Wednesday, 9 October 2013

How much do you know about the supply chain of your favourite high street brands?

Well, as it turns out very little. 

Last Sunday morning I was sat in the garden enjoying some unexpected October sunshine, coffee in hand, whilst flicking through the Observer magazine. This weeks issue was the Autumn style special, a good week for me as it's brimming full of the fashion and food pages I relish goggling over. 

One article stood out like a sore thumb. It made me feel uncomfortable with the society I identified with in Britain. And shamefully, it was about something I did know about, we all know about, but choose to bury. Something fundamentally wrong and unsettling but that's far too easy to turn your head away from.

The article was about how ethical the clothes production is for our high street brands. And as we are all too aware, it's far from ethical. This problem has been brought back to the surface following the tragedy of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh 2013. 1133 killed. 2500 injured. A factory, over-filled, gambling human rights and worker safety to feed the demanding beast it's 'fast-fashion fix' the cheapest way possible, ensuring profit.

Born out of the rubble of the Rana Plaza disaster, the Bangladesh Fire + Safety Accord, has joined retailers and trade unions in a legally binding 5 year pact which makes health and safety checks compulsory. This is obviously a positive move, 93 brands signed including many well known names on our high street.

Something still doesn't sit right with me, though. I've got a chest of drawers full of clothes. I'm just as susceptible to fashion marketing influences as the next person, inducing those moments of madness with their, "this seasons must-haves", tactics.
No. This is not a necessity. It's so far from a necessity. 
All the while the factories, largely in China, Bangladesh, India and Cambodia, are working for wages that barely cover their necessary costs and are put under pressures from restricted supply times, all in efforts to drive prices down and profits up. Now I don't know an awful lot about the industry, and I'm not pretending to. But I can see how wrong the ethics are, therefore surely that says something about the big brands culprits who know the industry inside-out. 
I'm pretty sure that, when the finger's pointed at them, the big brands will deflect blame onto the attitudes of our society. They'll say, "it's the consumers, they want low prices", "how else are we to meet the demand". 

Let's not let them say that.

24th April 2014 is Fashion Revolution Day. The aim is to raise awareness about the journey our clothes have made before landing in our basket; the hundreds of people involved in getting that crocheted cami to the check-out; the money they've been paid; the dangers they've been put in. The message is clear, a sustainable future for fashion is possible, and a change in attitudes and expectations will make it happen. 

For nearly two years I worked as a sales assistant at a well-known retail giant. One thing that became apparent when I left was the excessive purchases that were made by it's customers (and staff). The daily deliveries of new lines would spark and feed the addiction, but this wasn't a fashion addiction. In my eyes it's far from fashion, this is the consumer being wrapped right around the little finger of these retail marketing companies solely interested in profit. It's throw-away fashion.    

On the Fashion Revolution Day website, there's inspiration for all sorts of ways of getting involved in promoting awareness of retail production supply chains. 
Here's my, little, way...
  • I'm not going to buy from high street chains from now until the 24th April. 
Once the challenge is set, the option's not there, the temptation is removed, it's easy. I actually feel pretty inspired, and I think that's what fashion should be about. It's about individuality and expression, not looking like Topshop has thrown up on you and the rest of your peers. 
I'll track how I get on with various charity shop hauls, ebay finds and carboot treasures - perhaps organise a clothes swap??? Who knows - the possibilities are endless!  

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