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How to start your own Fashion Revolution and build a conscious wardrobe

Emma Batchelor

As a rather passionate and extravagant dresser, I have always been an avid consumer of fashion.

Before moving into my own home and fulfilling my adolescent dream of having a dressing room, my wardrobe spanned my bedroom, my brother’s abandoned bedroom and a wardrobe in the spare room of my grandparent’s house next door. Such was the volume of clothing I accumulated.

It was only a few years ago that I began to really question the way I shopped and the origins of the garments I purchased. My awakening came through founding an online fashion publication (Leiden Magazine) through which I began to connect with and profile local designers and makers.

Although I already had an inkling of the social and environmental impact of the fashion industry, it was through designers such as Kelli Donovan of Pure Pod, Charne Esterhuizen of MAAK and Vicky Kidd-Gallichan of Rockstars and Royalty as well as ethical stylist Nina Gbor that I gained a deeper understanding. I was so inspired in fact, I even wrote a book about ethical and sustainable fashion.

And now during Fashion Revolution Week, which runs from 23–29 April, I want to help you start your own fashion revolution too. But first, let’s take it back to the beginning.

The beginnings of a revolution

On April 24, 2013, a building in Bangladesh collapsed killing 1,138 people and injuring over two thousand more. This building was called Rana Plaza and among other businesses housed within the complex was a large garment factory. Here a workforce made up of mostly women produced apparel for brands including Benetton, Mango, and Primark

The collapse of Rana Plaza is considered the deadliest garment-factory disaster in history. Tragically, such loss of life could have been prevented. In the lead up to the collapse workers had identified cracks in the building and after a power outage on the morning of April 24, they were reluctant to enter the building.

Despite this reluctance, however, workers were forced into the building to begin work, a decision allegedly made by managers in a bid to complete garment orders according to deadline. It took a disaster of this magnitude for the wider world to realise that being able to purchase a cheap knock-off two weeks after it was first seen on the runway isn’t worth the cost of someone’s life.

And, as is often the case in times of great tragedy, an initiative was born to ensure that an incident such as this never happens again. Fashion Revolution was born in the UK to demand greater transparency in the fashion supply chain and now, on the 5th anniversary of the Rana plaza factory collapse, has blossomed into a global movement where millions of people are now asking #whomademyclothes.

Changing the way we think about clothes

It’s Monday morning; you quickly pop into your favourite local café to grab a hit of caffeine on your way to work. You might chat with your barista as they make your morning brew. You walk away feeling great after having an interaction with the person who lovingly made the drink you are about to consume, and because you supported a local business.

But what about the people who tend to the coffee crop? Or roast the beans?

Now it’s lunchtime and you pop into a nearby restaurant. You can see the chefs in the kitchen and you take note of the person serving you. While you quickly shovel in a salad before heading back to work you probably aren’t thinking about the farmers that grew the produce or the drivers that drove through the night to ensure it arrives fresh on your plate.

Just like our food and drink, we mostly associate our clothes with the people and stores that we bought them from rather than the people who actually made them, which is something that needs to change.

Photography: Chris Walsh, Hair and Makeup: Lilah Gow, Model: Karlee McKeough. All products used are cruelty-free.

Thanks to global initiatives such as Fashion Revolution, local ones including Handmade Canberra, CARDIF Collective and Trove, we are getting better at connecting with the life cycle of our garments and understanding where they come from.

Putting thoughts into actions

So how can put a sustainable lens on your love of fashion? Making any kind of change isn’t easy and it can often be confronting. However, taking small steps that you can build upon will help keep you from feeling overwhelmed.

Here are a few handy hints to get your going:

  • Decide on your values – decide what issues are important to you and remember this will be different for everyone. Are you more concerned about fair wages for garment workers or about the environment impact of making denim? Decide what is important to you and stick to it.
  • Be informed – make sure you do your research. Investigate the labels you love and understand what social and environmental impact they have and what policies they have in place to address them.
  • Put your money where your mouth is – never underestimate the power of your consumer dollar. Use your money to support brands/designers/makers that you want to see thrive and don’t fund businesses that behave in a way that you don’t agree with.
  • Ask questions – don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask the staff in store if they know how a garment is made or what the impact of its production is. Send an email to the manufacture to ask about the conditions in the factories where garments are made.
  • Speak up – make sure to talk to your friends and family about the issues you are passionate about. You never know whom you might inspire to make a similar change in their wardrobes!
  • Engage – if a business is doing something you don’t agree with, speak out. Engage with them over email or via social media. Holding a business publicly accountable for their actions can be a great driver of change.

Building a Conscious Wardrobe

To appropriate the words of Emma Watson, the fashion revolution isn’t a stick with which to beat one another. The way we each consume needs to align with our own ethics and values in order for us to make decisions that we can live with and sustain.

I’m not going to pretend that I am perfect or that I practice everything I preach. But I try and as long as we all keep trying, together we can make a difference and drive change. Doing something as simple as shopping less, asking yourself if you will actually wear a garment thirty times before purchasing it, or deciding to only shop second hand or from ethical designers can all have an impact.

For simple, easy tips for shopping, styling, caring and disposing of your clothes better as well as sustainable beauty and lifestyle hacks and profiles on ethical designers, I recommend picking up a copy of our book Building a Conscious Wardobe. It’s full of practical information and jam-packed with helpful illustrations and inspiring imagery from a whole host of local creative talent. 

Building a Conscious Wardrobe

Leiden Press

Printed in Canberra

$25

Use the code FASHREV for free shipping during Fashion Revolution Week

Buy Now

Useful Resources

Fashion Revolution Week runs from April 23 to April 29

Baptist World Aid Ethical Fashion Guide

Oxfam What She Makes Campaign

Ethical Clothing Australia

Good on You

Fashion Revolution

Feature image: facebook.com/38espresso

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Emma Batchelor

Emma Batchelor is the founder and editor of Leiden Magazine, an online publication dedicated to fashion, beauty, health and fitness. As well as a near obsessive interest in fashion, Emma is a former scientist, occasional contemporary dancer, avid reader and self-confessed cat lady. Emma is the author of a new book on ethical fashion, Building a Conscious Wardrobe. More about the Author

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