Who am I wearing?

Have you ever thought about the footsteps of your T-shirt, from the seed to the closet? Or what happens to it at the end of its life span?

On Thursday 26th March, Fashion Revolution hosted an information evening at the Bello Studio to educate concerned citizens about sustainable clothing.

Transparency in the value chain

Customers are often unaware of just how many hands the clothes pass through before it is on display in the store window. There is more value to an item than the price on the label. The price on the jean label does not include the human and environmental cost. ‘Commodity fetishism’ is a Marxist concept which refers to how the labour of a product is rendered invisible because instead of seeing it as social relationships, labour is perceived as objective economic relationships.

The sweat shop conditions that are associated with outsourcing production to third world countries are notorious. Attention snapped to this atrocity when Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed on the factory workers in 2013, killing 1133 people and injuring over 2500.

“The organic value chain needs to be transparent, from seed to fabric,” Victoria Romburgh from Photoganic Organic Fabric emphasises.  Who you wear stretches further than the designer name. It includes the workers in factory who pour their lives into the item of clothing and extends to the hands that collected the raw materials. Transparency in the value chain ensures ethicality in the use and treatment of labour.

“Ethical fashion is a journey”

“Fashion can be luxurious, but we can be more conscious of where our clothes come from,” Yumnaa Firfirey. Photo credit: Soninke Combrinck

“What do you think when you hear ethical fashion?” Yumnaa Firfirey from Bodhisattva asked the room.The audience responded with “tie dye”, “hippies”, “dull” and “green”. Yet she demonstrated that ethical fashion can be just as luxurious as any other established brand on the market.

Ethical fashion is a multidimensional journey according to Firfirey which incorporates social, environmental and economic facets. There is a social responsibility to workers, consumers and shareholders; the business still has to make a profit and the environmental impacts need to be considered. Sustainability models need to incorporate all three dimensions into their business plan. However, it is a balancing act to include all the production of clothing. The question boils down to what can be compromised.  There is a lot of room for learning and improvement.

Sustainability in the fashion industry

“People want to change to feel good,” Tony Budden Photo Credit: Soninke Combrinck

Tony Budden, CEO of Hemporium urged that, “Sustainability starts with us [clothing stores] being sustainable”. Budden says it is the responsibility of the designers to make it easy for the consumers to have a smaller carbon footprint. He described the interactive feedback process between the store and consumers that challenged Hemporiums’ business model to constantly improve.

The biggest challenge of buying environmentally responsible clothing is the price, acknowledges Budden. But he coined the famous Afrikaans saying “Goedkoop is duurkoop” (cheaper is expensive). Many products are made with ‘design obsolescence’ as a goal. In addition, fashion thrives on being temporary. However, responsible clothing is durable which maximises lifespan, minimizes overall waste and in turn saves the customers’ pocket.

Join the Fashion Revolution

April 24th 2015 marks the second anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse. In honour of the lives lost Fashion Revolution seeks to challenge fashion brands’ to produce clothing responsibly and commit to a transparent value chain. Join in with people from around the world by taking a selfie of an item of clothing with the tagline ‘who made my clothes’, send it to a brand via social media and share the reply. This will challenge retailers to make their brands journey more transparent and push them to practise ethical use and treatment of labour.

Photo Credit: Soninke Combrinck

The Remake Design Challenge  hosted by Live Eco invites local designers to create a sustainable design for clothing or a living room object. The idea is to encourage young designers to use innovative ways to manufacture items with a zero-waste policy as well as using recycled materials, says Nikki Stear, founder of Live Eco. Entries close May 1 2015.

The power is with the consumers to push for sustainable clothing. If we want responsible clothing we must turn into responsible shoppers. Viva la Fashion Revolution!


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