Who made your clothes?

So, I’m starting this blog with an exercise. I want you to look down your body. Run your hands over every item of clothing that you’re wearing, every layer and feel right down to your shoes. Feel that material and look close at the stitches. Now, think about all the other hands that have touched your clothes too. Do you know how many? Now, check the labels. Made in where? Vietnam? China? Bangladesh? And made by who?

Did you know that, if you’re reading this, you have 4x the amount of clothes in your wardrobe than your parents did? Did you know that 1 in 4 people around the world work in the fashion industry as we know it, with 98% of those people living below the poverty line, and 80% of those people being women? And is any of this making any of us happier? Hell to the no. Far from it.

I want you to meet Nazma, who at 13 years old, started work in a Bangladeshi garment factory; earning a wage equivalent to £2 a month. Nazma’s life has been extremely difficult, because not only has she worked in conditions, that some consider as modern-day slavery since she was 13 years old, but she’s also seen the hardships and inequalities of hundreds just like her.

I saw Nazma last year. She was angry with the world and asking for change.

“Women are earning £50 a month. They make your t-shirts, your dresses, your leggings. The multi-national and retailers come to where the labour markets are cheap. And when clothes are cheap, women are cheap. Nothing comes for free in this world, nothing is discount, women pay with their blood and their sweat… Women are not respected. Women should be safe in all workplaces, everywhere.” – Nazma Akter, London, 2017

And above is Laboni and her husband, who moved to Bangladesh to find work and a new life. Laboni, alongside 1,137 others died when her factory collapsed five years ago.  The Rana Plaza story still hits me hard because it’s a story so common and a story that is never taken seriously enough. A story where workers rights and concerns were ignored, and the clothes that now fill our wardrobes were made at a human cost, just like so many others.

Most of my wardrobe, and yours, would have started in the hands of girls like Laboni and Nazma. They then end up in shops worth billions of pounds. Worth enough money to pay these women and men fair living wages. Worth enough money for their CEO’s and management to actually make time and visit the hands that are making their goods. Worth enough money to ensure that no human is working in these unsafe and inhumane conditions, yet alone a 13-year-old child. Worth enough money to make a change.

You cannot exploit women in one country to empower them in another. It shouldn’t work like that. That’s not empowerment. That’s not freedom, or love, or anything positive in fact.

But we’re greedy, right? And at least they’ve got jobs, right?

Yeah in deathly conditions. You know in the UK when it hits over 25 degrees, and everyone starts banging on about ‘safe working conditions’ and workers’ rights in that godforsaken heat? Well imagine that, plus another 10 degrees, plus 10-hour working days, plus seeing your family twice a year, plus dirty living conditions, plus gruelling work environments that are unsafe and the air is filled with chemicals, plus very little choice so you’re trapped and taken advantage of. Workers in Cambodia faint daily from the heat, starvation and pure exhaustion. Who do they work for? Suppliers to Nike and Puma. For how much? £120 a month.

And that’s just a snippet of the effect it has on the people of our planet, but the fashion industry is harming our planet in extraordinary ways too.

As the consumers, we are the cause of this. We are the cause of a 500% increase in consumption. Because of us, the consumers, the factory industry is now the world’s biggest plastic polluter, the second biggest energy consumer and the biggest producer of the non-bio gradable material that is polyester. Click here for my last blog to read more about the effects that fashion has on our planet. 

 

What are the solutions?

The solutions are in our hands, and there are so many of them! As a consumer (and human being!), I love to shop, I like my clothes, and I love getting dressed up. And I’m not saying we should stop, that we should boycott and throw tomatoes at the doors of Zara, but we can shop with a conscience, with more care and with more heart. This is easier said than done, when every time you flick on to Instagram you see girls earning big bucks for promoting these labels hard. I get the pressures of society. But think, is it worth it? What’s going to really matter 10 years from now?

  • Repair, re-wear and reuse your clothes

Don’t buy anything with the thought of chucking it away. Buy things that you love and wear them with love, repeatedly. Repair them, learn to sew things up and customise!

  • Engage with and challenge current suppliers

Shop ethically and challenge the fashion industry. If a company doesn’t have transparency regarding their suppliers and production makers, then the likelihood that they either have no idea who is making their clothes or that they’re in unsuitable, unethical conditions is highly likely. Do your research, ask questions and don’t be afraid to stand up for what’s right.

  • Stop sending all your old sh*t to charity shops

Use Depop, eBay, car boot sales and sell them on! You’ll make some money and your clothes will go to a new home, instead of a landfill like the ones damaging Haiti. Who’s winning now?!

  • Realise change starts with you

Nazma is now a human rights activist who spends her days fighting for justice, safe working conditions and fair pay for factory workers. We can do the same. Follow ethical brands on Instagram, shop from ethical brands and support these people hard! Move away from the stereotype that ethical fashion is expensive and exclusive. Imagine if every brand was ethical? It would all be affordable and sustainable.

