This month, I’m changing it up a bit. We won’t be looking at issues within the production of garments themselves, but rather what happens to much of our clothing once we’re done with them and have donated it to charity.
Oh you thought they’d all be sold and bought by people to reuse?
Welcome to another episode of: Calling out the West and its neo-colonial practices!
Today I went to visit Oitij-jo Collective’s first exhibition;
an exploration of Bangladeshi Nakshi stitching and Khadi material with
designer Rukia Ullah and the ethical and sustainable fashion designer
Shama Kun. Seeing Bengalis out here not just embracing our culture, but doing so through ethical and sustainable means is the BEST THING EVAR and is honestly so inspiring to someone who wishes to do the same (somehow).
Nakshi comes from the Bengali word “naksha”, which refers to
artistic patterns. The stitching was used traditionally to make
‘Kanthas’ or quilts by using old sarees and other materials. Rukia
explores the spirit of this very traditional process what now would be
called ‘recycling or upcycling’.
Rukia’s specialism is
print and pattern design along with fashion design – her explorations
through design now include understanding her cultural roots of
Bangladesh – her collections are thus inspired from Bangladesh and its
diverse heritage, and she aspires to engage further with this by drawing
her inspiration from Bengal’s rich cultural heritage. In this
collection she uses both recycled patterned fabric and Nakshi to
counteract stereotypes of Bangladesh with the beautiful aspects of the
land, in particular the beauty of Barsa, the rainy season.
Shama Kun explores the often neglected Khadi also known as
‘Khaddar’ which has a long history in Bangladesh dating back to 16th
Century. The material is mainly woven from cotton and blended with silk
or other materials by hand on the ‘Chakra’, and carries a message of
self-reliance and sustainability. Not to mention that it’s completely
A ‘people before profit’ label, Shama
Kun focuses on keeping indigenous Bangladeshi textile knowledge alive
while providing culturally inspired, cutting edge yet modern wear for
the modern woman. Shama Kun ethically produces all her range in rural
weaving belts and craft cluster of Bangladesh.
Thank you to Oitij-jo for such an inspiring exhibition. As a woman who is passionate about ethics and celebrating my grandparents’ culture, it is so beautiful to see the two entwined by two very talented women, especially seeing how women in Bangladesh have actually been recycling for TIME #ethicalgoals – looking forward to similar events!
On 20th August, Oh So Ethical held its third ethical
swap shop. AND IT WAS LITTTT.
So what exactly is a swap shop?
A swap shop is simply an event where people get together,
bringing any old clothes they’re looking to get rid of, and swapping them for
someone else’s! You can have public swapping events, or even just bring a bunch
of friends and family round and have a swapping party. Remember the good old
saying, ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’? Yep. Fully applies to
Ours was held in Leytonstone, with some of the most unique
and stunning pieces that you all donated, all hung up ready to be swapped. We
also sold beautiful fair trade handmade jewellery from Uganda made from
recycled beads and a range of vegan goods- with all proceeds going towards the
Rana Plaza Arrangement. This charity provides financial assistance to victims
of the Rana Plaza collapse and their families.
Waking through the entrance, we had a huge timeline taking
you on a journey from the beginning of
the garment industry in Bangladesh to the state it’s in now. It is actually
crazy to see how fast things have escalated in such a small space of time, but
it also gives us hope that maybe we can slowly undo the damage that has been
In the same room as the swapping we had a display we created from scrap
paper of a Bengali female with her first in the air with the quote ‘The hands
that wear bangles can also carry swords.’ This is a slogan created and used by
a group of female tea workers in India, who mobilised independently from trade unions to
improve their working conditions and increase their wages. These are the women
who define resilience and strength, which is something not usually associated
with women in the Global South in the mainstream media. They are definitely one of
Oh So Ethical’s greatest inspirations and the hashtag #lifegoals never better
fit to be honest (find out more about them here
also had quotes written in red and green hearts (Bangladesh n that)
around our Bengali Queen, with quotes from the Bengali garment workers
interviewed during a protest which took place demanding better
treatment, in the documentary
Udita. By doing this, we wanted to demonstrate that while Bengali women
are going through hell, they are still rising up against oppression and
standing up for their rights with immeasurable amounts of strong-will
and determination. They don’t need our pity, they need our
So why swapshops?
