The Five Years of Fashion Revolution
by Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro
On 8 May 2013, the two of us wrote an email which began ‘like many, we have seen the terrible tragedy in Bangladesh as a call to arms and feel that we should build on the momentum which has been generated. An annual Fashion Revolution Day would be a way to ensure that these deaths are not in vain, show the world that change is possible, and celebrate those involved in creating a more sustainable future for fashion’.
The responses to our request for involvement fell into two quite clear camps. Many responded with no hesitation; one email we received back just said yes, yes, yes! Some expressed a degree of hesitancy. Do we really want to call for a revolution in the fashion industry? How about calling it Fashion Evolution? Although the two of us are very different in very many ways, we are remarkably similar in others: we are both entrepreneurs, both pioneers in our respective fashion spheres, both risk-takers and both have a fundamental belief in the power of people to effect change given the right motivation. We had no doubt that a revolution was needed – a radical and pervasive transformation of the way in which the fashion industry operates.
We were right to push for revolutionary change. People were ready to listen.
Looking back at the minutes from our very first meeting, we had real clarity around how we would communicate our message in order to accelerate change: we need one big aim; make it as visible as possible; keep it strong; make it positive without ignoring the negatives; make it inclusive; talk about how the relationship with the people who make our clothes has broken down and connections need to be reestablished. Finally, we needed to give people a question they can all ask: who made my clothes?
This clarity of vision, coupled with the right channels of communication, has made Fashion Revolution the biggest fashion activism movement in the world. We have teams in over 100 countries and there are well over 1000 events happening all around the world this week.
Fashion Revolution is first and foremost about people; it is about making visible the connections between everyone in the fashion supply chain as a first step towards change. We’ve made citizens realise that their own wardrobe is in the fashion supply chain, about three-quarters of the way between the cotton seed and recycling the fibres. Everything we do has an impact on that supply chain. We reshape the fashion industry, the lives of its workers and its resources, every time we buy or dispose of an item of clothing.
Fashion Revolution was set up for the love of people, in memory of those who died at Rana Plaza, those who have died in countless other fires and building collapses in garment factories around the world, and those who are still losing their lives every week so we can wear beautiful clothes. That love of people continues to shine through. We are not about celebrities. We are not about power and success. We are about humanity. Fashion is about instant gratification. We are about the long term gratification that comes from knowing entire workshops, factories and communities are slowly becoming visible. We see empowerment not as a celebrity wearing a feminist slogan T-shirt on instagram, but as the workers who made that T-shirt being given a voice through the garment worker diaries project. When we inaugurated a new hashtag #Imadeyourclothes in 2016, someone commented on social media that it represented ‘the most joy I’ve ever had from a hashtag!’
We’ve given everyone tools to take part – there are online packs for brands and retailers, producers, makers and factories and educators. For fashion-lovers, as well as a Get Involved pack, there is our How to be a Fashion Revolutionary booklet, our fanzines Money Fashion Power and Loved Clothes Last, our guides to the #Haulternative and Love Story challenges. There are endless ways in which everyone can take part from changing your attitude, to changing your wardrobe, to changing your world. We’ve encouraged millions of people to Be Curious, Find Out, and Do Something. We don’t have all the answers. We want to encourage everyone to ask questions of their favourite brands, to do their own research, to use their power as consumers to hold the industry to account for its actions and impacts.
We called for a revolution at the right time as the infrastructure of the industry, and the industry itself, have shifted in the past five years. We were right to call for a revolution because both ideas and practices had to be refashioned, a new paradigm was needed, and we can see this starting to happen. A revolution means change and change represents freedom. There is excitement around this change; it no longer feels dull nor scary, but represents a creative space in which to operate. Everyone within this space at this time can be considered a pioneer, and pioneers don’t have references – they make their own.
Five years on, a Fashion Revolution is taking place. Not fast enough, not enough engagement throughout the industry, but make no mistake it is happening. It’s bubbling up through the cracks and crevices, it can no longer be submerged. In another five years it will be a raging torrent, reshaping everything in its path. If you aren’t part of this movement, you will be swept along by it (or perhaps even swept away by it) as the structure of the fashion industry is revealed and revolutionised.
We are Fashion Revolution. Join us.