On April 24, 2013, Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed, killing at least 1,132 people and injuring more than 2,500 others working in the building’s five factories. One of the worst industrial accidents on record, the disaster exposed what millions of garment workers around the world face each day, including unsafe work environments and poor wages. For many in the industry, it was a catalyst for change, hence Fashion Revolution was born.

The non-profit movement, created by British designers Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro, has grown into a global network of makers and consumers working toward systemic change. From lobbying policy makers to partnering with organizations like the United Nations and Greenpeace, the largely-volunteer-run campaign aims to foster collaboration across the industry’s supply chain and shift the entrenched mindset around fashion’s traditional business model, material use and consumption.

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WHAT IS A HOMEWORKER? Mary Milne, of @traidcraftexchange, writes on our blog, “Across south Asia, around 50 million women are ‘homeworkers’ – stitching, cutting, doing embroidery, and trimming clothes for the global fashion industry. Homeworkers are the fashion business’s invisible workforce. They work in many garment supply chains, either doing the jobs that need to be finished by hand – cutting off threads, sewing on buttons or doing hand embroidery – or providing additional flexible labour.” “Located at the periphery of the supply chain, homeworkers have to take what they are given. They are in no position to walk away… With the whole garment industry in lockdown, homeworkers like Bhavna, Ankita, Amita and Kanchan are some of the most vulnerable people in the whole system. Work has just stopped, and it is very unlikely that any benefits or compensation agreed between brands and suppliers will find its way to their families.” When we ask #WhoMadeMyClothes? The replies from those brands that do answer are often just the tip of the iceberg, and we must keep asking the tough questions until every worker, at every level, is seen and heard. Read the full article and the stories of these workers at the link in our story. #FashionRevolution

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While Claire Theaker-Brown was touring factories in Shanghai for her B-Corp-certified accessories brand, she became frustrated by the idea that ethical fashion is synonymous with being made in North America. “When brands remove the pressure for high volumes on short turnaround times, you get beautiful workmanship and the opportunity to work with factories that are doing right by their workers,” she says. After moving back to her hometown of Edmonton, Theaker-Brown got more involved with the group and eventually took on the role of country coordinator to help regional teams from coast to coast effect local change. She has also been working with retailers and brands like Mountain Equipment Co-op and Kotn to create and act on sustainability pledges.

Held every year on the anniversary of the collapse, Fashion Revolution Week is a culmination of this advocacy. Hundreds of events like clothing swaps take place in different countries alongside the social-media-driven #WhoMadeMyClothes campaign, which encourages consumers to demand greater transparency from the industry. We spoke to Theaker-Brown about the importance of inclusivity, how governments can step up and being okay with getting it wrong.

What is the theme of Fashion Revolution Week this year?

“We’re encouraging local designers and sustainably minded businesses to host open houses and give people the chance to come in and ask questions. It can be really scary for brands to participate because they often feel like they don’t have all the answers, but we want them to really own the idea of progress over perfection.”

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Fashion Revolution Week starts now. We’re kicking off the week by focusing today on the crisis of overconsumption and looking at solutions to make our clothes last longer – swap and share with one another and call on brands to take responsibility for the waste they create. It is estimated that we produce 150 billion items of clothing per year* and though the fashion industry may have taken a pause in the current pandemic, we need it to radically shift course. Let’s demand that brands produce less, make clothes of higher quality, and invest in their supply chain so that workers are properly trained and fewer garments are disposed of at the quality control phase. Brands must urgently adopt new models of circular sales, offering to repair the goods they sell, take back those that fail consumers and repurpose both their pre- and post-consumer waste. As citizens, we can begin this revolution within our own wardrobes, buying only what we’ll cherish for years to come, and by caring and repairing. Join us in kicking off #FashionRevolution Week 2020 by spreading the message that #LovedClothesLast! *Source: Sustainable Apparel Materials, 2015

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Why should people participate?

“This isn’t just for people who are into fashion – it’s for anybody who wears clothes. [It’s important] to have a mix of events that include people from different socio-economic backgrounds and different age groups to make sure that we’re really driving change across our whole community. This [change] needs to be made by anyone who doesn’t go to work naked.”

What is a major barrier to making fashion more sustainable?

“It’s really important to acknowledge the role that governance has in effecting lasting environmental and social change where the textile industry is concerned. For me, the number one thing that we need to see in Canada is more civic textile-recycling programs and for it to be a lot harder to dispose of textiles, both for businesses and individuals. At the end of the day, those clothes don’t have to be wasted; they could be diverted to a million other places, including to people who need them.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of ELLE Canada. Subscribe here or buy a digital copy of the issue here.


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