LET’S TALK ABOUT ETHICAL FASHION PLS

Ethical fashion: ‘an
approach to the design, sourcing and manufacture of clothing which maximises
benefits to people and communities while minimising impact on the environment.’

Ethical Fashion Forum

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(Source: https://airrclothingblog.com/2015/03/06/brand-profile-beaumont-organic-available-at-airr-clothing/)

Wow. Where do I begin?

Actually let me begin with this disclaimer: ANY CRITICISM I MAY MAKE
ABOUT CERTAIN SITUATIONS/ORGANISATIONS/GROUPS OF PEOPLE IS NOT AN ATTACK ON
THESE PEOPLE AS INDIVIDUALS BUT THE SYSTEM FROM WHICH THEY HAVE DERIVED FROM. 

K lets begin.

So I guess you could say I’ve been in/observing the ethical
fashion scene for about 4/5 years now. During my first year of uni I realised I needed to go beyond
complaining about the oppression of garment workers and start acting, and decided to create a blog called Oh So Ethical. My first
thought was to create an ethical fashion blog where I styled outfits I’d made out of
secondhand clothes, and raved about the latest ethical brands I loved (I
cringely called this ‘Fridays Five Ethical Faves’ ffssssssss). After a while I
stopped, but went back into it when my cousins and I realised we needed
somewhere to share our opinions, ideas,and hopefully inspire others to think
and act ethically- and so we rebranded Oh So Ethical and made it what it is today. 

At the beginning I tended to place a large emphasis on ethical brands that we liked and bought from. ‘Ethical is the new black’ was my favourite slogan. However, as the years have gone on, and with more interaction with activists, friends, random people I’ve met, and having witnessed the ongoing exploitation of garment workers continue year after year, I have become extremely cynical of the effectiveness of ethical brands, particularly ‘ethical fashion’.

Indeed, through learning from others and seriously thinking about
ethical fashion, questioning whether it is an actual means of empowerment for
workers,and if it will ACTUALLY dismantle the system of oppression, I have come to a conclusion:

It’s a resounding NO.

Here’s y.


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(Source: https://fashionindustrybroadcast.com/2017/06/12/sustainable-ethical-fashion-faux-has-never-looked-so-real-or-this-stylish/)

I recently read an amazing article in The Guardian by Martin Lukacs, which really helped me understand the underlying processes behind ethical fashion. To sum it up, we live in a neoliberal society, where we are taught to act and thrive individually. When it
comes to activism, we are taught to focus on how we, as individuals, can change
the situation, and are made to feel personally responsible and guilty for the world’s problems.
Due to the guilt created by this individualism,we feel the need to relieve our
guilt by acting in a way that makes us feel better, and as we are seen as consumers (as opposed to citizens) within neoliberal ideology, our means of creating change is through buying and consumption e.g. buying ethical clothing. 

While these individual actions are undoubtedly important, by placing such a great emphasis on individualistic activism, we are intentionally being steered away from focusing on the real perpetrators at large: CORPORATIONS- who are out here exploiting workers and the environment, and continue to get away with it. In turn, we are made to neglect the fact that we need to be targeting the root causes of exploitation, including the deregulation of state power that allows corporations to get away with murder, and the capitalist system that puts profits over people, encouraging exploitation and greed. By steering our attention away from such issues, corporations can continue making profits and getting away with their bullshit, while we discuss the pros and cons of bamboo leggings. (see more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/true-north/2017/jul/17/neoliberalism-has-conned-us-into-fighting-climate-change-as-individuals)  

Author of Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion’ Tansy Hoskins provides a similar discourse, adding that we are encouraged to trust in capitalism to make change and better the world; that companies can be made ethical through our consumer actions. However, the contradiction is that corporations have only become stronger and continue to exploit workers/resources, despite their greenwashing and attempts to come across as ‘green’ and ‘sustainable’. More shopping is not going to free workers from this system. By using consumerism as a sole means of empowering workers, we are utilising the very system that has led to the exploitation of workers in the Global South, namely capitalism, without even acknowledging or striving to challenge or dismantle it. (see more: https://oxfordleftreview.com/olr-issue-14/tansy-hoskins-neoliberalism-and-fashion/)

