2016: The Year of the Fashion Revolution

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A female beneficiary under one of USAID's Global Climate Change (GCC) programs sewing clothes at a training centre. © USAID

For an entire week, from 18-24 April 2016, the Fashion Revolution took the global media by storm. Around the world, individuals asked the question 'Who made my clothes?'. By showing the labels on their clothes, they proudly revealed their ethical choices and demanded a response from the high-street brands using sweatshop labour.

With screenings of films such as The True Cost documentary, choreographed dances, the 'hacking' of fashion shoots and the publication of Slow Fashion by ethical fashion pioneer Safia Minney, the worldwide Fashion Revolution movement (led by Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro) is far more than a social media campaign. This year's Fashion Revolution week highlighted the need for better working conditions and respect for garment workers, and called out those in the fashion-industry who have yet to change their ways, three years after the tragic Rana Plaza disaster which killed more than 1,100 Bangladeshi garment-factory workers.

Young voices, including that of  21-year-old Alana Watson, who recently blogged for New Internationalist have had their say, putting conscious shopping into the minds of a youth accustomed to YouTube 'hauls' and throwaway fashion. This is a new age, in which annual or bi-annual wardrobe makeovers offer an immediate shopping high. With saving for expensive things such as higher education or a deposit for a house, now out of the reach for the average earner and young person, clothes – at their cheapest today, in an unethical industry – satisfy the hunger for feel-good statement 'must-haves'.

Hebe York, a 17-year-old A-levels student in Oxford, has this to say about the current state of fast-fashion:

When and how did you find out about the Rana Plaza disaster? How did you feel when you learned about labour conditions in places like Bangladesh?

I found out about it on the radio as soon as it happened. l felt incredibly shocked that something like this was allowed to happen. It also made me think about the ethics of the clothing industry. I couldn't believe that so many people were working in such a small space.

How do you feel about the awareness of ethically-sound fashion vs unethical? Have you done anything to raise this awareness in your personal choices?

Unethical fashion is really common on the high street. Most people (including myself) would like to do more to support ethical clothing; however, when it actually comes to shopping it's a lot cheaper and easier to buy non-ethical brands. My guess is that most people may not even be aware of ethical brands. I mostly shop in charity or vintage secondhand clothes shops. At least in this way I'm recycling.

If I do need something new, then I try to choose ethical clothing brands but there's not much of a selection in a city like Oxford. There's a bigger choice online but buying clothes in this way isn't as much fun. What I try to do is avoid the shops and brands that are known to be unethical.

Are 'slow fashion' products easily affordable to a young person? How do you think they are branded for young people – particularly with the rise of YouTube 'hauls' and throwaway fashion?

I believe they could be affordable if [young] people adopted a less consumerist mind-set; although they are more expensive, they are likely to last longer. However, they are still often much more expensive than high-street clothes and would therefore be out of most people’s price range.

The society we are growing up in promotes buying new clothes; for example, summer or winter ‘looks’. This mind-set is increasingly being promoted by YouTubers who encourage their viewers to buy more and continually change their wardrobe.

Do you think that the pressures teens and young people face to ‘fit in’ (or to stand out) affect the fashion choices they make when it comes to labels vs ethics?

Yes, people are led by what’s expected of them. Social media means that people see a ‘look’ at the same time and the fashion industry seems to jump to meet this demand. Or maybe it’s the fashion industry using social media to put the look out there in the first place. Most people follow these trends, so ethics quite often go out of the window.

There’s less choice, especially for affordable clothes, when it comes to ethical fashion. Also, because ethical fashion doesn’t promote wearing the new season’s collections, this may deter young people from buying more ethical clothes. People may prefer to buy cheaper clothes, meaning they can buy a new wardrobe every season, rather than buying clothes that are going to last them several years because the fashion will inevitably change. This is why I like charity shops – you can choose things that are close to current trends but not identical, so you look a bit different from everyone else.

We want to thank all who have bought a copy of Safia Minney’s Slow Fashion: Aesthetics Meets Ethics which provides a 360-degree view of a fashion world that is changing, from the cotton fields to the cities. For our global audience, we would like to encourage you to enter for the chance to win a FREE, signed hardback copy of the book. Today is the last day to enter!

