Fashion Revolution Week was born following the devastating Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 which killed 1,138 people and injured over 2,000. Subsequently, each year Fashion Revolution Week asks brands #WhoMadeMyClothes to promote and encourage transparency and traceability throughout the fashion industry.
As Fashion Revolution Week approaches (20th - 26th April) we spoke to Tamsin Blanchard, an experienced fashion journalist and Special Projects Curator at Fashion Revolution to talk to her about why more than ever we need to support global supply chains, and how we can use this current crisis to make positive change within the fashion industry.
Image: Riley Studio Fashion Revolution Week 2019
RS: How did you get involved in Fashion Revolution and what is your role within the team? Why is it such an important movement?
TB: I’ve been involved as a supporter of Fashion Revolution from the beginning, and as an official member of the team since 2015. My role is Special Projects Curator which means I do lots of different things mainly as part of the Creative team led by Creative Director Orsola de Castro with our Head of Design Emily Sear, Content manager Bronwyn Seier as well as the communications team with our press and comms strategist Roxanne Houshmand-Howell and Global Network manager, Niamh Tuft.
The Fashion Revolution team on the whole is an extraordinary group of people with such a breadth of experience across the fashion industry and beyond and I feel very privileged to be part of the team. I bring my experience as a fashion journalist having worked as a journalist and editor on national newspapers - the Independent, the Observer and the Telegraph Magazine, since the early 90s. I now work freelance contributing to publications including the Guardian, the Gentlewoman, 10 Magazine, and Vogue, and I also edit Hole & Corner magazine.
In 2006, I wrote a book Green is the New Black - how to change the world in Style. I wrote about the growing movement in fashion and sustainability, much of which was informed by the Estethica showcase as part of the BFC, and founded by Orsola and Filippo Ricci who I now work with on Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Open Studio Initiative.
Since 2017, I’ve been the curator for Fashion Open Studio, helping put together a programme to champion designers who are finding innovative solutions to some of the biggest systemic challenges facing the industry. Designers are invited to open up their studios to the public as well as industry insiders, to give workshops and studio tours to share best practice and show transparency in the way they work. This year, with Covid-19, we’ve been able to work very quickly to move the whole programme online, with designers hosting events from their self isolation, whether at home or in their live-work studios. I’m super excited about the potential of this digital format as it opens up very intimate and small events to a much wider audience. My role at Fashion Revolution includes our regular fanzines (Zine 6 'Action Required' has just been published with a focus on the Global Goals, do check it out!) and helping on PR and general admin, speaking and outreach where I can.
The reason that Fashion Revolution is such an important movement for me is that it is a global campaign with a very simple call to action that has universal significance. By asking #WhoMadeMyClothes? we are calling for brands to take responsibility for the people in their supply chains and for transparency on their working conditions and pay. Fashion Revolution brings together the many NGOs and activist organisations calling for change as well as creating space for brands and suppliers to make that change. The thing I love most about Fashion Revolution is that it is a creative, positive solutions-based campaign which speaks to everyone from policy makers to factory owners, brand CEOs, and designers to every one of us who looks in our wardrobes in the morning to decide what to wear . There are so many creative ways to get involved with resources like our Digital Activism guide.
RS: We are coming up to Fashion Revolution’s 7th year, how far do you think you’ve come? Are mindsets changing?
TB: I believe that mindsets and attitudes really have changed radically since the dark days of the Rana Plaza disaster. In the first year's campaign in 2014, supply chain transparency was not really talked about and now it has become a principal target for so many brands. There is increased awareness from citizens demanding change as well as brands and policy makers that there is a serious issue that needs tackling. Added to the social responsibility, the increased awareness of the climate emergency – from David Attenborough's Blue Planet to Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg's school strikes, there is unprecedented pressure to change. Saying that however, I am not remotely complacent and there is a huge amount of work still to be done.
RS: Now more than ever we need to support global supply chains particularly the most vulnerable in them. With billions of pounds/dollars worth of orders being cancelled, Fashion Revolution’s message is more important than ever. What can brands be doing to ensure the protection of the workers throughout their supply chains?
TB: The Fashion Transparency Index which is published by Fashion Revolution each year during FRW measures how far brands are improving (or not) in the public disclosure of their information on a range of areas. This year, the FTI investigates 250 of the biggest brands and spotlight issues include purchasing practices which have become so glaringly important over the past few weeks with brands cancelling factory orders already in production.
RS: Covid-19 has also been described as a ‘quarantine on consumption’, whilst there are significant impacts on our economy, we’re hoping it will inspire more widespread positive change in the fashion industry. What can we do as consumers to make sure we support or demand this positive change?
TB: I wrote a piece in the Guardian about finding positive ways to emerge from this crisis and learning from some of the lockdown measures citizens have had to implement. I believe that we now know it is possible for people to change their habits - and very quickly and radically. While some mass retailers continue to send out their orders to people who seem addicted to consuming lots of cheap fashion, this lockdown has been a time for many to pause and reflect on what they already have, to take time to do all those things they haven't had time for like sewing on buttons and darning holes, or simply hand washing delicate items in their wardrobes, and realising that we already have so much, stopping isn't such a hardship. We also need to reconnect with nature and take time to reflect on the fact that our clothes are connected to the amount of fossil fuels we are burning, the pollution in the rivers, and the microfibers in the oceans and in our tap water.
As consumers we need to understand that everything is connected and our actions and habits have repercussions. We can support small, independent brands and designers who are actively reducing their carbon footprint and ensuring that they treat their factory workers and makers with respect and dignity. We can think before we buy. We can treat all our clothes, no matter how much they cost, as pieces to take responsibility for and keep in use as long as possible. We have seen the effects of big brands stopping production on the most vulnerable workers in the factories in Bangladesh or Cambodia. And we have the power to demand that they do better. Over 1800 people (as of today) have used the Fashion Revolution template to ask a brand to protect their workers in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
RS: We’ve seen drastic and quick pivot can be implemented from large scale, global brands to help support production of things such as PPE. What’s stopping them from making these pivots in strategy and implementing sustainable practices into their supply chain?
TB: A great question! What indeed? We have seen now that anything is possible. There is no excuse for not starting from scratch if needs be and retrofitting sustainable practices. Paying a living wage would be a good start, then they can work backwards from there and see how that impacts on their bottom line and requires them to place smaller orders in the first place. Banning all virgin polyester is also a no-brainer.
RS: What kind of fashion industry do you want to see once we’ve recovered from the effects of Covid-19?
TB: I want to see a fashion industry that is slower and fairer and treats the planet and the people who work in the supply chains with respect, equality and care. The Fashion Revolution manifesto is the dream I would like to become a reality.
For more information regarding Fashion Revolution, go to their website or Instagram. If you haven’t already, Fashion Revolution’s latest fanzine ‘Action Required’ is out now and a must read. Available to purchase here.