In an insightful article on White Saviour Complex
and Fair Trade, Bani Amor delves into the colonial connotations of attempts to ‘save’ the world via ethical
companies, which are argued to share parallels with the colonial activities of the West going into the Global South and
attempting to civilise the ‘Other’ with its saviour tactics, thus ensuring domination over the GS and its resources, validating supremacy. I’m not saying ethical companies are going to these countries on colonial conquests, but we really do need to understand the historic relevance of colonialism in interactions between the Global North and South such as these. If you go to these countries, get products made, sell them in the name of ‘liberating workers’ while not giving them a say or listening to them, and continue to stay silent on the structural system that has resulted in your existence as an ethical brand, you are falling into dangerous territory.

The article also reviews research on cause-related
marketing, which is basically when corporations and nonprofit charities combine to
promote sales and causes simultaneously. By tying serious social causes such as poverty and exploitation to making profits, this results in the depoliticising and downplaying of such causes, and provides an undignified, extremely
simplified solution to a complex, very dire situation. 

Finally, one pivotal point made is the fact
that coloured women, through this process of ‘saviourism’ are made both “hypervisible, but also invisible- ‘seen but not known’”. Their existence is highlighted, but they are simultaneously being silenced, as workers are spoken over, dehumanised and patronised by brands and movements that are supposed to be
‘empowering’ them. (read more: https://www.bitchmedia.org/article/spend-save)

In general, the ethical fashion movement tends to solely focus on how we can individually change the industry and ‘save’ workers in a way that utilises and continues to prop up the very system that is screwing workers over in the first place, conflicting with its ‘empowering’ rhetoric.


GREAT SO WTF DO I DO NOW THEN MAYISHA.

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(Source: http://www.vqronline.org/reporting-articles/2014/04/ghosts-rana-plaza)

Okay so I know I’ve painted a very dull image of ethical fashion, and I know not all ethical brands are the same, etc etc. However, when the  industry constantly paints ethical fashion as a positive means to an end, neglecting the issues surrounding ethical fashion, alternative viewpoints are needed.

I get a lot of people asking me for advice e.g. about ethical brands, how to be more ethical etc. Ultimately we want our goods to be made by workers who were treated fairly. Personally, I stick to secondhand- it’s cheaper for me and helps reduce waste in landfill. I do like ethical clothing, and knowing where my clothes/jewellery has come from, but if I do buy ethically I will from now on be seeing what that brand is doing to support garment workers and in calling out corporations, so if you’re an ethical brand prepare for a QnA sesh with ur girl.

One thing I would advise is to not simply boycott the high street- this comes from trade unionists and garment worker activists in Bangladesh. They want to produce garments and a source of income, they just don’t want to be tortured in the process (obviously). At the same time, we cannot deny that our excessive consumption is part of the problem, so if you need a new jacket- please just buy your jacket and not a jacket, 5 tops and 6 dresses because they were half price- really think about your purchases. Being a ‘shopoholic’ is a cute insta aesthetic but its seriously impacting the environment and feeding the system of worker exloitation.

Also acknowledge that a lot of people simply cannot afford to buy ethically, and should not be made to feel guilty for going to primark to buy jeans. 

One thing I also really want to highlight, as you would have probably guessed from the blog, is that our activism is not limited to our purchasing. We need to be vocal, we need to be out there demanding change from corporations, calling them out, exposing them etc. Something as little as a tweet, an email, and insta post can go a long way guys. I know its not in fashion to support such movements (pardon the pun) but we really have to keep pushing- we cannot afford to wait for another Rana Plaza for us to take action.

