A Tragedy Sparks a Revolution

On 24 April 2013, the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory claimed the lives of over 1,000 people and injured another 2,500. Most of these victims were young women making clothing for global fashion brands.

Out of this tragedy Fashion Revolution was born.  A movement to “ensure that no tragedy of this magnitude will ever take place again”, to prioritise the safety, treatment and working conditions of garment workers and to work towards a more sustainable fashion industry.

The movement has a manifesto with 10 goals that I would encourage you to sign and add your voice to. The manifesto is opened with the following statement:

“We love fashion. But we don’t want our clothes to exploit people or destroy our planet. We demand radical, revolutionary change.”

Fashion Revolution tasks us to questions ourselves: what is the true cost of our clothing? No one should die for fashion, no one should be exploited for fashion and the planet should not have to suffer for fashion!

On a personal note, I became aware of the destruction and exploitation of Fast Fashion a few years ago when I watched the film The True Cost. (Watch it if you haven’t!)

But aren’t fast fashion brands becoming more sustainable?

As the world is waking up to the need for transformation in the fashion industry, fast fashion brands like Zara and H&M are scrambling to improve their supply chain and be more sustainable.

But the truth is, even if they improve their labour and supply chain practices, the world simply cannot cope and does not have enough resources to support such fast paced and excessive consumption. We have to slow down. “Buy less, choose well make it last,” as iconic designer Vivienne Westwood says.

I was fortunate enough to attend two Fashion Revolution Cape Town events this week, organised by Twyg in light of Fashion Revolution Week. The speakers spoke on important issues such as decolonising fashion, empowering women, minimising microfibre pollution and supporting local, slow fashion.

Taken at Twyg Fashion Revolution Event. From Left: Aaniyah Omardien, Founder of the Beach Co-op; Janneke Blake, Founder of Shop Zero; Jackie May, Founder of Twyg Mag and Me.

One of the speakers, Luanne Slingerland left the audience with five bite-size tips on how to progress to a more sustainable wardrobe. I’ve added my take on each:

Do not throw away your fast fashion Items – you will be naked

We all have fast fashion items in our cupboard. Becoming aware of the horrors that took place for us to wear them can make us want to Mary Kondo the fuck out of everything and anything that exploited people and recklessly damaged the planet. But the most sustainable pieces of clothing are the ones that we already own. I haven’t bought a fast fashion item in five years. Yet, I still have old fast fashion pieces that have lasted and still serve me well.

If you need to add to your wardrobe, investigate first

So you really need something. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I really need this? Can I do without it?
  • Will I use this often? If not can I borrow it?
  • Can I buy it second hand or at a clothes swap?
  • If none of the above, is it made in South Africa?
  • Do I know how this brand treats its garment workers and the environment? How can I find out?
  • Is it a natural material that won’t shed microfibres into water sources?

Reuse, repair, repurpose, recycle

The throwaway culture our world has adopted is not just about plastic – but fashion too. Many people buy a fashion item with the intention to wear it once or twice. But we should be wearing our clothes for as long as we can. Looking after them and repairing them when they need some TLC instead of throwing them out. When they do start to reach the end of their life, can it be repurposed into something else? Simply donating clothes is not always the answer as many of these clothes end up in landfill. So when donating, try donating with intention and finding someone that can really use your preloved item.

Shop for quality

Most fast fashion items are designed not to last and often start falling apart after a few wears. Quality items, especially those made from natural and durable fabrics like hemp, can last a lifetime if looked after. Fellow Twyg columnist Emma Jones-Phillipson, wrote a fantastic piece on how to shop for quality second hand items too. It’s also about slowing down and buying less which means it is more possible to save up for one or two quality pieces.

Shop with intention, buy what you love and care for it.

Sustainable lifestyle journalist Livia Firth says that each time you buy something you should ask yourself if you see yourself wearing that item for a minimum of 30 times. In general opting for a more sustainable wardrobe means no more mindless shopping and consumption. It means shopping less and more intentionally. Thinking long-term, buying something you really love and not falling prey to trends and advertising that will always make you feel out of fashion.

There is no doubt that to shop for sustainable fashion is a privilege not necessarily accessible to everyone. But I can say that over the past five years I have saved massive amounts of money by simply buying way less, opting for second hand and consuming far more intentionally.