Op-Ed | Join the Revolution Against Mindless Fashion Consumption

On Fashion Revolution Day, the anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Bangladesh, Tamsin Blanchard challenges consumers take action against mindless fashion consumption.

Piles of clothing | Source: Shutterstock

LONDON, United Kingdom — I recently found myself bribing my 11 year-old daughter not to buy herself a new t-shirt from Primark. We were shopping in Westfield and she is at an age where she is allowed to make her own decisions about where she shops and what she buys. As she skipped off with her friend and strict instructions to meet back in half an hour, I suddenly had a thought. “You’re not going to Primark, are you?” I asked, and then realised that she only had £10 to spend — money she had taken from her savings. “They do really nice t-shirts, mum,” she said.

Since last summer, I have been a board member of Fashion Revolution Day, a campaign dreamt up by the Fair Trade hat designer, Carry Somers with a little help from the BFC’s Esthethica founder Orsola de Castro, and other board members including Ben Ramsden, the managing director of Pants to Poverty. For the best part of a year, Somers has devoted herself to making sure that when the Rana Plaza factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed on April 24 last year, the deaths of 1133 garment workers, and injuries of a further 2,500 were not in vain. She has put her day job — running her successful made in Ecuador hat company, Pachacuti — on hold to coordinate a global campaign that has been taken up by over 50 countries.

Somers was determined that this tragedy would mark a turning point for the fashion industry. “We will give a voice to all of the workers, to show where change needs to happen, and how we, as consumers, can make a difference,” she said. “Consumer demand can revolutionise the way fashion works as an industry. If everyone started to question the way we consume, we’d see a radically different fashion paradigm.”

And there I was in Westfield, Somers’ words ringing in my ears, myself part of the problem. So I gave my daughter an extra £5 and asked her to go somewhere else. But even £15 isn’t really enough money to spend on a T-shirt and be safe in the knowledge that it has been made from cotton that has not been picked by child slave labour in Uzbekistan, let alone been made in a factory that has had proper safety checks. Fifteen pounds is the equivalent of 50 hours’ work for a garment worker in Bangladesh. And that is just not right. And for that reason I, along with thousands of other people with half a conscience around the world (if you are still reading this, that probably means you) will be taking the Fashion Revolution challenge and will be wearing my organic cotton t-shirt inside out today. I’ll be proud to show off the label inside my clothes, to have taken the time to look at where they were made, and to have spared a thought for who made them — and at what price.

We have become far too used to paying far too little for our clothes. Eleven-year-olds can now afford to buy a pair of jeans with their pocket money. And so too can salary-earning grown-ups who should know better. But who can blame us? Just as we are seduced into buying one and getting one free at the supermarket, if only for that extra bag of apples to end up shrivelled up at the bottom of the fruit bowl, the lure of cheap, up-to-the-minute clothes is a strong one. But just as we don’t need the extra bag of apples, we really don’t need — or often actually really want — the majority of clothes we buy. But because they are so cheap, we chuck them into the shopping basket feeling as though we’ve snagged ourselves a bargain, oblivious to the fact that this mindless consumption is giving retailers and high street chains carte blanche to continue putting in orders to their suppliers that are impossible to achieve without inhumane amounts of overtime in return for $68 per month.

So while fast fashion has become the norm, we cannot sit back and simply blame the high street chains for churning out instant landfill in every glorious colour of the rainbow (how great, why not have one in every colour?). We are all part of the problem and we must all accept responsibility for the rate at which we are now consuming clothes. I can’t quite put my finger on the moment that we all started buying more clothes for less, but according a report for the Institute for Manufacturing, between 2001 to 2005 spending on women’s clothing in the UK grew by 21 percent and that on men’s by 14 percent. And in the same period, prices dropped by 14 percent in real terms. Over those four years, the number of garments bought per person in the UK increased by over one third. In 2012, UK consumers spent £44 billion on new clothing (about $74 billion), (£1,700 per household) leaving around 1.7 billion items (30 percent) hanging in the cupboard — or even left in its carrier bag — unworn. According to WRAP, (Waste and Resources Action Programme) we each own the equivalent of 100 items of clothing. It’s enough to make you rush home and clear out your wardrobes. Why do we need all these clothes?