This might piss people off. I’m sorry. But understand that a few years ago I was the same as the very organisations and brands I’m talking about, and it took criticism like this to understand that I needed to rethink my activism if I were to truly create change. Plus, you feel pretty helpless after hearing of a factory fire every other week, another worker protest because factory owners didn’t pay their workers that month, stories of sexual abuse of young females from management, refugees being exploited, masses of workers fainting simultaneously, and NO ONE CARING. Not even the very people who by default should be sharing and raising concerns about these issues. It’s surreal.

We have groups and regular discussions on twitter that enable ethical brands to get together, support each other and discuss how we can promote ethical brands and use them
etc. It’s nice how such elaborate forms of unity can be created surrounding ethical branding but little is done to address the very problems that has led to the reason these ethical brands exist, and how to put an end to worker exploitation. Again, we are
steering towards ‘solutions’ that aren’t actually solutions, but are utilising capitalism
and perpetuating the neoliberal stance that we need to individually create the
change.

BUN THAT SHIT.

Things are going to start changing.

We are not only going to change the world with our individual practices, we are going to change the garment industry
in a way that emphasises our solidarity and support for garment workers,
creating a mass solidarity movement. We are going to call out corporates when we
clock their messy moves and let them know as consumers we don’t f*ck with them unless they treat their workers with dignity.
We are not going to buy our way to change, we are going to collectively DEMAND it.

We have no choice but to.

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(Source: http://thechronicleherald.ca/world/1126316-bangladeshi-garment-workers-protest-on-may-day)

Fashion Factfiles #1: Cotton Farmer Suicides in India

The epidemic of cotton farmer suicides is not a recent thing. Between 1995 and 2013, there is believed to have been 60,750 suicides, meaning an average of 10 farmers taking their own lives every day. Between January and April just this year, Maharashtra, India, reported 852 farmer suicides; an average of seven farmer suicides, reported every single day.

There are several reasons why so many cotton farmers are pushed to the point of ending their lives. However, the majority of these causes, including climate change and lack of micronutrients in the soil, have been exacerbated or caused by a far greater problem farmers are faced with: MONSANTO.

Continue reading “Fashion Factfiles #1: Cotton Farmer Suicides in India”

May Exposé: UNIQLO

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Source: http://en.hkctu.org.hk/mainland-china/position-and-analysis/uniqlos-neglect-of-its-suppliers-labour-exploitation

Hey guys! So its now May (how pls) and this month we will be exposing the one and only…..UNIQLOOOOO!

UNIQLO is a clothing company, which was originally founded
in Yamaguchi, Japan in 1949 as a textiles manufacturer. It is now a global
brand with over 1000 stores around the world.[1]

According to their website, their clothes are ‘simple and
essential yet universal, so people can freely combine them with their own
unique styles…’[2]

That’s all good but here’s my fave part; UNIQLO’s reasoning
for why they do what they do:

‘Because if all people can look and feel better every day,
then maybe the world can be a little better too.’ [3]

LOOOOOLL ALLOW IT. (can we end the exposé here bc thats enough to bait out uniqlo tbh- cringey af)

Despite how cringey this sounds however, it looks like it’s
working, as according to Forbes, UNIQLO has a brand value of $7b, with sales of
$11.4bn recorded in May 2016 [4]. In addition, it turns out UNIQLO’s CEO Tadashi Yanai is the richest man in Japan![5].

As with most retailers, UNIQLO’s financial growth has done
little to ensure the wellbeing of those who it depends on to achieve its level
of monetary success. Check out what’s been lowkey going on recently in UNIQLO
supplier factories, and information on how you can get in contact with them and
demand answers!


CHINA

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Source: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1678477/uniqlo-suppliers-put-workers-danger

Last year, War on
Want and a labour organisation in China known as Students and Scholars against
Corporate Misbehaviour (SACOM) released a report revealing findings from four
of the 70 factories in China that produce for UNIQLO. These factories had been
recognised by UNIQLO as the best-performing factories. Here’s what they found:[6]

EXCESSIVE WORKING HOURS:

Standard working hours per month in these factories is 174
hours, excluding the excessive overtime hours added on top of this. However in
many cases this was largely exceeded. Indeed, in one factory, workers were
working 132 hours of overtime, while in another, workers were working 150 hours
overtime- nearly the same amount as two full time jobs for less than a living
wage.

