Denman Gutter Masthead

Fashion Revolution Day

Wendy Johnson

Who made your clothes?

Today is Fashion Revolution Day. Who made your clothes?

It’s a question organisers behind the revolution want you to ask. And they want you to care about the answer.

It’s been two years since the fatal Rana Plaza clothing factory collapsed in Bangladesh, killing 1133 people and injuring 2500 others. The event—the deadliest garment-factory accident in history—sparked the collective conscience of designers, academics, writers and business leaders from 71 countries who decided it was time to expose the truth about the people producing our clothes and how they’re treated.

Steve Wright from Corr Blimey's Fashion Revolution 'selfie'.

Steve Wright from Corr Blimey’s Fashion Revolution ‘selfie’.

Fashion Revolution is a global coalition calling for systematic reform of the fashion supply chain. ‘It’s about transparency, ‘says Steve Wright, who teaches fashion at the Canberra Institute of Technology. ‘Transparency of labour rights management systems, including whether companies have codes of conduct.’

Here in Australia, we’ve just seen the release of The Truth Behind the Barcode: Australian Fashion Report 2015, which offers an ‘in-depth look at many companies and how they’re performing across 61 separate assessment criteria, broken down into four broad categories: policies, traceability and transparency, monitoring and training, and worker rights.

One fair-trade company that received an A+ grade in the report is Canberra’s very own Audrey Blue, an independent fashion label that appeared on the FASHFEST catwalk in 2014.

Owner and designer of Audrey Blue, Hannah Parris, is passionate about this topic and could talk about it for hours. She uses organic and fair-trade cotton certified under international standards and relies on ethical supply chains, which pay a living wage. Audrey Blue is the first women’s fashion label to be certified under the Global Organic Textile Standard.

Miranda Seakgosing from mirandaSAKHINO

Miranda Seakgosing from mirandaSAKHINO

Sadly, The Truth Behind the Barcode says many of the worst overall performers studied were iconic Australian fashion brands which received D or F grades. The report lists the companies by name.

Steve says it’s worth waking up to the problem, and applauds the report and the Fashion Revolution movement. ‘People need to understand that what they’re wearing on their back is not just a garment. It’s about a supply chain and one that involves people, who sometimes work in appalling conditions for virtually no money. It’s human exploitation.’

Steve is also the Producer of FASHFEST and he says the organisation takes the issue seriously, so much so that the designer application kits ask questions around manufacturing. ‘We ask designers how they produce their garments and where,’ says Steve. ‘Most of our designers design and manufacture in Australia but some use overseas producers. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the garments are being made in safe and fair conditions.’

Louisa de Smet from Corr Blimey joins the revolution.

Louisa de Smet from Corr Blimey joins the revolution.

Some designers who have been with FASHFEST from the beginning, like Karen Lee of Assemblage Project, Louisa de Smet from Corr Blimey and Mitch Thompson from Perpetually Five (this year collaborating with Clare Read), all design and manufacture in Canberra or surrounding region, taking charge of every step—from the bolt of fabric to hanging the finished garment on a rack for sale.

Other designers appearing on the catwalk at FASHFEST for the first time in 2015, manufacture overseas, but under the right conditions and with a strong ethics focus.

Take Michelle Walton, of Red Corner, which is launching a new range of boxing gear never seen before in the marketplace at FASHFEST. Michelle has just returned from India where Red Corner’s innovative gear is made. Indeed, she’s been to the factory five times in the last 18 months.

‘We picked this factory because they’re doing all the right things by their workers and providing the right conditions, including paying the right pay, giving sick leave and granting maternity leave,’ says Michelle. ‘They tick the boxes for us. They have 150 staff and 50 per cent are women. We were attracted to that as well.’

But it’s not just a nice visit that assures Michelle she’s chosen the right company.

‘Business Improvement Systems (BIS), out of the United Kingdom, audits the company a couple of times a year,’ says Michelle. ‘It’s all about compliance. We could get our gear produced for less out of other factories in India or in other countries, but it’s not about price for us … it’s about building quality product that is functional for the end user.’

Hana's Neda Alemohammad.

Hana’s Neda Alemohammad.

Phoebe Mwanza, from The Prodigal Daughter, designs her garments in Canberra but sources her vivid printed fabrics from different parts of Africa and has them manufactured in Kenya and Ghana. BIS is involved in auditing the companies Phoebe uses as well.

‘The need to revolutionise fashion is not an easy topic,’ says Steve. ‘It’s a complex topic and a hard one to understand. But the point is, we need to talk about it and change it.’

And so Fashion Revolution Day is here for 2015. Use the power of fashion to inspire change and reconnect the broken links in the supply chain. Help the world change, one stitch at a time.

If you know who made your clothes, take a selfie, tag #FASHREV and ask #whomademyclothes.

And if you’re keen to check out local designers, head to www.fashfest.com.au and buy your ticket for this four-day, red-carpet fashion event while there. 13 to 16 May, National Convention Centre.

Wendy Johnson

Wendy Johnson graduated with a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, a few decades ago. She’s been living in Australia since 1995, having fallen in love with eucalypt trees and kangaroos. Wendy is passionate about Canberra and all the nation’s capital has to offer. She loves to write (about everything and anything) and owns her own pr and advertising business. More about the Author