 

In fact, only 1-3% of the final cost goes to the hands that actually made them, so realistically speaking, we just need to shift the money from the hands of the super rich CEO’s and into the hands of these women. This way, costs wouldn’t even go up for us…

The makers of our clothing, those who are so often invisible and marginalised, are worth celebrating and given safety and quality of life too. No-one’s life, and the future of our planet is worth losing over the latest material trends. Let’s call on the UK fashion brands to protect the women who make our clothes and the planet that we live on.

And next time you change your outfit or purchase a new item of clothing, I dare you to look at the label and ask; Who made my clothes? Is she getting paid? Is she safe? Who is she?

Thanks for reading you lovely lot!

Vanisha

X

Follow my twitter and instagram @vanishamay

 

Things to follow:

Things to watch:

 

The dangers of fashion

Documentary watch: The True Cost and Minimalism (find them on Netflix now)

Got a new date? Buy a new dress. Feeling down? Hit the shops. Hole in your socks? Bin em. Don’t like that tee? Charity bag. Hate spending? Get bored quickly? Want cheap clothes and a tonne of option? It all sounds pretty harmless but the true cost of our shopping is literally damaging our planet and failing to protect the lives of millions around the world. Where are we going so wrong and how can we do better?

It’s funny how as you walk into a store like Topshop, you feel fully ready to splash the cash and treat yo’self (for the third time that week), whilst in a land not-so-far away, people are suffering because we just can’t help ourselves. We live in a world where we want, spend, buy, and chuck at the most alarming rates, whilst separating ourselves from the production and side-effects. The average American is currently consuming 4x more than what our planet can sustainably supply, and we brits are next in line. Altogether, we are consuming 400% more than we were twenty-years ago with the consumption of 80 billion new pieces of clothing every year. Doesn’t sound so fun now right?

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Consumerism is a fairly new definition which is why there’s no surprise that people are A) unaware of the word in general and B) think it’s a joke similar to global warming. Well actually, it’s very real and very damaging and the way we are consuming is in fact the biggest joke.

Now this is not a lecture or a blog to tell you to stop waking into H&M, but a conversation with information about how we can create a better lifestyles for ourselves and others by changing our behaviours and thoughts before it’s really too late…

 The People

  • “Without my wardrobe, people would have no work” – It’s true that 97% of our clothing is made abroad, however our consumption is not only causing inhumane working conditions for the workers (that are mostly women), but is also putting people out of work too. For instance, giving all your leftovers and unwanted stuff to charity is not always the best idea. In fact only 10% of clothing gets sold in charity stores and the rest ends up in dumpsites and stores in developing countries which is then cutting out their local industries and filling their landfills with pollution and more issues thanks to the us in the west.
  • 1 in 6 people in the world work in the fashion industry. Most of these are women who are earning less than $3 a day and working in extreme conditions. From Beyonce’s big Ivy Park scandal to the deaths of over a thousand workers at Rana Plaza, people are suffering directly as a result of our mindlessness materialism.

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The Environment

  • So the 90% of clothes that don’t get sold in charity shops is boxed up and packaged to countries like Haiti and Mexico where they sit in empty shops, landfills and pollute the land and water because it’s not bio-degradable and the people in these countries don’t have the right tools and knowledge to deal with all our mess.
  • Cotton is in such high-demand that it’s now genetically modified and grown. But at a huge cost. Studies suggest that there’s almost a 20-50% chance for cotton farmers to develop cancer and other related diseases as a result of exposure. The True Cost documentary also highlights how over 250,000 Indian farmers have killed themselves due to debt related pressure from cotton farming.

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How you can make a difference:

  • Watch the documentaries ‘The True Cost’ and ‘Minimalism’ which can both be found on Netflix and will both make you question what on earth we’re doing! I’ve watched both a bunch of times and they’ve really inspired me.
  • Send your old coats to http://care4calais.org/winter-coats-needed/ and https://wrapuplondon.org.uk/
  • Stop sending all your old sh*t to charity shops. Use Depop, eBay, car boot sales and sell them on! You’ll make some money and your clothes will go to a new home, instead of a landfill like the ones damaging Haiti. Winner winner.
  • Give directly to the people that might need them and cut out the middle man of charity shops.
  • Re-vamp them, give the old stuff some love and get creative with your clothes.
  • Be a conscience shopper. Know the difference between want and need. Find things that you really love and invest rather than buying endless amounts of throwaway clothes. Slow down, think and re-wear. If you don’t love it that much, then don’t buy it. Isn’t it funny that our parents have clothes from 30 years ago in their wardrobes and I struggle to find anything older than 5 years?

Fashion can be fun, but fashion should never be the cause of someone’s death and livelihood. That’s not fun. Time to turn it around! We have a responsibility to our planet and the people in them. Let’s change the future

Thanks for reading you beautiful bunch!

Vanisha

X

Follow my twitter and instagram @vanishamay

Resources

http://clothesaid.co.uk/where-do-your-clothes-go/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-30227025

https://truecostmovie.com/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/beyonces-ivy-park-sportswear-line-denies-claims-its-clothes-were-produced-by-sweatshop-workers-a7035926.html

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17569-consumerism-is-eating-the-future/

https://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/5-crazy-facts-new-fashion-documentary-true-cost/