In some cases, workers were required to work from 7:30am to
midnight, seven days a week. Often they weren’t given leave to take a rest,
working these excessive hours for two months straight. When production was at
its peak, workers had to soak their feet in hot water to relieve the pain and
fatigue after standing for hours.

Due to wages being so low, workers are compelled to work
overtime. This is exacerbated by the fact that workers are not properly paid
for overtime e.g. workers were not paid double on weekends when they were
supposed to.

UNSAFE WORKING ENVIRONMENT

There were many health hazards found in UNIQLO factories,
including:

High temperatures: Factory floors are found to be at very
high temperatures, for example, on the knitting floor of one factory it was 38°C.

No protective gear:  Men
were seen working topless whilst women were found working in sweat-drenched
clothes. In addition, workers in dyeing departments were expected to work with
heavy loads of fabric that weighed up to 600kg with no protective gear, risking
burns or chemical exposure.

Poor ventilation: Poor ventilation and a high density of
cotton fibre in the air increased the risk of byssinosis (a serious
occupational asthma and respiratory irritation). Moreover, as cotton dust is
combustible this can, and has, led to dust explosions.  

Use of toxic chemicals: The use of harmful chemicals in some
factories has led to toxic waste water flooding factory floors, exposing the
workers to these chemicals and also exposing workers to the risk of
electrocution.

Falls from 2-metre high stepladders are found to be common
when working with rolls of yarn- as workers are in a rush to meet targets.

PUNITIVE MEASURES:

Many factories use harsh protocols to ensure workers are
meeting targets and ensure product quality. For example, in one factory,
workers’ wages were deducted if the quality of their work was not up to
standard or if they were found resting outside their 30-minute lunch and dinner
breaks.

Fines were also issued. For example, at another factory, a
worker had his entire wage for the day deducted when he was caught attempting
to iron two sleeves at the same time instead of one at a time. Like for
real!?!?

In another factory, workers were encouraged to report mistakes
made by colleagues. Money would be deducted from the salary of the worker who
made the mistake, and transferred to the salary of the worker who had reported
the mistake. Managers regularly used the factory
broadcasting system to name and shame workers who weren’t hitting their
production targets. At one factory, if workers could not reach the target,
other workers would have to take on the extra work.

NO UNIONS ALLOWED

It is extremely hard for workers to voice their concerns, as
there is no collective, democratic body representing workers in negotiations
with management.  In one factory, the
chairperson of the union was also the manager at the factory, therefore making
it easier to quash any attempts to advocate workers’ rights. At the same
factory, it was heard that when workers organised a strike against low wages in
2009, management hired gangsters to physically assault the workers’ leaders and
suppress the strike. In another case, workers who had led a strike against high
temperatures on the shop floor were dismissed.

In addition, in June 2015, a supplier of UNIQLO called Artigas Clothing shut down without notice and refused compensation for more than 500 workers. After hearing about the possibility of a closure in December 2014, 1000 workers went on strike and demanded that the company pay their pension and overtime payments. The police and factory management shut down the strike and forced workers to return to work, ignoring their demands. Then when June 2015 arrived, workers slept in the factory for weeks to prevent the factory closing without giving the workers their compensation and pension payments, and wished to collectively speak to management. The factory owners rejected, so workers petitioned to the provincial government to resolve the dispute, which led to violent police repression and the detention of 150 workers. One of the female leaders was given indefinite detention in an attempt to force workers to sign a ‘voluntary’ resignation if they wanted her release. 359 workers were pressured into signing through individual visits by management as well. Workers were forcibly removed to work in another factory, and workers wh were part of the collective action were dismissed. UNIQLO did nothing to support the workers.