If you want to join the Fashion Revolution and make your voice heard, now is the time. There are events happening near you — and if there aren’t, you can make one happen. Activists, garment makers, students and industry insiders will be wearing an item of clothing inside out and tweeting, Instagramming using #insideout. At today’s Sustainable Fashion Summit in Copenhagen, speakers including Marie-Claire Daveu, Kering’s chief sustainability officer; Marco Bizzarri, president and chief executive of Bottega Veneta; and Helena Helmersson, head of sustainability at H&M. They will be discussing all aspects of sustainability in the fashion industry. Livia Firth, creative director of Eco-Age, will highlight Fashion Revolution Day in particular, while Alan Roberts, executive director of international operations for the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, will give an update on the work being done to improve safety in garment factories in Bangladesh.

In London, founding members of the Fashion Revolution Day board, Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro, will take part in two events this evening in London, one hosted by the American retailer, Eileen Fisher, and the other, a discussion panel at Somerset House. Earlier in the day, students from Central Saint Martins and UAL will stage a ‘Fash Mob’ at 3 PM on Oxford Street; and at Westfield Stratford, shoppers will be encouraged to get involved as part of a whole day of events organised by Designer Jumble, including special windows using recycled fashion styled by Susie Bubble.

But wherever you are, this is Fashion Revolution Day. Tweet a picture and ask your favourite brand or designer where they make their clothes. It’s a small thing but it could lead to big change that will ensure tragedies like Rana Plaza never happen again.

Tamsin Blanchard is the style director of the Telegraph Magazine and a board member of Fashion Revolution Day.

The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.

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10 comments

  1. Please please address your comments and concerns to the correct people. We all know and care about the workers but we can not control the Bosses and the Corruption that’s where the problems are . If you have ever been to Bangladesh you will know what I mean. It started in the 60’s in HK, then it went to India, then to Pakistan then to China,then to Bangladesh and it will now land up in Africa . I wish you would look at some of the best known world Brands who charge rediculous prices for goods made in the above countries they are the exploiters, tee shirts made in ? selling for £100 + all with a logo, need I SAY ANY MORE! Primark knows its business has a social awareness for all to see , so please address the Major World Brands look where they make their garments and be shocked!!
    YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!!!!!!!

    HOOD from Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom
  2. “Fifteen pounds is the equivalent of 50 hours’ work for a garment worker in Bangladesh. And that is just not right. ” Could you explain why please? It’s a little over simplistic. It needs context. How much does a doctor make in that region? If a doctor makes 20 pounds for 50 hours work then the garment workers wage sounds about right. How much is a house in that region? If a house is 500 pounds then it’s about right. Maybe not but we need context.

    andrew woffinden from United Kingdom
  3. Great concept. We’ve been pressured on numerous occasions to move our production to Asia and we have refused, because we want to produce in countries that we know pay fair wages and treat their employees ethically. I think one of the problem lies in understanding pricing, how long it might take to make something, and how much it costs to make. Not enough people do the maths – and see a price tag at face value.

    The Sleep Shirt from Rottne, Kronobergs Län, Sweden
  4. Bravo. I am grateful for the awareness this article brings to these gross inequalities and pleased by the efforts of Fashion Revolution Day to correct these wrongs. I look forward to lending my support.

    Gentry Lane from
  5. Plenty of money has been sent to help the workers , very little has arrived oops as usual its gone to ? Same happend in SRI LANKA. .Obviously the cost of living is relevant but my argument is not with workers but with the factory and property owners. If it wasn’t for the garment sector there would be zero for the workers, hence there has been abuse of the law.

