Why It Actually Matters Where Your Clothes Come From
Today is Fashion Revolution Day, a day of remembrance and action that launched last year in honor of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013, which killed 1133 people working at the facility in Bangladesh. The goal is to raise awareness of the true costs of fashion—on both the environment and the lives of people all over the world who produce it—by calling for brands to expose every detail of their production process.
Curious as to how such a step would benefit the larger fashion world and us as consumers, we spoke to Maxine Bédat, a co-founder of the slow fashion platform Zady and the U.S. Chair (with her business partner Soraya Dorabi) of Fashion Revolution Day. Scroll down to find out what she had to say, and if you, too, would like to get involved, snap a selfie wearing your top inside out and hashtag it with #WhoMadeMyClothes!
Why is it so important to know exactly where our clothes come from?
Today, the clothing industry is the second most polluting industry in the world—second only to oil—and it’s also one of the largest employers of slave and child labor. Knowing where our clothes come from helps us understand the connection between these huge problems and what we can do to solve them.
As consumers we have enormous power to vote with our money: we can buy clothing with known origins (from the farm through to the final finishing factory) and, by doing so, we'll have better quality clothing while also sending a message to brands that don't have a traceable supply chain (i.e. all the steps it takes for our clothing to come into being) that they’ll have to change and clean up their system if they want our support.
What are some reasons that brands hesitate to reveal this information?
A lot of brands just don’t know their supply chain and that's why we have the clothing crises that we have. With the rise of fast fashion stores (the ones that are super cheap and focus on really trendy items to woo you back into their stores), the focus for companies has become about getting the lowest price possible for themselves rather than doing what’s best for the people making the clothes or the environment. These big companies use middlemen to do their dirty work: finding the cheapest labor with the lowest environmental standards.
When we buy clothing from a brand, we're often just buying the label—the brands don’t always design their own clothing! So the reality of the system is very hidden, and most brands just want you to keep buying their product while remaining ignorant of their process.
What are the best resources for tracking down this information?
Right now it's really hard. Other than shopping at places like Zady or Patagonia for your athletic wear, there aren’t many places yet that are sharing this information. But that doesn't mean you can't do anything to create change. For starters, before you buy your next item of clothing, turn the piece inside out and look at the seams. A lot of times clothing that we buy at fast fashion stores is falling apart even before we get it home! So look at the construction of the piece—make sure that it looks solid.
Next, don't let sales people pressure you—only buy things you really love. It turns out that we each throw out 70lbs of clothing a year, and 20% of that is brand new! But if we buy only the things we really love, even if those pieces are a little more expensive, we'll actually end up saving money, owning nicer things and doing good by the planet.
So what are the biggest challenges to making all fashion production totally transparent?
It requires a real sea change within the industry, because over the past 20 years as brands have moved their production overseas in an effort to find the cheapest manufacturers, they have just lost track of their production. They don't know where their cotton comes from, they don't know where their fabric comes from and they don't even know where their clothing is sewn. But just because they don't know that now doesn't mean that it’s inevitable forever. When we show that, as consumers, we care about these things, the industry will start to change because it will be better for business.
Proving that Zady puts their money where their mouth is, and showing the rest of us what it would look like to know everything about an item’s production, the company recently exposed the entire supply chain of their new .02 T-Shirt (above). “We aimed to make the perfect t-shirt: a neckline that’s not too sexy, not too sporty, and looks great with or without accessories,” explained co-founders Maxine Bédat and Soraya Dorabi. And where was the t-shirt crafted? 8 different places in the US, including New York, Texas, South Carolina and 5 different towns in North Carolina. Talk about a process!