It was during a call that my-than-NGO-partner and I had with Nasreen Sheikh, almost 5 years ago. Back then, of course, I didn’t know that this would become one of the most important calls I ever had. Anyhow, I remember Nasreen telling us that she was at that moment in the US, as a part of the American branch of Fashion Revolution. My immediate reaction was: “A fashion what?”
After the call, my partner told me that we should probably google what Fashion Revolution was.
Glad she did, it turned out to be the start of my own slow fashion journey.
Through the years, I learned that many of us started re-thinking fashion because of Fashion Revolution. It has become a central name, reference point, and a network of communities that are slowly moving the industry. So, as the Fashion Revolution Week (19th-25th April 2021) is approaching, I feel like it’s a good moment to reflect on the movement and the relationships it entails.
Expanding the movement
Like all revolutions, Fashion Revolution is a sign of the culminating works of critical thinkers, academics, designers, activists, and organisations. In particular, non-profits, such as the Clean Clothes Campaign, War on Want, Better Work, Fair Wear Foundation, Labour Behind the Label, and many others paved the road before them. These non-profits have been raising awareness about the “behind-the-scenes” of the fashion industry for years if not decades. Because the human rights issues we’re seeing in the fashion industry aren’t anything new. Unfortunately, the history of the modern fashion industry is a history of inequalities.
The Fashion Revolution, as an organisation, was born in one of the darkest moments of that history. On 24 April 2013, The Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1.138 people and injuring many more. Up to this date, this is the worst recorded accident in the history of fashion, though far from the last one. Just earlier this year, we saw a deadly garment factory fire in Egypt. However, the Rana Plaza catastrophe mobilised people and the global movement was started. What sets Fashion Revolution apart from other movements, and perhaps is the reason why it’s so popular and influential today, is that they relied on connections across the industry, domains, countries, and languages, right from the start. They also fully embraced the potential of social media, and their (still trending) hashtag, #WhoMadeMyClothes, became a tool to bridge the gap between activists, industry professionals, and consumers.
Eventually, as the organisation grew, so did their philosophy. And yet again, I’m sure I’m not the only one who felt like growing along with it. It may have started as frustration and anger over the fact that people are literally dying for our greed and clothes, and evolved in advocacy for transparency in the supply chains. Yet, over the course of the past 8 years, there’s a growing understanding within the movement that fashion isn’t only about people, but about the environment too. In 2019 particularly, I’ve seen a big emphasis on the environmental impact our clothes have, and the concern with what goes in our clothes. For me, this is the signal of a movement maturing. For a long time, we had environmental activists on the one side and human rights advocates on the other side of fashion. In recent years, the movement started realising that the fate of humans and the environment not only are the two sides of the same coin, they also are interconnected.
This interconnection is what Fashion Revolution celebrates this year: it celebrates the relationships and the fact they are creating and changing the industry.
Speaking of that, I wanted to explore some of those relationships.
Going beyond the organisation
Before writing this blog post, I engaged in conversations with different small brands and sustainability advocates, around the meaning and significance of the Fashion Revolution (as an organisation or as a movement). If you’re reading this and you were in conversation with me about this topic, thank you! I truly appreciate hearing diverse voices!
For many of us, Fashion Revolution was the first (or at least among the first) resources about sustainable fashion. They are still a credible and reliable place to turn to. But, at least from the conversations I was having, Fashion Revolution transcends the organisation.
Some described it to be a mindset shift away from consumerism. Some emphasised the value of transparency in the supply chain as a standard of future fashion. Others thought of fair pay for everyone or reducing the environmental footprint our clothes have. I also heard about making people aware that our clothes have a story to tell, as well as moving towards a collaborative industry.
I have to say, I don’t know which one I agree more with. For me, these are signs of the fact that the industry has to and also is changing in multiple ways, simultaneously and deeply. We all play a part in this because our clothes connect us across the world.
When we think of fashion in that sense, it is not hard to see that competition won’t get us far. Competition means the dominance of one part, at the expense of other parts. When things are interconnected, competition creates an imbalance that, eventually, ripples the whole system. Just as we could see the deep cracks that the recent pandemic opened. Thus, the strength we have lies in communities, relationships, and collaborations. This year, let’s celebrate exactly that!
So, tell us: what does Fashion Revolution mean to you?
I'm an anthropologist, activist, and ethical fashion writer based in Brussels, Belgium. I'm endlessly curious and restless, and always looking to challenge the way we think about fashion, style, and sustainability. Through my writing business, Thinking Threads, I work with small to medium ethical brands, helping them redefine the standards of the fashion industry, one word at a time.