    HOOD from Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, United Kingdom
  6. Glad to see BoF highlighting FASHION REVOLUTION DAY. It is a great initiative with a noble cause for positive change in the industry. A worthy topic worth continuing. Thanks!

    Annika Tibs from Astoria, NY, United States
  7. Great article!

    But what about pressuring not only consumers but suppliers as well into addressing market demand?

    Lindsay Mayer from Germantown, TN, United States
  8. Great Article!

    But what about in addition to pressuring consumers into buying responsibly, we pressure suppliers into addressing market demand?

    Lindsay Mayer from Germantown, TN, United States
  9. Thanks Bof for rise the important issue.
    As a exporter i would like share some below points for yours thinking
    1) Actually Rana plaza incident is a accident & it must be punish the building owner & related concern, the owner also on the higher court trial, court ban all his properties already.Buyers should impose the proper organizations / govt authority for accurate trail this issue.

    2) Some Ngo , labour & social organization try to make convince the customers for boycott the Bangladeshi made clothes without any thinking.You may be agree..all building/garments owner is not the same in Bangladesh like Raza plaza owner.You know millions of poor women working this garments industry who actually could not do anything before garments.So buy more products from Bangladesh…for the help of these millions pf poor women workers financial empowring but in the meantime ensure the working environment & safety which already doing Accord & compliance organizations.

    3) Buyers obviously concern the compliance issues & try to ensure worker safety but for this , buyers also should the mentality from the pricing. As we see every year ……..buyers reduce the prices, we also see suppose..the buyers buy from the supplier 1 t shirt $ 1.20..we see his selling price is min $ 10 or sometimes more than, what we thinking actually..they needs everything but buyers don’t want to pay any penny for these poor workers & also the owners . We think Buyers should make a fund for the workers welfare from their profit.& it should be distribute from their own or any Ngo.

    So lets thinking together for all our welfare…

    S.Rumi
    http://www.bizsl.com

    Sayeed Rumi from Dhaka, Dhaka, Bangladesh
  10. As usual, a thought-provoking and useful article from BOF.
    From my point of view, that of a person of very modest financial means, all this suggesting that people ramp down so much conspicuous consumption is well-spoken but a little odd. I know if I had plenty of “disposable income”, I would likely be tempted to shop and shop and shop. However, given my history in the lower financial realms and my history of also working in the lovely (not…) garment industry for about three years in my youth, I can offer a relevant thought or two. Working with the concept of “piecework” is daunting. In my first garment industry job at a factory in Seattle, Washington in 1976, I made $2.30 an hour, with take home pay of $76 a week. I was forced to join a union, with dues of $5 a month, which later went up to $7.50 a month and that union did virtually nothing for me except pick my pocket. You sew and sew and sew like the proverbial bat out of you know where, and just make one corner of the garment. Nothing of beauty, nothing of relevance, just pieces of my soul being stitched to keep a roof and food.
    As far as the impoverished of the world being paid a pittance to work in terrible factory conditions, I am sure this is likely to continue unabated, no matter how many wear their clothes inside out as a (sincere) statement.
    I would favor a few things, such as microentrepreneurship, with tiny loans to individuals and family and friend groups, encouraging people to not work for big factories but with their own unique talents or skills and build a very small business up bit by bit. I think tiny entrepreneurship is a great way to help the dire poor, with micro loans of as little as $100 or $200. Big factories have their own well being at heart, not usually the workers, hence my own negative experience in the garment biz.
    As far as my own clothing, I shop thrift stores and sometimes literally, the streets, as many people who move, put useful and usable items in paper bags on the street for others to peruse. I am not too proud to accept those items, as long as they “feel” right and I can wear them after thorough washings in hot water.
    I truly believe when you cannot “shop ’till you drop”, you become resourceful and street smart and that is what I hope for the countries spoken of, that the microentrepreneur can take root and build business, one house , one family and one neighborhood at a time. Tiny business is JUST FINE, we do not need HUGE. Tiny is good.

    Wendy Williams from Burlingame, CA, United States