If you’re a UK reader and you’d like to buy a copy of Slow Fashion for the special price of £12.99 from our Ethical Shop, find it here. If buying from elsewhere, you should be able to buy or order from your local bookstore. Please be patient as stock is still making its way to our main distribution centres worldwide.

'Cooked Up' at the London Short Story Festival

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Cooked Up Panel © New Internationalist

'Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World' at the London Short Story Festival 2015 Waterstones Piccadilly, Saturday, 20 June

This evening event at the London Short Story Festival attracted a crowd of intrigued fiction readers and writers looking for a taste of 'flash fiction' writing and a cross-cultural reading experience.

Food fiction is an emerging genre which New Internationalist's 'Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World' aptly fits into. In his collection of short stories inspired by food, 16 authors from 'around the world' showcase stories about meals and experiences from Cambodia to an Indian kitchen in the US, from Russia to war-torn Croatia.

One story, written by one of the evening's panelists, Krys Lee, is titled 'Fat' and tells of a young man who attempts to avoid military service by over-eating. Elaine Chiew, editor and also contributor acted as the evening's chair and kicked off the event by asking the panel to talk about their favourite dishes. Elaine began with hers: noodles. 'Noodles of any kind! And chocolate is my secret passion.'

Organiser and contributor: Elaine Chiew

Ben Okri, contributed to Cooked Up with his 'stoku' – 'The Mysterious Anxiety of Them and Us' – and exclaimed that he has 'a love for all kinds of food' and referred to it as being 'one of the most beautiful parts of life…'

Nigerian pepper soup however, is definitely his ultimate dish. 'It opens up the tastebuds, makes you sweat and makes you really hungry.' Pepper soup is 'full of many different types of herbs' and can vary between Delta pepper soup to Aruba pepper soup. Richly flavoured – these spices are used to marinate the choice of meat or fish or vegetables. And that's just what he enjoys as a starter. 'For mains, joloff rice with plantain and black-eyed beans'.

For Krys Lee, who is of South Korean descent and lives in between the US, South Korea and Italy, her favourite food 'is always going to be home food. Food is such a pleasure and a nostalgia. I love dahls and different foods inspired by India and the time I spent there. I also have fond memories of making kimchi with my mother.'

Charles Lambert, who wrote 'The Noise, and After the Noise, the Calm' in Cooked Up based on his childhood spent on an egg farm in the Midlands, also spoke of a distinctively favourite meal or two:

'My private pleasure is definitely aubergine parmigiana (Charles lives in Rome with his partner) or slow cooked porky belly.' Long, slow cooking of food is a must for him because 'you can carry on talking and drinking before you sit down and eat.'

Charles also thinks of English cooking as comfort food or a symbol 'mother's affection' such as baked eggs with maybe a bit of salad cream and his best food memory is of 'sitting around a table in the Italian countryside.'

Elaine, who's earliest food memory was actually recounted to her by her mother, is of sardines. At first finding the salty snack a bit alarming, she then opened her mouth for more proving she had quite an adventurous palette even at a young age.

Ben's earliest food memory takes him back home to Lagos where he and his family are sat around the fireside and their mother is telling stories. 'The whole process of cooking comes with punctuating a story with the food.' He also remembers being 'summoned back from playing' by the aroma of his mother's stew.

'It was as if she was calling you with the fragrance of food.' A similar tactic he says relates to Indian restaurants cooking fried onions to entice passers-by. 'Fragrance is a tremendous promise and you can be easily seduced.'

'It's as if you have the 'taste first' and then 'the appreciation comes from the initial expectation and how descriptions can often affect reading.'

Krys Lee reading 'Fat' from Cooked Up

'I always had pasta and kimchi growing up, there was this sharing and mixing of culture,' added Krys, who also remembered being slightly embarrassed when her friends would come over to her house. Their first question would be 'what is that smell?'

At the end of the evening, the panel was asked if they eat while they write and if they do, what is their food of choice.

Ben was the first to reply who explained that he 'used to...especially when I used my typewriter. There's definitely a rhythm between writing and chewing on something. Like Ritz for example. I wrote one book largely on them.' (He then made a joke about that first chapter being quite dry which the audience appreciated.)

