Sustainable Children's Clothing: More Than Just Organic Fabric.
This week is Fashion Revolution week. It a a week when we are encouraged to ask brands and labels #whomademyclothes?
In simple terms it is about encouraging us, the consumer, to ask brands to be more transparent in their supply chain and to tell us exactly who is making out clothes.
If you have followed me for a while you will know that I make everything at Tutti Frutti Clothing myself and so on the surface answering that question seems simple.
However, nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Writing this post has really challenged my thinking around the subject of transparency in fashion and what it really means to be sustainable.
I’ll be honest, this hasn’t been an easy post to write. I am currently enrolled on a Fashion and Sustainability course run by the London College of Fashion, the Centre for Sustainable Fashion team, and the various leaders from Kering’s sustainability team.
During my studies I have learnt a lot, been challenged and encouraged to think about the sustainable aspects of fashion that matter to me – and the ones I can incorporate into Tutti Frutti Clothing.
This blog post takes a look at the what I think is the most important aspect of being a sustainable business: PEOPLE
Why People in the Garment Industry Matter
People matter to me. My family and friends, my local community and then those in the wider world I have never met.
In the garment industry there are around 75 million people – mostly women – working in the fashion and textiles industry. Many have no possibility of negotiating their wages or working conditions and are often subjected to exploitation, abuse and unsafe working conditions - it is time we made a stand for change.
I might never have met these people but they matter to me. I might not employ a factory of workers. My supply and production chain is pretty small compared to most other brands but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t care about what other brands do.
It was on the 24th April 2013 my eyes were opened to the true horror of fast fashion.
Rana Plaza Factory Collapse, 24th April 2013
This week marks the 5th anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory that killed 1138 people and injured many, many more.
Do you know much about that tragedy? Perhaps you don’t think its relevant to you, or that you can’t do anything about it. I know that 5 years ago I was shocked by the news. That brands I knew from the high street were employing people in such terribly conditions suddenly became a reality I could no longer avoid.
As my children grow, I am becoming increasingly aware of how my actions impact – positively or negatively – on others. The choices I make impact not only on me and my family or local community but globally too.
That might sound like a grand statement but I truly believe if we all called for change things would happen.
What do you know about the Rana Plaza building, what has changed since that fateful day on 2013 and how can we make a difference and call for change?
What was the Rana Plaza building and what happened to it?
The Rana Plaza building was in Bangladesh and was home to 5 garment factories as well as a bank and a shop.
Brands that were produced in that factory included British brands Matalan, Primark and Bon Marche alongside Walmart and Benneton.
The building was built badly and the top three floors had been added illegally. The swampy ground it was built on was unsuitable for such a large building made of poor quality materials and heavy machinery would have added to the strain the building was under.
The day before the disaster, cracks in the wall appeared and the building was deemed unsafe and evacuated. The bank closed but garment factory bosses threatened to withhold up to one months pay if workers didn’t return to work the next day.
There were over 3100 people working inside that building on the day it collapsed.
A power cut led to large generators being fired up on the roof of the building. The vibrations from the generators ran through the buildings concrete structure and yet more cracks began to appear in the columns holding the building up. At 9am the building started to collapse on itself and just minutes later the building had collapsed killing 1138 people and leaving 2500 with life changing injuries.
What did this mean for fashion brands?
The collapse signified for many that brands had lost control of their supply chains and garment factories. In a quest for lower prices and faster turnaround times, many turned a blind eye to the terrible working conditions that factory employees faced.
In 2013, Bangladesh had 4500 garment factories which employed around 3.6 million people – mostly women. There was a significant absence of basic health and safety for workers with many having no possibility of negotiating their wages or working conditions and often being subjected to exploitation, abuse and unsafe working conditions.
Until the Rana Plaza building collapsed, many people – myself included – didn’t really think about the people that made out clothes. Yet when you think about it that is a shameful thing to say. As the Asia Foundation says “these workers have become the victims of systematic human rights violations, suffering while others get rich to make fashionable clothes for faceless consumers.”
The buildings collapse highlighted just how far things had gone wrong and just how many people were suffering for us to get cheap clothing.
What has changed since the Rana Plaza disaster?
Immediately following the disaster, fashion brands and the Bangladeshi government pledged to make changes to ensure this kind of thing never happened again.
Once month later, many brands had signed up to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which was a legally binding document designed to ensure safe working conditions in the garment industry. It was also designed to ensure that a working environments had health and safety measures in place. You can view the signatories of the Accord here: http://bangladeshaccord.org/signatories/
Bangladesh also pledged to make it easier for garment workers to form unions and the minimum wage has been increased.
So what now?
Whilst all this sounds good, in reality, we still have a long way to go.
It is not uncommon that factories that are part of the legally binding agreement subcontract their work to a factory that is not safe.
