Orsola de Castro and Kendall Robbins on a fashion revolution
My conversation with Orsola and Kendall started with Orsola’s confession: “I’m a recovering fashion designer”.
A co-founder of ‘Fashion Revolution’, Orsola de Castro is on a mission to drive positive change in the fashion industry across the globe. Supporting her mission on an international level is the British Council. Joining our conversation is Kendall Robbins; a passionate and outspoken member of the organisation.
Whilst the Fashion Revolution’s campaign is a positive force for good, a tragedy inspired its existence. On 24 April 2013, 1134 people died in a collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in Bangladesh. Young girls accounted for 90% of casualties—they worked at the factory producing garments for global consumer markets. This was a horrific event which could have been prevented, and made even worse through the fact that the clothes produced at the factory at the time still reached the consumers, who never realised the true cost of their new garments.
That lack of connection between the fashion industry’s supply chain and consumers’ access to information gave birth to Fashion Revolution’s #WhoMadeMyClothes campaign. Thousands of people across the globe join the campaign every year, tweeting pictures of themselves wearing clothes inside out, tagging major consumer brands and simply asking the question, who made their clothes?
The campaign doesn’t mean to shame or blame fashion brands as the realities of their supply chains are a difficult subject to handle, and not as black and white as one might think. In our conversation, Kendall—who herself spent time in Bangladesh, working for the British Council—pointed out that the garment factories brought a lot of employment and got women into the workplace, which was an important step for the country. However, this positive story becomes somewhat diminished when you factor in some pretty atrocious workers’ rights.
It’s that understanding of local cultures, traditions, politics and economy that’s crucial for both Fashion Revolution and the British Council. The campaign encourages ‘empathy without pity’, focusing on understanding local needs and treating the “western” point of view as one of many in the conversation. A simple example of local differences is the attitude towards second-hand clothing. In Mexico it’s illegal to resell imported garments and so the market is non-existent. In South East Asia it’s considered bad luck to wear second-hand clothes; whilst on the opposite end of the scale in Zimbabwe, upcycling and passing on garments is an important tradition.
The global reach of the campaign is also crucial as both Orsola and Kendall notice a huge urgency surrounding both sustainability and social conditions in the fashion industry. We’re on our way already for textile waste to be as visible as plastic waste; and whilst there are conversations being had about biodegradable materials, there are still very few in common usage. Meanwhile, the washing of polyester clothes continues to release microfibers—microscopic pieces of plastic—into the oceans where they can remain for hundreds of years.
That’s all happening alongside an equally important social crisis, with poor working conditions being experienced in factories across the globe, alongside unregulated wages and the inhumane treatment of workers.
There is hope, though, as both Kendall and Orsola see young graduates, emerging designers and East Asia’s millennial population among the key drivers of change. Sustainability, diversity and happiness are quoted among the key values championed by fashion students and the new wave of fashion-conscious designers. Indian and Chinese millennial consumers are quoted to be the most likely demographic in the world to pay more for ethical goods. Add to that Business of Fashion’s recent findings about Indonesia’s and Pakistan’s rising middle-class population with expendable income, and you’ll see an optimistic picture being painted. One in which Western consumers have a lot to learn from their Asian counterparts.
It’s time for the fashion industry to reject elitism and embrace transparency, diversity and responsibility—the values of the new consumers and a rising global movement. It’s time we all joined the Fashion Revolution.
Want to join? Now is the time! Fashion Revolution Week runs between 22nd-28th of April, with a host of events and activities, and simple and fast ways in which you can make a difference. View the events happening hear you here and download your Citizen Action Kit here.
Fashion Revolution website
#WhoMadeMyClothes on Twitter
Fashion Revolution on Instagram
British Council website
British Council on Instagram
Music by James Green