If you were using social media around April 2013, you might remember the hashtag #whomadeyourclothes. Many people used it to post photographs of themselves wearing their clothes inside out.
Created by Fashion Revolution, the #whomadeyourclothes social media campaign was in response to the Rana Plaza catastrophe in Dhaka, Bangladesh. On 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza building collapsed, causing the deaths of 1133 factory employees working for familiar Western fashion brands. A further 2500 were injured, making the Rana Plaza incident the biggest garment factory accident in history.
Thanks to the internet, access to a plethora of information regarding ethical and sustainable fashion is now readily available, with Fashion Revolution being just one of many websites that aim to expose the truth behind fair labour policies in the fashion industry. With so much information now available, why haven’t working conditions started to change?
The answer is simple: fast fashion. Like fast food, fast fashion is generally comprised of chain stores that dominate the low budget end of retail. In order to keep product prices incredibly low, those at the top of the value chain are able to determine where their goods are made, often opting for the cheapest production in low cost economies. Most recently, Kmart and Target had their production practices questioned in the Australian media as they sold school uniforms for as low as $2. This practice sparks competition between factories to become more severe, and as a result, various corners are cut in order to maintain the low cost of product production. Globalisation and the outsourcing of labour means that working conditions are unfortunately getting worse (M Ross and A Morgan, 2015).
The Fashion Revolution movement isn’t hoping to eradicate unfair labour policies overnight. As with most activist movements, change is instigated through an ongoing dialogue and educating consumers about the conditions that real people had to endure to make the clothes that are so often treated in Western countries as disposable.
This dialogue surrounding fair labour policies is particularly resonant with Cat Mazza, the American textile artist behind the Nike Blanket Petition shown in the Disobedient Objects exhibition. The Nike Blanket Petition is comprised of a 15 foot wide blanket of the Nike swoosh, created by an international group of knit and crochet hobbyists, with each crocheted pixel square acting as a petition for fair labour policies for Nike garment workers. Virtual signatures accompany the blanket, and hand made squares from over 40 countries and every state in the USA have contributed to the project.
Using craftivism to highlight labour exploitation associated with big brand names, Cat Mazza’s petition poignantly demonstrates the rationale behind small, peaceful acts of civil disobedience, asking us
What if social change was not simply a consequence of governing or economic policies but small, disconnected resistant acts overlapped to nudge along change?
Consumerism may seem unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean small changes can’t be implemented in everyday life to reduce the demand for fast fashion. The responsibility is also on the consumer to decide where they draw the line, and for each individual, the answer will probably be different.
A good place to start is by watching the TED talk, The Wardrobe to Die For, or the documentary, The True Cost, both exploring the atrocities of fast fashion. Another way to avoid having a disposable wardrobe is to try the capsule wardrobe, organise a regular clothes swap amongst friends and family, or even start making or upcycling your own clothes. A beautiful example of upcyling is the work of Japanese designer Masahiro Nakagawa. He recycled UNIQLO garments as part of a series of projects that critiqued fashion and consumerism.
For Cat Mazza, there are three easy ways in which individuals can instigate small acts of resistance to protest against workshop labour:
- Investigate your local campaigns and see how you can help. In the USA, check out Sweatfree, or internationally, Clean Clothes.
- Vote with your dollar by supporting sweat-free labels, fair trade and worker owned co-ops.
- Find out where your public officials stand on trade, then petition and vote.
Radicalism and activism in the 21st century have been completely redefined by global connectivity. Ignorance is no longer bliss. As consumers, we are powerful. We can and should use that power in an informed way to make decisions that can have a daisy-chain effect globally.
Post by Katie Winten
Katie has just completed a Masters Degree in Curating & Cultural Leadership at UNSW Art & Design. This post was written as part of a capstone project undertaken between the university and the Powerhouse Museum.
M Ross & A Morgan, 2015, The True Cost [DVD], Los Angeles: Untold Creative