This week, we commemorate the 5 years of the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza, in which more than 1,000 workers lost their lives. Since this dramatic event, a week of mobilization, the Fashion Revolution Week, has been held every year. During these few days in April, events are held all over the world to educate consumers about the issues of ethics and sustainability in the fashion industry. You know that this subject is close to my heart, but I’m not the only one! My little sister Assia is also very much involved and even launched her own brand of sustainable festival wear last year, Tricksters. On the occasion of the Fashion Revolution Week and the #WHOMADEMYCLOTHES campaign, she wrote a pretty good article that I allowed myself to copy here for you to enjoy.
If an alien knew our world only through our advertising, he would probably think that nowadays, everything is ethical, ecological, local, organic. Even large multinationals are now selling products that meet this need to consume differently. On the surface, it seems almost impossible to consume without respecting the environment and the people. In fashion, in particular, the time of furs and reptile skins seems like ages ago. What seemed natural just a few years ago, seems barbaric and totally useless today.
Let’s be careful and not start mixing up everything. It’s easy to get a good conscience by using products that (at least according to their marketing) respect everything and everyone, but if we scratch a little beyond the surface, we quickly realize that many of them are just surfing a wave instead of taking the real problem by the horns.
THE « CONSCIOUS » CASE
Let’s take, for example, the case of H&M which, in 2011, launched its “conscious” line. With “natural” prints, neutral and desaturated colors and sleek shots, this collection is all about ethical aesthetics. The brand communicates about their organic cotton items and claims they drive changes from the very beginning of the production chain (including pushing 68,000 cotton producers to work in a more sustainable way).
You could try and make the case that “at least it’s better to buy H&M conscious than regular H&M” but it actually doesn’t really make any difference: your money will go in the same pockets, and the higher price of your “conscious” piece of clothing is just a reflection of the profit earned by the shareholders of the brand.
The very fact of launching a “conscious” line within their own brand is an admission of their weakness on that level, when it comes to all the other collections of the group.
Of course, these criticisms don’t apply only to big groups. Every brand, whether it produces and sells on a small or global sale, will potentially benefit from the amalgam people do between organic, healthy, ecological, natural, ethical, vegan…
LET’S TALK VOCABULARY
It’s pretty natural for our brain to associate these terms: they belong to the same lexical field, the one of our consumption.
But something can be organic without being vegan, ethical without being ecological or natural without necessarily being healthy. That’s what makes it so hard and restrictive to try to be and have it all, and rare are the people who manage to be faultless.
A pair of shoes in fake leather made in our country might be vegan and local, but it certainly isn’t ecological, since it’s made of plastic.
Your avocados are probably very healthy, maybe even organic, but they raise an important ethical debate , when you know the people who grow and gather them won’t be able to eat them.
In the textile industry, we always try to favor natural fibers, because they’re more breathable and comfortable. However, some synthetic garments are likely to be greener (even more ethical) than others made in non-organic cotton: pesticides used on cotton crops are one of the greatest ecological disasters of our time.
SO…HOW DO WE DO THIS?
Since it can be very difficult, even for experts in the field, to make the right choices as a consumer, here are some tips for you to get started.
First, you have the famous “buyerarchy of needs” a pyramid that encourages you to look for all possible solutions before you resolve to buy. There is no point in going zero-waste by buying a dozen jars: surely you can find some old ones to repurpose!
Then, learn to simply consume less: raiding a second-hand shop isn’t exactly ecological, since this principle is based primarily on the overconsumption of others. Take the time to try, compare, ask yourself if you really want something: the purchase will only be more satisfactory!
In addition, be aware that there are independent labels that, even though you should remain critical towards them, at least agree on a minimum respect for working conditions or the environment. The two best known are Oeko-Tex and GOTS.
Tricksters, although ethical, isn’t labeled yet… how come? Well, it’s very simple: obtaining these labels has a certain cost, hardly bearable on a small scale. That’s why sometimes, you just have to dig and do some research: the fabrics and zippers used by Tricksters are Oeko-Tex certified, the production is carried out in a protected workshop, subject to Belgian labor regulations and the linings are made from second hand fabrics (in partnership with the sorting centers Terre).
NO NEWS IS BAD NEWS
Finally, always keep in mind that ethical sells: an ethical and/or sustainable brand can not not communicate on it. Which means, if you can’t find any information on what a brand does to be more ethical/sustainable, chances are they don’t do much. Don’t be fooled by natural colors, messages and photos; instead, take a closer look at packaging, research what happens to unsold products or, more generally, try to see how transparent the brand is about its products, its suppliers and its production workshops.
That’s how a T-shirt that seems minimalistic and almost activist actually turns out to be the complete opposite once you look at the label!
This week is an opportunity to ask the right questions: five years ago, the Rana Plaza garment factory collapsed, killing more than 1,000 workers in Bangladesh. Since then, every year, hundreds of brands, bloggers, journalists and consumers fight against poor working conditions by asking the crucial question: “Who made my clothes?”
You too, participate in this movement and challenge your favorite brands.
WHAT ABOUT TRICKSTERS, WHO MADE MY CLOTHES ?
The employees of the adapted work company APAC in Manage (Belgium) work hard to make the Tricksters clothes. A huge thanks to them and to the head of their workshop Brigitte, her second Elisabeth and Saïda, the wonderful seamstress who can make our brand’s crazy ideas come to life.