BRIBERY TO GET AWAY WITH ABUSES

During factory audits, when inspectors come to check out the
workers’ conditions to report back to retailers, workers are often bribed (e.g.
using a cash reward) and compelled to give responses the factory wants them to
give. Considering that workers may be giving false information about their
working conditions, it is worrying to think how much worse conditions may
actually be.

This report caused a stir, and thanks to the ongoing
campaigning of War on Want and SACOM, this January UNIQLO agreed to make its
supply chain public, making it easier to locate where UNIQLO’s clothes are made
and therefore making it easier to track conditions, organise and build a
stronger movement of workers in the area. Then in March, the pressure from
campaigners further led to UNIQLO publishing their list of 146 core factory
suppliers across seven countries in Asia!

INDONESIA

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Source: http://en.hkctu.org.hk/mainland-china/position-and-analysis/uniqlos-neglect-of-its-suppliers-labour-exploitation

 In 2015, a factory making clothes for UNIQLO in
Indonesia closed down, leaving around 4000 workers without a job, with four
months of wages unpaid and compensation amounting to nearly $11m! Workers have
been forced into homelessness and unemployment with no support whatsoever from
UNIQLO. Two years later and workers are still waiting for their wages and
compensation. It’s absolutely ridiculous[7] 

CAMBODIA

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In 2015, Human Rights Now (HRN) visited Cambodia and
found a supplier to UNIQLO, where a male worker revealed the horrific conditions
workers were enduring. He was asked to work overtime almost everyday, including
working 24 consecutive hours. However, he was never paid for overtime hours
after 6 pm. In fact, after 24 hours of overtime shifts, workers were only given
$5. If workers didn’t work overtime, their contracts would not be renewed. Workers
from this and one other factory claimed that they were union members, which was
why management refused to renew their contracts. Many workers were said to pass
out due to high temperatures and a lack of air conditioning. In addition, workers
would not receive safety equipment such as goggles or a mask to cover their mouths
and noses from the detergent odours in the laundry department. However, they wouldn’t
have been able to use the masks anyway, because of the high temperature of the
room, making it difficult to breathe with them on. Workers would be forced to
wear masks and goggles only when inspectors came.[8] 

In addition, the coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’
Democratic Union (CCAWDU) found that in 2014, 6,715 people were dismissed due
to their active participation in labour unions. In late 2015, 50 workers were
dismissed due to their union membership. In December the factory were ordered
by the Arbitration Council to reinstate the 50 workers, but they refused. A
strike began in February 2016, but instead of reinstating the workers, another
55 were terminated, and union members were refused contract renewals.[9]


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Source: http://www.chinalaborwatch.org/newscast/474

Now we know the situation It is our duty to stand in
solidarity with the workers who are tirelessly risking their lives to stand up
to UNIQLO, to work in dignity, and to ensure justice for themselves and their
colleagues. They are out there risking their lives as union members,
protesting, allowing reporters to tell their stories. It is the very least we
can do.

This is a petition to demand UNIQLO to pay the Indonesian workers
who were layoff their wages and compensation: http://e-activist.com/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1819&ea.campaign.id=65507

CONTACT THEM: Let them know you know what they’re up to, and
that you are concerned.

Twitter: @uniqlo_uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/uniqlo.uk/?ref=br_rs

Instagram: @uniqlo_uk

Email: https://www.uniqlo.com/uk/en/contactus

Source: http://en.hkctu.org.hk/mainland-china/position-and-analysis/uniqlos-neglect-of-its-suppliers-labour-exploitation

Love&&Solidarity!

[1] https://www.uniqlo.com/uk/en/company/

[2] https://www.uniqlo.com/uk/en/company/about_uniqlo.html

[3]
Ibid

[4] https://www.forbes.com/companies/uniqlo/.

