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Why fashion needs a revolution and the importance of context

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What is Fashion Revolution Week?

Fashion Revolution is the world's largest fashion activism movement. This yearly event was founded in the wake of the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster – 1134 Bangladeshi garment workers died when the plaza collapsed.

But the problems surrounding the industry have been long standing issues, with the disaster a tipping point for the advocacy of garment workers' rights and the climate change crisis.

 

What is fast fashion, and what's wrong with it?

Labour for the fast fashion industry is made up of garment workers found across South Asia and Southeast Asia. 

It was revealed during the Rana Plaza disaster that working conditions were inhumane — overcrowded and overworked, with no safety measures in place. The building had structural damages, yet workers were forced to return to the assembly line to meet production deadlines. It was also revealed that they were sewing for fast fashion brands such as Mango, Benetton and Walmart, among others.

Fast fashion produces new clothing and lifestyle items at breakneck speed. Stores are stocked with large varieties of new collections weekly, feeding our need to consume impulsively.

Beyond the racks and shelves of the brands we've come to depend on however, the situation is much more grim. Garment workers clock 16-hour days with no off days, for unliveable wages that keep them in poverty. 

The prices tagged to fast fashion products can be kept affordable because down the supply chain, someone else is paying for it. Often, with their lives.

Lately, the discussion of fair fashion include the high volume of products churned by major brands. In relation to environmental issues that plague us today, these insane amounts of excess are disposed off by brands at the end of each season. In 2019 alone, it was reported that H&M was sitting on $4.1 billion worth of unsold clothes

These are clear reasons why the fashion ecosystem needs a revolution.

 

What can consumers do?

As anxiety-inducing as the facts laid out are, the only way change can happen is when consumers gain a better understanding of the fashion supply chain through self-learning, activism and advocacy. 

Singapore is one of the few countries in the region that does not have a garment industry – and this is highly likely why most Singaporeans are not aware of fast fashion's impacts. We only see the end products ready to be sold to us in stores and malls.

The idea proposed by the Fashion Revolution campaign is simple: ask brands who makes their clothes.

This presents an opportunity for conversation – a chance for brands to share with us about their processes, beyond marketing campaigns and sales copy.

Afterall, every dollar we spend is a vote of confidence in the brand we buy from. We do see how it can be intimidating to take action this way, so find a friend or two to journey with you.

There is strength in numbers. A resource can be found here to guide you. 

The likelihood of big retailers replying to our questions are generally slim, but don't be disheartened. There are other ways.

Bookmark fashionrevolution.org, watch documentaries to get a better idea of the industry and follow ethical and sustainable brands and activists locally to help you find out what change can look like through the power of your choices. While consumption continuees to be a part of life, see this article by Zerrin for practical tips on becoming a sustainable shopper.

 

How is Gypsied a part of this revolution?

Fashion Revolution addresses several aspects of the industry, mainly: 

People
  • Human rights and working conditions
  • Forced bonded or child labour
  • Low wages and gender-based violence
Social & Societal Impacts
  • Loss of heritage, culture and craft skills
  • Cultural appropriation and structural racism
  • Mental health and body image
Environmental Impacts
  • The climate crisis
  • Water, pollution, plastics & toxic chemicals
  • Forests and biodiversity
  • Animal welfare
Yes, that's a long list. Our work at Gypsied falls largely within people and social impacts, as we work directly with textile artisans and leather craftsmen in Indonesia and Cambodia.

The focus on heritage techniques and provenance further solidify our stand — the loss of culture and craft skills due to mass manufacturing (re: fast fashion) spell disaster for generations of intangible heritage from the region.

Many of these guardians of heritage are also women in developing countries who lack access to education, fair wage labour and access to markets beyond the domestic.


Naturally, this also means we work with groups of artisans and small tailoring teams. While not as transparent as we would like it to be due to distance, direct relationships help to eliminate middle men.

Our partners are also paid a 50% deposit, or in full in some cases, before they begin any work. This is not common practice in fashion that frequently withholds payment to suppliers – a practice exacerbated by the current pandemic.

 

Some things we want to do this year

  1. With their permission, document the stories of our tailoring team and leather craftsmen.
  2. Eliminate plastic buttons from our apparels.
  3. Better packaging for your online orders — perhaps recycled boxes or recycled cardboard envelopes.
  4. Engage in social causes for the environment, such as planting trees in mangroves in the region, a collaboration with handprint.tech.

 

Final notes

We have been doing this work for almost eight years now and at times, the frustration is real. Moving the needle seems impossible in a world that consumes at the speed it does.

Our method and belief in producing slowly and consciously while remaining pure in our intentions, is frequently at odds with the real world of retail, an industry that demands fast turnaround of products.

However, this must be said: Quitting fast fashion is a privilege. The affordability and convenience of fast fashion is a dealbreaker, especially in developing countries.

In Singapore where we continue to see an increase in wage gap, rising living costs and higher mortgages, ethical fashion concerns are lower on the hierarchy of needs. 

The systemic problems with the fast fashion industry require a long-term approach and an understanding of context. It cannot change overnight. But despite these nuances, the conversation surrounding fast fashion must continue,  perhaps for decades more, but always a step at a time.

Every day, we ask: What kind of world do we hope to leave behind?
We hope for a world that believes in fairness and justice for all.


Supplement this reading with why we are big on pre-orders.

Find out more about the artisans and partners we work with.

Discover other slow fashion labels in Singapore and the region on this brand directory by Zerrin.

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