Ben Okri signing at Cooked Up LSSF Event

'Now,' Ben added, 'I handwrite and I don't eat or drink. But there is definitely an analogous relationship between writing and food. Writing can often be a process of slow cooking. A mixture of herbs say… an alchemy.'

'Or you can do it very quickly and it's perfect (like calamari) or too long and it's overdone,' Charles added further.

'I tend to eat while I write,' said Krys, ' my laptop is often covered with traces of my last snacks. I have notebooks smeared with chocolate. I am often at leisure with writing… Part of the pleasure of the body is combining the two together. Chewing also wakes you up, too.'

'And the act of writing is really so difficult,' said Ben, before the authors headed off to sign copies of the book. 'Feeding is a source of energy. There's a ritual quality of food...the consumption of cultures.'

Indian orphans sexually abused by western paedophile ring

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Goa was ‘discovered’ by hippies and backpackers in the 1960s and 1970s. thegypsynomads.com under a Creative Commons Licence

Goa, about 40 years ago, was just Goa. Home to a laid-back people who spread all over the world because the Portuguese colonial masters did little to educate or create job opportunities for the local population.

To the average Indian, indeed to most coastal people, except for Caucasians, beaches were places where one sometimes swam – or walked, dressed casually perhaps, but fully clothed – to enjoy the sea breezes. Old people, women and children gingerly tested the waters dipping a cautious foot in first, then perhaps wading in knee deep. People fished a lot. And wonderful seafood cuisines evolved..

Local people did not lounge on the beach for leisure. They scurried indoors to avoid the sun. This is true of most indigenous coastal populations around the world. Caucasians, coming from colder climes, raised their faces for the sun’s benediction. Local Asians or Africans thought this was crazy and left the sun-worship to, as Kipling put it, ‘mad dogs and Englishmen (who) go out in the noon-day sun.’

Goa was ‘discovered’ and became a ‘happening’ hot-spot with the invasion of hippies and backpackers in the 1960s and 1970s. Goans, generally tolerant people, soon became fed up of drugs and undressed people. They protested, but tourists brought in big bucks. The drugs and sex soon became big business. Environmentalists decried the destruction of  beaches. Ordinary families were infuriated by foreigners fornicating in full view of children and shocked passers-by. Now Indian tourists come to gawk at the nearly naked women, satisfying god-knows-what fantasies they conceive from phone porn clips. There is a Russian mafia and an Israeli mafia. There are beaches where Indians are not welcome and locals  dare not cross those boundaries. White women and drugs from Russia and Eastern Europe are trafficked at super high prices for those who can afford them. The mafia does not interfere with you if you don’t interfere with it.

Trafficking and drugs are part of a frightening world far away from my life. But an article in a local daily left me disturbed and sleepless.

A convicted British paedophile is resisting extradition to India to face charges of being part of the paedophile ring that sexually abused and tortured children in a Goa orphanage between 1986 and 1992.

Kerala, Goa, and other tourist destinations are hot-spots for western paedophiles, offenders often  escaping back to their own countries with impunity.  

The Indian government has filed an appeal in Britain for the extradition of Raymond Varleyto face charges of sexual offences against children in Goa. His lawyers claim he will commit suicide if he is retruned to India and that he cannot stand trial as he suffers from memory loss and dementia.

Indian and British activists are horrified that Varley, who has previous convictions for abusing children, may avoid trial after he managed to get a neuro-psychologist,  chosen by himself, to testify that he suffers from dementia.

Christine Beddoe, former director of End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking (ECPAT) UK, says: ‘Whether Raymond Varley is faking dementia or not, I am really shocked and dismayed that the Crown Prosecution Service failed to obtain an independent psychiatric assessment.’  

She adds: ‘If the current application for appeal on the extradition is refused, he will be a free man and will no longer be subject to his current restrictive bail conditions which prevent him from going near schools and children’s play areas.’

In light of Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent vow to fight child abuse, paedophile activity and porn, I am shocked that there seems to be more protection for paedophiles than for children. Child rights organizations like End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking (ECPAT), Save the Children and others, band together to get justice for British and Indian children? I urge them to do so. And I appeal to readers to write letters to the PM and relevant organizations. If we call ourselves civilized, we must protect our children.

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