This week marks the fourth anniversary of the Rana Plaza Factory collapse which saw 1138 lives lost in the deadliest disaster the garment industry has seen worldwide. Each year the anniversary provides an opportunity to reflect upon the disaster, and scrutinise the progress made in re-building the foundations of the global garment industry.

The ethical fashion movement and the #whomademyclothes campaign has been driven by a commitment to change the way the fashion industry engages with supply chains; pushing for transparency and accountability of brands who rely heavily on outsourced supply chains which engage with developing economies and utilise vulnerable workforces.

The annual iteration of the #whomademyclothes campaign has seen a growth in awareness of the social and environmental impact of the industry, which has resulted in growing consumer demand for ethically and sustainably sourced garments. The process of iterating and remembering Rana Plaza, is slowly, but surely, awakening consumers’ consciousness and creating the pressure needed to transform the fashion industry into one which is driven by a demand for ethically and sustainably sourced goods.

What this movement seeks to address is the tempo of the garment industry which has gradually, through the outsourcing of production and globalisation of demand, picked up pace to that which is described as ‘Fast Fashion’ – a deadly combination of cheap goods and rapidly cycling trends. Seasons have multiplied increasing the tempo of trend cycles and now, thanks to a constantly accessible online market, consumers are always connected, engaged and consumed by the influence of fashion.

In 2015, I attended the World Fair Trade Organisation conference held in Milan, where delegates were treated to a guest appearance by Vogue Italia’s editor in chief, the late Franca Sozzani. Here, Sozzani welcomed delegates to Italy’s fashion capital and made the bold statement that fast fashion was ‘here to stay’.

They were difficult words to digest, and it sparked a conference-long discussion on how fashion relates to fair trade and whether it is even possible to sustain the demands of fashion in an ethical supply chain.

“Fashion fades, style is eternal.”

Coco Chanel

I keep returning to this quote from arguably one of the most influential fashion designers since the industrialisation of the garment industry. Coco Chanel refers to something greater than fashion, an over-arching quality which endures across generations and is inherent in style. If fashion is reflective of rapidly cycling trends with a fickle connection to an individual and their wardrobe, style is a suggestion of something deeply resonant, which stands the test of time through its presence in everyday life and value in occasional wear.

In this situation, style need not be limited to aesthetic application or social influences, rather it may be considered a sustainable and measured approach to garment production and consumption. Style may be considered everything which informs the user and contextual requirements of a garment, including the:

  • Method of Production eg. To facilitate a continuity of tradition through craft, with a focus on scale and tempo through human-based production vs industrialised production.
  • Shape and Form eg. To create a modesty of form which endures fluctuating change and economises use of materials;
  • Materiality eg. to create a resonant and sustainable connection to people and place through locally sourced or produced materials.
  • Functionality eg. to promote adaptability and allow for diversity of needs through multi-functional characteristics.

This by no means provides a definitive list of concerns within the design and production of a garment, instead it provides a scope of consideration when seeking to address the impact of fast fashion.

The annual observance of the Rana Plaza tragedy and the iteration of fashion awareness created through the #whomademyclothes campaign has started momentum towards a more sustainable ‘style’ of fashion and a fundamental shift against fast fashion.

In one of Franca Sozzani’s last interviews she was quoted:

“It’s not that I don’t think of the past, but it’s a waste of time… If you’re stuck in the past, beholden to it, then your creativity is stuck there, too, because you don’t give yourself a chance to evolve.”

Reflecting, understanding and valuing the past is part of understanding one’s own identity, both as an individual and as a broader collective. The impact and long-lasting success of design, innovation, and creativity is reliant on how well we listen to past lessons and translate those to current needs.

The definition of fast fashion is one of fickle, fast-fading whimsy, not one of enduring, impactful and meaningful value.

I choose to know #whomademyclothes because, just as much as it is about knowing the people engaged throughout a supply chain, it is about knowing myself and the impact my purchase can have.

Posted by:Alexandra Sommer