We’ll let you in on a secret…if you promise to tell everyone you know.
Recently, I was put on the spot. Someone asked who my fashion icon was, and I really had to stop and think about it. I mean, just because you’re a model, actress, or first lady with style does not guarantee icon status – am I right?! So, I started to think about Jackie Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly…what puts them in a league of their own?
They were smart and they stood for great things, but I also realized recently that during the 50s and 60s when these women were in their prime, 95% of clothing was made right here in the USA.
Over the years, though, that number has steadily dropped to a mere 3% today. Jackie, Audrey, and Grace made headlines with their class and elegance in a time, not very long ago, when ethical fashion was the only option.
Over the past 50 years, why have we seen this drastic transition to overseas garment production? It’s simple, really. Labor and resources are cheap, and profit is king.
Meet “fast fashion.” Instead of four seasons, our favorite stores seem to change over their displays and inventory constantly. Going out on a Friday night? Just run to Target or H&M and grab the latest trends. When clothes are cheap, we don’t think twice about wearing them for a season or even just one night before discarding them.
We all know that we get what we pay for when it comes to fast food, but we somehow don’t draw the same conclusion with clothing.
Cheap clothing is often made quickly out of synthetic or chemical-filled fabrics, and the people who make it are often not paid a living wage, forced to work in astonishingly unsafe conditions. The fashion industry has proven to be driven by supply and demand, not the value of the human sewing the seams. Now that I know my purchases are driving this boat, it doesn’t sit well with me. It all feels overwhelming, almost paralyzing. You, too?
“Take two very simple actions that we perform every single day: getting dressed and eating. Now start a journey backwards – to where your food and your clothes come from. At the other end, you will rarely find happy people, treated with dignity and respect. Human beings working at the bottom of any supply chain – whether it is strawberry picking, prawn fishing, cotton farming, garment workers – are often treated like slaves, without reference to our common humanity. So 'fashion' – i.e. what we wear every single day, has huge relevance and huge consequences on human, social and environmental capital.” –Livia Firth
The video below from Livia Firth's www.eco-age.org beautifully illustrates the fact that we carry the stories of the people who make our clothes.
The good news is that over the past couple of years we’ve begun to see movement in a positive direction, toward slow fashion. The bad news is that it was spurred on by a tragic incident in Bangladesh.
In 2013, nearly 2,000 innocent people were hard-at-work making clothes- mostly for the large, western brands we love- when the building they were forced to work in collapsed. More than 1,100 people were killed. Now, more than a dozen government officials are facing murder charges, accused of ignoring safety warnings to keep workers out of the dilapidated building the day before it collapsed.
The Rana plaza factory collapse was the worst industrial disaster in Bangladesh’s history, which ranks second in garment production behind China, and prompted criticism of global retail practices.
Since then, major clothing brands have responded to this harsh criticism by aligning themselves into one of three groups. The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh is comprised of mostly European companies such as H&M, Benetton, and Inditex which owns Zara, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety represents 26 of the biggest US clothing buyers including Wal-Mart, Target, and Gap, and the National Tripartite Plan backed by the Bangladeshi government. By March of 2015, 32 of the 2700 factories inspected had been closed due to imminent risk.
Again, we are seeing that by holding companies accountable, we are creating change, little by little.
There’s also a huge environmental component, including textile waste and chemical use. According to Andrew Morgan’s documentary The True Cost, more than 90% of cotton is now genetically modified, using vast amounts of water as well as chemicals. The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, second only to oil. Our skin is our body’s largest organ, absorbing those chemicals and passing them into our bloodstream.
So what is a living wage anyway? According to www.cleanclothes.org, it should be earned in a standard working week (no more than 48 hours) and allow a garment worker to be able to buy food for herself and her family, pay the rent, pay for healthcare, clothing, transportation and education and have a small amount of savings for when something unexpected happens.
In China, the minimum wage is 3132 yuan, which converts to $493.39 per 48-hour work week.
In Cambodia, the minimum wage has increased in response to pressure on companies like Nike and Gap. Following months of media campaigning, H&M, Zara, and other brands announced that they would adjust their pricing as well. Although the battle for living wages continues, we as consumers can see that our choices matter. We are powerful, because we can choose to spend our money on products that are made responsibly, and know that the big name “fast fashion" brands are taking note.
So, what can we do??
As consumers, we can choose to buy from the brands that are doing it right, with transparency in their sourcing and production.
We’re seeing that this, in turn, compels more brands to begin to identify countries and even specific factories from which the brands supply themselves.
The truth is, ethical fashion, also known as conscious fashion, will cost you slightly more, on average, than what you’re used to paying at Target. And it should. Because real hands and real people are creating it for you.
Here at SHE Changes Everything, we are all about slow, manageable shifts toward a more Sustainable, Healthy, and Ethical lifestyle. We believe that starting conversations and providing resources and encouragement toward that end can change the fashion industry, and ultimately the world.
THE BIG SECRET
So here’s the big secret: The fashion icons of tomorrow will not be known for their style alone, but will actually turn the clothing industry on it’s head. We are smart, and we will stand together for transparency in the sourcing and manufacturing of the garments in which we clothe ourselves and our families.
What if all women used their platforms, whether in their own communities, on social media, on podiums, or in front of millions on rock and roll stages, to spread awareness and create opportunity for women around the world, simply by shifting to more mindful clothing purchases?
Slow fashion is on the rise; We are seeing American brands begin to follow the Australian and European lead, and we as consumers can join this fashion revolution by buying less, choosing well, and making our clothing last. The growing trend that we hope is here to stay is a commitment to knowing where and by whom our clothes were made.
But please don’t go throw everything out of your closet in one passionate, impulsive haul.
Instead, try replacing each worn out and discarded piece with an ethically made piece, slowly over time. Try thrifting, or host a clothing swap when possible. Check your labels, just like you do with food. Create a capsule wardrobe. Stay tuned for a link to our Dressember team!
There are countless ways to begin to make progress, and SHE Changes Everything is committed to connecting you with brands and resources that help you make educated decisions, empowering all of us to slowly make this shift together.
Progress, not perfection.
I encourage you to check out the links below to connect with some of our favorite people and resources. Follow them, get involved, and learn from them as you begin to get your feet wet in the world of ethical fashion. SHE is change, and the world is waiting.
Go get ‘em, girls!