[5] http://e-activist.com/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1819&ea.campaign.id=65507

[6] media.waronwant.org/sites/default/files/WoW_uniqlo%20report%202016.pdf?_ga=2.50691241.1070563432.1493166082-1283920894.1475261908

[7] http://e-activist.com/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=1819&ea.campaign.id=65507

[8] http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/default.aspx?TabId=836&CompanyId=554121&CategoryId=421

[9] http://media.waronwant.org/sites/default/files/WoW_uniqlo%20report%202016.pdf?_ga=2.26959997.15892055.1493503177-1283920894.1475261908

The Shy Activists- FASHION REVOLUTION

We are nearly at the end of Fashion Revolution Week but Fashion Revolution runs all year long.

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Photography by Rahul Talukder

At the beginning of Fashion Revolution Week Mayisha shared her thoughts and what many of us who see through consumerism feel- “We are all unwillingly complicit in this cycle of exploitation, through a system called ‘fast fashion.” We wear the clothes, we buy the clothes, we ask for them.

Since Rana Plaza collapsed “1,137 have been confirmed dead, with over 200 remaining missing. Tales of workers trapped in the rubble with no choice but to saw their own limbs off to escape, of workers trapped within the collapse for days without food or water, surrounded by dead bodies. Of the families who had to identify their deceased family members, only to find that the bodies had been so deformed by the collapse they were almost  unrecognisable. The suffering of the injured workers who are no longer physically capable of working, plummeting them into further poverty. The orphans who lost either one or both parents. The workers who survived, but must face on going psychological torment, as they return to work in the garment factories.”

Mayisha covers how although there is an improvement, things still haven’t massively improved, and that we can try to make a difference by pressuring our favourite brands to make a change. 

Here’s a link to her blog which is a must read.

WHO MADE MY CLOTHES

Who made my clothes is a campaign to look past the clothes, past the label to the person behind the finished product. Supporters of the campaign taken photos of their item of clothing with the label showing to ask the brand on a social platform- who made their clothes.

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Change is at your fingertips

Although there are many ways to lead a more ethical life in terms of fashion such as:

  • swapshops
  • upcycling
  • recycling
  • ethical shopping

We mustn’t forget the plight of garment workers and the issues they face everyday. Mayisha covers a lot of the terrible conditions that garment workers suffer for example, Bangladeshi garment workers earn the lowest minimum wage in the world and it is nowhere near the living wage. 

We have to show that we are in solidarity with garment workers and we have to hold companies accountable. We also have to hold ourselves accountable. Where there is demand there is supply. Let’s demand transparent and fair supply.

Islam teaches us that “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.”

Many of us have the power to use our voice and therefore have the responsibility to do so.

One of the easiest ways that you can put pressure on brands is by tweeting them. Fashion Revolution have helpfully made a template for twitter- 

I’m , and I want to thank the people who made my . Hi @[brand], #whomademyclothes? via @Fash_Rev.

Islam teaches that the condition of the people won’t change until the people change. I think this is a really valuable and important message. We shouldn’t expect things to change on their own. 

We should shoulder the responsibility of making the change happen. 

As Mayisha stated in her post, that although she is unsure about how to change the industry she is sure that we need to make our voice heard.

Sources and further reading

http://fashionrevolution.org/get-involved/ways-for-everyone-to-get-involved/

http://www.vogue.co.uk/gallery/rana-plaza-fourth-anniversary-fashion-revolution-week

http://www.thestar.co.uk/business/sheffield-store-gets-behind-ethical-fashion-revolution-1-8517624

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/fashion/style/9-ways-master-eco-conscious-sustainable-dressing-stay-stylish/

https://standup4islam.wordpress.com/2012/12/25/when-you-see-a-wrong-change-it-with-your-hand/

http://ohsoethical.tumblr.com/post/159933245193/fourth-anniversary-of-the-rana-plaza-collapse-my

Fourth Anniversary of the Rana Plaza Collapse- my thoughts.

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Photography by Rahul Talukder

Today marks the fourth anniversary of an incident that left the world horrified, as we witnessed the deplorable consequences of corporate greed and capitalism.

