Who Made My Clothes?
April 24-30 is Fashion Revolution week, and to celebrate we wanted to take this opportunity to talk about what sustainable fashion actually means and how it's a core part of the Tasi ethos. Fashion Revolution week is a global movement calling for greater transparency, sustainability and ethics in the fashion industry. It's a time to put pressure on the industry to radically change the way our clothes are sourced, produced and purchased - a time for us to ask brands #WhoMadeMyClothes ?
The Fashion Revolution movement was born after 1,134 people were killed and over 2,500 were injured when the Rana Plaza complex collapsed in Bangladesh on the 24th of April, 2013. There were five different garment factories in Rana Plaza when the complex collapsed, all manufacturing clothing for the Western market. Despite the workers having expressed concern on the day of the disaster for cracks in the building, they were forced to work and the nine-story building collapsed during the morning rush-hour.
To paint a picture of what exactly "fast fashion" means, the term refers to the speed in which a garment moves from the catwalk to a retail store in order to capture the current trend while at it's peak. It is a system built on disposability. The impact of this means low-cost clothing is produced that mimics these current luxury fashion trends; sating a desire embedded in us to always be on-trend thanks to the media. In the past, a standard turnaround time from catwalk to consumer used to take six months, this is now only a matter of weeks for some of the larger retailers. These fast fashion companies need to move fast to capture the trend; meaning rapid prototyping, poor quality control and cutting corners to get the garment on the consumer quicker. Increasing competitiveness means brands need to offer the best price, pushing manufacturing and labour costs lower and lower - but fast fashion can never truly be that cheap, someone somewhere always pays. To keep customers coming back, retailers need to continuously be sourcing new trends and are purchasing on a weekly basis, meaning trends run their course with lightning speed, quickly rendering the clothing you bought last week as irrelevant.
There are a few key areas in which the fast fashion industry is failing both people and the environment devastatingly, these being:
- Human rights abuse: 92% of our clothes are manufactured off-shore in countries such as Bangladash, India, Cambodia and China. Despite there being international standards and national laws designed to protect people, human rights abuses are alarmingly prevalent in the fashion industry, including forced labour, child labour, sexual harassment, discrimination and dangerous working conditions. The Global Slavery Index estimates that 36 million people are living in some form of modern slavery in our current world, with many of these people making clothing for Western brands. Along with the unacceptable working conditions, the legal minimum wage in most garment-producing countries is very rarely enough for workers to live on. Low wages keep garment workers in a never-ending cycle of poverty and adds further pressure to work long overtime hours, again impacting on their health and safety.
- The Fast Fashion mindset: As discussed above, over time we have been trained to see our clothing as disposable; to need the latest trends, to not treasure our belongings. In the same way we as consumers are becoming more aware of what we eat and where our food comes from, we need to become more conscious of what we wear, and how it was made. By buying less but choosing better, choosing natural fabrics and asking brands where our clothing was made, we will put pressure on the industry to radically change the way our clothes are sourced, produced and purchased.
- Environmental impact: The fashion industry is the second most detrimental industry to the environment in the world, topped only by oil. Some of it's major impacts on the environment come from:
- Chemicals and dye: The fibres required to make our clothes, as well as the processing, dyeing and treating of our garments requires a deadly cocktail of chemicals; cotton farming alone uses 22.5% of all the world's insecticides and 10% off all pesticides. Dyes and chemicals used can also seep into the soil, contaminating groundwater - industrial effluents and chemical fertilisers pollute over half of China's rivers, and some have even turned completely red from the dye run-off.
- CO2 emissions: Our wardrobes account for 3% of the global production of CO2 emissions. This doesn't just come from the way they are produced, these emissions also occur when we wear, wash, dry, iron and dispose of our clothing.
- Waste: In 2016 the world bought 73 million tonnes of textiles, with only 20% of these being recycled. Sandy Black's book 'The Sustainable Fashion Handbook,' states that the average party top is now only worn 1.7 times before being thrown away. Op-shops are at capacity with donated clothing, forcing unwanted clothing to landfill. In landfill, decomposing clothes release methane, a very harmful greenhouse gas.
- Microplastics: The majority of textiles used in the fast fashion industry are made from synthetic fibres, which have been shown to shed thousands of microplastic particles when washed or disposed of in landfill. There is huge environmental consequence from this with these microplastics ending up in our waterways and ocean.
So what are we doing to make sure we're not contributing to the fast fashion movement and ensure we're looking after both people and planet? Firstly, the entire Tasi range is manufactured in Australia. Whilst also supporting local industry and local businesses and lowering our contribution to fossil fuels, manufacturing in Australia allows us to be involved with every single step of our supply chain and have an intimate relationship with all of the people involved in creating a Tasi piece. We only manufacture in facilities that have been accredited by Ethical Clothing Australia, which means we know our team are being paired a fair wage and working under safe conditions.
Secondly, our collection is based on essential pieces, not driven by trends or seasons. We create timeless styles, shapes and colours that will last a lifetime of travels, so no excess waste is produced. We only produce small runs of our pieces so we can be nimble in reacting to best-sellers and again ensure there is no waste.
Our choice of fabric is a very important part of our approach to sustainability. We use organic cotton and a beautiful textile called Tencel, which is part of the Lyocell family and one of the most environmentally friendly fabrics available. Tencel is regenerated from sustainably grown wood cellulose and all of the chemicals used in production are nontoxic. The cellulose is treated in a closed loop system, meaning no waste is produced and the solvents are recycled with a recovery rate of 99.5%. The plant in which Tencel is produced is also run on 100% recovered energy from solid waste.
We are still learning, but we are committed to constantly asking questions, growing and evolving so our practices are as planet and people friendly as possible. On this day (and every day), we encourage you to look at the tags on your garments and ask brands #WhoMadeMyClothes, to support small businesses producing ethically, to choose natural fabrics over synthetics, to buy less but choose better and to use your wallet to cast a vote for the kind of world you'd like to live in.
If you'd like to learn more there are plenty of great resources available, check out the True Cost documentary on Netflix and for further reading head to the Fashion Revolution website.