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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.

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