On 24th April 2013, 8am, 3639 workers refused to enter the eight-storey Rana Plaza factory building in Bangladesh, due to visible cracks in the wall that evidently posed a threat to the workers’ lives. In response, the owner Sohel Rana, brought paid gang members to beat the workers, forcing them to work, with threats that they would not be paid that month. They reluctantly went in.

At 8:45am, the 8 storey building collapsed.

1,137 have been confirmed dead, with over 200 remaining missing. Tales of workers trapped in the rubble with no choice but to saw their own limbs off to escape, of workers trapped within the collapse for days without food or water, surrounded by dead bodies. Of the families who had to identify their deceased family members, only to find that the bodies had been so deformed by the collapse they were almost  unrecognisable. The suffering of the injured workers who are no longer physically capable of working, plummeting them into further poverty. The orphans who lost either one or both parents. The workers who survived, but must face on going psychological torment, as they return to work in the garment factories.

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Photography by Rahul Talukder

What makes things worse is the amount of pressure required to force retailers whose clothes had been found in the factory to compensate the victims and the families of the victims. Indeed, while some did pay up, others, notably Benetton, required intense pressure from campaigners before they gave in. Why they felt they were in no position to support these families is beyond me.

For the past four years since the accident, activists around the world have marked this day as Fashion Revolution Day, and the week it takes place in as Fashion Revolution Week. During this time, people all around the world ask big businesses who made their clothes, highlighting consumer concern for the workers behind their clothes and the need to hold corporations accountable for their workers’ wellbeing.

Demand for the fashion industry to check themselves has increased, and it is refreshing to see fast fashion corporations becoming more transparent, as well as some improvements being shown.

What I cannot deal with however, is the recurring news stories on factory fires from Vietnam to India, garment workers fainting en masse in Cambodia due to lack of nutrition, exhaustion and sweltering heat, young Dalit girls in Tamil Nadu being sexually exploited and abused through the Sumangali System (an agreement that women work in return for dowry required for marriage), women having abortions or working up til pregnancy to avoid being fired, impoverished communities being struck with high levels of cancer and disease due to corporations polluting their land with toxic materials or compelling workers to use hazardous materials, the cotton farmers committing suicide because they cannot keep up with the impossible debt they are put in.

The worst part? We are all unwillingly complicit in this cycle of exploitation, through a system called ‘fast fashion.’

Fast fashion simply refers to when retailers pick up trends from the catwalk, and push them out at large quantities to consumers as cheaply as possible. However, with trends now rapidly changing faster than ever, due to factors such as instant coverage of increasingly frequent fashion shows and online accessibility to new styles, retailers must keep up in order to meet consumer desires. For example, in Zara, designs will stay on sale for a maximum of four weeks. If Zara launch a particular product that doesn’t sell within a week, it is withdrawn, orders are cancelled and new designs are formulated, further highlighting their dedication to consumer demands.

As fast fashion retailers continue to push out new collections in large quantities and short spaces of time, this creates impossible targets for garment workers to reach in terms of clothes required to be made. This is why retailers aim to set up factories in developing countries, where the impoverished are in desperate need of work, where wages can be kept low, and where laws supporting the rights of garment workers are weak. This allows corporations to exploit workers more easily, with workers being faced with long hours, limited breaks, poor working conditions, poor pay, as well as physical, verbal, and sexual abuse.

Smh.

As someone who has always loved designing clothes, combining materials, mixing my cultures via fabric, using my wardrobe to express political views- I feel evermore compelled to fight this battle. I love clothes, but fashion is absolute bull. As my fave Tansy Hoskins explained in an article, fashion today is a facade of ‘choice and empowerment’, a beacon of creativity, but intentionally refuses to acknowledge that it is held up by and dependent on the exploitation of the impoverished.

