally life or death for them—all for the sake of satisfying the wants and demands of big, greedy corporations and consumers in the US. Because of this, I've committed to only buying clothing at secondhand stores or directly from the maker."
Another solution is to shop locally and buy from ethical clothing producers. "Much of the fashion community in the Bay Area is dedicated to sustainable innovation and ethical sourcing," states Andrea Plell, founder of Ecologique Fashion and co-producer of SF's Fashion Revolution Day. "As consumers we have the right to know the impact of our purchases and these (participating) brands are doing their part by creating relationships with their suppliers and makers, exposing their stories, carefully examining their supply chains, and becoming role models for the industry."
Lam suggests baby steps for the consumer. "Think about others, think about the planet. Every single thing you do makes an impact. Even if you can't be extreme, buying directly from the maker or strictly secondhand, trying never hurts."
Want to make a difference? Shop at these ethical retailers:
The world's first and only carbon-neutral, fair-trade factory protecting wildlife. Located on an 80,000-acre wildlife sanctuary, Wildlife Works produces apparel for ethical brands such as Threads for Thought, PUMA, Soko for Asos, LaLesso, and Raven and Lily.
Founded by Andrea Plell in 2008, Ecologique Fashion is a sustainable fashion consultancy and event-production company on a mission to support a paradigm shift in the industry by promoting ethical business practices.
Indigenous is committed to fair-trade partnerships with culturally diverse artisans. All indigenous apparel and accessories are only made of all-natural fibers such as organic cotton, organic alpaca, merino wool, and silk.
Synergy Organic Clothing
Synergy Organic Clothing creates fashion-forward clothing and yoga apparel for women. They produce sustainable and organic fair-trade clothing.
Fibershed is an organization, founded by Rebecca Burgess, that develops regenerative textile systems that are based on carbon farming, regional manufacturing, and public education.
Skunkfunk is a sustainable brand that was started in the 1990s in the Basque Country. They now have stores all over the world. Their products are made from certified organic GOTS cotton, natural materials, and recycled fibers. They just released a zero-waste capsule collection for Spring.
Callina is an ethical knitwear brand inspired by Peru. They work with knitting organizations and artisans in Arequipa. A portion of all proceeds goes back to the alpaca shepherds they procure their fibers from.
Okkiino is an apparel brand made in San Francisco with responsibly sourced materials from Italy. They share their profits with non-profit organizations for community development and ocean preservation.