Many of us are becoming familiar with the term ‘fast fashion’,
which simply refers to when high street retailers mimic catwalk trends and
produce these trends at a cheaper cost. Due to various factors such as the ever-evolving
nature of social media and the various fashion weeks that take place, fashion
trends now change every few weeks, as opposed to every few months as before.
Therefore, in order for high street retailers to stay on top of their game,
they must keep up with these trends and produce cheaper versions of these
styles quickly for fashionistas hungry to remain on trend. As a consequence,
while it once took about six months for products to be on the market, it now
takes just weeks.
What’s the big deal?
By demanding new clothes at such a fast pace, in order to
keep up with the changes in trends, this puts pressure on the factory owners
who are expected to produce vast amounts of clothes in a limited space of time.
As a result, garment workers are set near impossible targets to reach daily. If
they don’t achieve these targets the workers (particularly women, who make up
80% of the workforce) are frequently subjected to physical, verbal and sexual
abuse. Many workers report forced overtime, unsanitary conditions, denial of
paid maternity leave, limited toilet breaks, and failure to pay wages and
bonuses on time or in full (read this article for a summary of some of the
horrible things female garment workers must endure http://bkaccelerator.com/9-ways-women-getting-abused-fashion-industry/).
Workers are further put under pressure by the constant competition between
retailers, who compete to see who can produce these catwalk trends as cheaply as
possible. This leads to a reduction in the percentage of income that goes
towards wages and worker’s safety. According to War on Want, the majority of
garment workers in Bangladesh earn little more than the minimum wage, 3,000
taka a month (approximately £25), which is far below what is considered a
living wage, calculated at 5,000 taka a month (approximately £45). This is the
minimum required to provide a family with shelter, food and education.
Not only this, but the impact on the environment is also debilitating.
In fact, fashion is known to be the second largest polluter in the world, next
to OIL! Indeed, the journey of a garment involves excessive amounts of
insecticides, pesticides and dyes which leak into water systems containing sea
life and often the only source of water for families living nearby. Other
environmental issues include the fact that large amounts of water are used up
during production (7000 litres is needed for just one pair of jeans FAM!),
excessive amounts of greenhouse gases (10% of total greenhouse gas emissions) are
released during production and when clothes are being shipped to the West. Not
forgetting the large amounts of clothes going to landfill (as much as 3 out of
4 garments go to landfill, with only a quarter being recycled) as we move from
one trend to the next (read this article to find out more about the impact fast
fashion is having on the environment http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/makingwaves/fast-fashion-drowning-world-fashion-revolution/blog/56222/).
With the world consuming about 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year, which
is 400% more than the amount we consumed just two decades ago, imagine the
impact this is having on both the workers and the environment.
You see what I mean?
Now you might be thinking, ‘it’s okay, I give my clothes to
the charity shop/those places that pay for your second-hand clothes’.
Unfortunately, they don’t tell you the whole story behind what happens to the
The fact is, we’re producing and getting rid of clothes at
such a fast pace that even charities cannot deal with the vast amount of
clothes they’re receiving. In fact, just 10-30% of donated clothes are actually sold in the UK. So
where are the rest of the clothes going? Most likely, Africa.
second-hand market is rampant in Africa and takes up
most of the garment industry, with people in many African countries
living by selling our second-hand clothes. In fact, a recent report
found that East Africa alone imported $151m of second-hand clothing last
year, most of which was
collected by charities and recyclers in Europe and North America.
governments in East African countries are now making plans to reduce
imports and even banning them, to reduce their dependency on our often
quality, unhygienic leftovers. Instead, they are preparing their own
industries and training their own citizens in textiles skills, as a more
means of income for their people that is not simply imposed on them for
So as you can see, a simple purchase can have huge
implications on the world around us.
So how’s a swapshop going to change things?
By swapping clothes instead of buying new ones, we are reducing
the constant excessive demands that are crippling and taking advantage of the
impoverished. We are reducing the environmental destruction required to produce
these clothes. We are reducing the amount of second-hand clothes being sent to
African countries and stalling their independence. If we all unite and perform
small acts such as this, imagine the change we could create.
NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF YOUR ACTIONS. EVER.
Thank you to everyone who came down, to Sikandar for the photography,
and to our mums and family and friends who helped out immensely- we had the
best time, and it really motivated us to carry on and hold more, so stay tuned!