This is evident in the glorifying of fashion on social media. Particularly, it is the rise of the fashion blogger that has made me increasingly alarmed with this lack of accountability the fashion industry gets away with. Every time I see an Insta post with a caption saying something like ‘OMG I’M ADDICTED TO SHOES’ ‘SOMEONE TELL ME HOW TO STOP BUYING CLOTHES’ ‘I CAN’T STOP BUYING CLOTHES’ ‘RETAIL THERAPY’, and all these clothing hauls, it makes me sad that corporations have really worked their magic on us. Through persuading us that the only way we can be deemed as successful, the only way we can be happy, is by purchasing clothes that only provide a short term happiness which eventually fades until we get our next fix of ‘retail therapy’, they are truly feeding on our insecurities and the susceptibility of our subconscious to external messages. I can honestly say, most of this realisation has come from analysing myself and my responses to the world, and trust me it is a constant struggle battling between the messages we receive from society and my own consciousness.

At the end of the day, as much as society compels us to think fashion, style etc is the epitome of social success and happiness, we need to remind ourselves that this mindset is intentional, is a tactical form of marketing, and most importantly, A LIE.

The fact is, no one should have to suffer for me to be able to express myself, to be unique, to be creative, to be able to have a cute insta aesthetic and get bare likes for an ootd. As obvious as it sounds, this is the world we are in.

While I am still unsure as to how exactly we transform the fashion industry (I think about this everyday ngl lol), there is something I am sure of: You need to make your voice heard. Retailers depend on consumers to thrive, so increasing the pressure on these corporations to ensure the wellbeing of their workers is essential. Even simply @ing or emailing retailers like h&m, inquiring about workers rights has a powerful impact, especially if done collectively. In addition,  I strongly believe in the impact our own actions can have on changing the world and changing our own behaviours. By reducing the amount of unnecessary clothes we buy, mending or recycling the clothes we have, opting for secondhand garmz or even Fairtrade stuff if u got p, we can encompass a sense of consciousness for humanity with every action we take, allowing our lives to symbolise the world we want to see, and help to actually be the change we want to see.  There are also many organisations out here working actively to support garment workers around the world, such as Clean Clothes Campaign and Labour Behind the Label- check them out. I hope, both individually and collectively, we will all take a stand against this consumerist, materialistic society fuelled by capitalism. 

Anyway I’m out. I truly hope we can create a world where the greed and ego of the people at the top is overridden by the masses and our desire to care for and protect our brothers and sisters around the world. 

Mayisha

p.s. check out some of the events happening for Fashion Revolution Week this week here

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Photography by Rahul Talukder

Soomaiya Saturday- Every Penny Counts

Note- This is not a money saving guide

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We all like to give to charity regularly. We might have a monthly direct debit set up or give to the homeless. In Islam we give 2.5% of our wealth as it is a pillar of our faith. 

We do this because we want to help people who are less fortunate. We want to make a difference to someone’s life. We want to improve someone’s situation. In Islam we believe that you can’t lose anything from giving.

But what if every penny you spent had a positive impact on someone’s life. What if you offered Trade and not Aid. (I’m not suggesting we stop giving to charity).

At Oh So Ethical we believe that one of the biggest powers individuals have is their consumer power. We have to spend to survive- housing, food, clothes, other essentials.

What if every time you needed something you looked into the best option. Not just the best option for you as the customer but the best option for it’s impact on everything behind the item. Think about the environment, the person who made the goods, what the company believes in. Become a conscious shopper and not a zombie-like consumer.

When I started to think about spending ethically I started with the basics that I would always buy. Items such as soap, shower gels, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste (find them in the OSE directory). It feels good to know I am regularly contributing to businesses that are having a good impact on the world.

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I always think of it this way- if your friend and your enemy were selling the same thing, who would you buy it from?

In Islam we believe in attaching blessings to everything we do- “And spend of your substance in the cause of Allah, and make not your own hands contribute to destruction; but do good; for Allah loveth those who do good.” (2:195) It’s our mission to have a positive impact with every choice we make. Let’s use our choices to make people happy!