Fashion Revolution: carrot or stick?
Posted on April 18 2021
Fashion Revolution 2021
This week is Fashion Revolution Week. From Fashion Revolution's website:
"Fashion Revolution Week happens every year in the week surrounding the 24th of April. This date is the anniversary of the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse.
Rana Plaza, a building in Bangladesh, housed a number of garment factories, employing around 5,000 people. The people in this building were manufacturing clothing for many of the biggest global fashion brands. More than 1,100 people died in the collapse and another 2,500 were injured, making it the fourth largest industrial disaster in history. The victims were mostly young women."
Beyond hashtags and boycotts
Revolution is an intimidating word. "I'm too busy for a revolution!" But baby steps alone aren't quite enough either. Buying your next pair of jeans at a secondhand shop definitely helps on the re-use front, but we aren't going to thrift our way out of the enormous problems - ecological and human - that are endemic in the apparel industry.
Real. Change. Is. Hard. In today's hashtag culture, we want solutions in 280 characters. When the Rana Plaza disaster happened, my heart sunk when online movements popped up to boycott clothing made in Bangladesh. No! Not the answer.
Some companies, like Disney, announced shortly after the disaster they were pulling all production from Bangladesh. No! Not the answer.
A boycott may feel good, but it almost always harms the people it purports to help. Instead it mainly rewards the "look at my boycott hashtag, I care" culture that does little to actually solve problems.
While the Rana Plaza disaster directly affected thousands, the apparel industry in Bangladesh employs nearly 4 million workers. To simply stop making clothes there only ensures more poverty. Hard work means staying and fixing.
This isn't to completely pile on hashtags! Awareness of course is always the first step. Use tags like #FashionRevolution and #WhoMadeMyClothes all you want to raise awareness! But then ask yourself, "now what?"
Carrots and sticks
There isn't a single Big Bang plan that's going to create an overnight revolution in the apparel industry. But to do better than baby steps, we need to employ a combination of carrots and sticks.
The carrots are the (relatively) easier parts. Buy local whenever you can. Get a portion of your clothes from thrift shops. Buy from brands that have an ethical mission. Tell your friends about these brands (please! 😊) Word of mouth needs to compete with multi million dollar ad campaigns!
Don't feel bad that you can't go all in all at once. We live in a world where large corporations are a big part of the infrastructure of daily life. Hardly any of us can operate completely outside of them.
The sticks are a little, well, stickier. The key is collectively finding the sweet spot; applying long-term pressure on brands while not pulling the rug out from garment workers as part of a boycott. However the fear of boycotts, bad publicity, or changes in shopping behavior can be very effective sticks.
Send an email or social media post to a brand. Tell them about brands you've started shopping at and why. Let them know you and your family & friends are paying attention like never before to their practices and are prepared to take your business elsewhere.
What about greenwashing?
I am optimistic. While large brands usually started their sustainability journey with a publicity motive, there are now really committed people, many of them from younger generations, in positions of leadership that are pushing companies greener for the right reasons.
We do have to guard against greenwashing, but can celebrate its results if they are real. Did Walmart commit to 100% renewable energy by 2035 because they want to save the planet or because they want to make really cool TV ads? I don't really know. But if the largest footprint store in the world does run on green energy, that's a huge victory for all of us. Does it mean Walmart doesn't need to address other issues like workers' rights and single use plastic products? Not at all.
And none of this changes the benefits of shopping local and shopping small independent businesses (like ours!) whenever we can.
So the revolution continues, this week and next. No one is promising a utopia; making clothes will continue to be hard, manual work. But with all of us doing our parts with the carrots and sticks of change, our hard work can be for good.
Co-Founder & President
#BeKind photo courtesy of Lisa at Pexels