And yes, unions are present in the garment industry but joining and starting unions is difficult and not always possible.
It was only when I started making and selling children’s clothing that I realised that to sell a t-shirt for as little as £2 or less, the people at the bottom of the chain must be getting a pretty bad deal.
Recently the Bangladesh government increased the minimum wage for garment worker by 77% bringing it to £49 per month. Yet Garment Workers Diaries found that most clothing makers in Bangladesh, Cambodia and India were not being paid a legal minimum wage – so the increase was meaningless to the majority of workers.
The time has come to take a stand and demand that the big brands and fashion labels tell us #whomademyclothes. It’s not just about making sure factories are safe, it is about ensuring people aren’t working 18 hour days and that they get lunch breaks and days off. Its about treating the people in the garment industry as people. People with families and children who are just trying to provide for them and do their best. They are not machines to be worked to death and taken advantage of in a quest to get the best deal on t-shirts.
What this means for me
Here at Tutti Frutti Clothing everything is made by me - so you know that there is no forced labour or poor working conditions in the production of your actual garments.
However, as I have become more aware of the garment production industry, so I have become more aware of the changes that I can make in my own business.
One of those changes included looking to source better fabric that was kinder to the planet and its people.
Back at the start of 2017, one of my most popular items was a pair of mermaid leggings. Made from foiled polyester spandex they were quite amazing – sparkly, shimmering and a real hit with my customers.
Except the production of nylon and polyester spandex has a huge negative impact on the planet.
In July 2017 I couldn’t ignore it any more and decided to stop selling the leggings. It was a pretty scary decision. At the time I was a small business that didn’t get loads of orders - and the orders I did get were mainly for these mermaid leggings.
But I knew I had to stop selling them. I couldn’t ignore the negative impact they had on the planet any more and, despite knowing I would be losing out on orders (and money!) each month, I discontinued their sale.
Reactions were mixed. Whilst some applauded putting my ethical values before profits I also received negative comments. People who felt that I was judging them or who couldn’t see what was wrong with the fabric and that the change I was making was unnecessary.
But I am glad I made that choice. There are so many different fabrics to choose from. Yes, buying ethical fabric takes longer – you have to ask questions of the manufactures that make you feel like a bit of a nuisance and I spend hours researching what different standards mean so I can be as sure as I can be I have made the right choice. But in the end I am confident that I am doing my bit. Trying my hardest. I might get it wrong and I am always learning but that is part of my journey.
The Fabric I Use
Today I aim to choose, and use, fabric that is either organic or has other certifications that shows manufacturers are working to ensure socially acceptable working conditions. These include ensuring that employment is freely chosen, working conditions are safe and hygienic, working hours are not excessive and that no discrimination is practiced.
The best certification I look for is the Global Organic Textile Standard. This is a recognised organic standard that covers the growing, manufacturing and production process of the fabric.
GOTS certified cotton is grown without the use of pesticides or fertilisers. It also covers other environmental and ecological criteria such as ensuring dyes and processing chemical meet basic requirements of toxicity and biodegradability, that chlorine bleach is not used and that full records are kept on the use of chemical, energy, water consumption and waste water treatment – including the disposal of sludge.
Alongside these environmental controls, GOTS certified fabric has a range of social criteria that must also be met. These include ensuring employment is freely chose, working conditions are safe and hygienic, child labour is not used and that a living wage has been paid.
I also use fabric that is Oeko-Tex certified. Whilst the cotton used in this fabric is not organic is does have to meet many strict criteria for harmful and illegal chemical usage and residue. To comply fully with the standard, companies also need to have better environmental practises at both the manufacturing and processing level. This means that Oeko-Tex certified fabric also offers significant environmental benefits compared to many other textiles and fabrics.
Read more: What is Ethical and Sustainable Clothing?
How You Can Get Involved
Don’t stand by and do nothing. Making changes is not complicated or hard to do. Take a look on the Fashion Revolution website and ask brands and labels #whomademyclothes? Together we can raise awareness and encourage brands to be more transparent in the supply chain.
Perhaps the most important thing we can do it not buy from brands which won’t publish their supply chain or who haven’t signed up to improve working conditions. There is a list of those who have signed the Accord here: http://bangladeshaccord.org/signatories/
Buying from brands that have greater transparency in their supply chain will encourage others to follow suit. You can aslo find out more about your favourite brands on the Fashion Transparency Index.
Buy from brands which use organic cotton certified by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), look for smaller labels where you can be confident that they really know their factories and workers - there are loads out there if you look!
What do you think? Are you inspired to make a change? I know I am. I also know that not everything I do is perfect or quite right, but progress, however small, is a step in the right direction.
I'd love to hear in the comments how you are getting involved and making a change with the #whomademyclothes campaign