by Rebecca Prentice
April 18-24 – One of the fashion industry’s responses to the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory building in Bangladesh – which resulted in 1,134 deaths and more than 2,000 serious injuries – has been the creation of an international ‘Fashion Revolution Week’ – an opportunity each April for fashionistas to engage with issues of ethics and sustainability in global production.
With its hashtag, #insideout, in 2015 Fashion Revolution encouraged us to wear our clothes inside out to reveal its stitching and country-of-origin tag. Since then, the #whomademyclothes campaign has encouraged consumers to think about fashion’s producers in lots of creative ways. Started by two UK designers and launched at the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, Fashion Revolution Week gets lots of its energy from fashion colleges and institutes as well as universities, who hold ethical fashion shows, up-cycling workshops, and clothes swaps.
Events for this year can be found here.
There remains a disconnect between two kinds of social movements to improve the ‘ethics’ of the global garment industry: one based on labour rights and anti-sweatshop activism (including Clean Clothes Campaign, global trade unions, and the many labour rights activists and scholars in garment-producing countries like Bangladesh), and campaigns like Fashion Revolution Week that originate with designers. Are they reconcilable? Do they want the same things?
Let’s note that labour rights NGO Labour Behind the Label’s demonstration outside H&M in Oxford Circus today to demand safer factories in Bangladesh is not listed anywhere as a Fashion Revolution event.
Most of the Fashion Revolution events in the UK will try to get people who are interested in fashion to think about buying more ethically and sustainably (from a fair trade company like People Tree, with an eye towards a garment’s quality and durability, or even buying secondhand). But many of these efforts seem to address a crowd already interested in the kinds of high-end goods that lend themselves towards the careful production known as ‘slow fashion.’
The bigger and more difficult question is not just how, but whether ‘fast fashion’ can be made more ethical). Can the hare be ethical? Or only the tortoise?
Some answers may be found in the The True Cost, Andrew Morton’s 2015 film on the human and environmental costs of the fast fashion industry. Many of this year’s Fashion Revolution events centre around screenings of the film: check out Brighton, Glasgow, Edinburgh, and London.
I will link to my review of the film (forthcoming in Anthropology of Work Review) in a subsequent post.
Rebecca Prentice is a Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Sussex, where she co-convenes the MA in the Social Anthropology of the Global Economy.