#WhoMadeMyClothes; Why the hashtag campaign for social and economic justice matters

by: Sara on 04/23/2015

Today's blog post about Fashion Revolution Day, and the #WhoMadeMyClothes campaign comes to us from Michael Lavergne the author of the upcoming Fall 2015 release, Fixing Fashion, Rethinking the Way We Make, Market and Buy Our Clothes. Michael is an ethical supply chain professional who has spent the past eighteen years leading sourcing initiatives across Asia, Latin America, The Middle East, Africa and North American markets. He gained experience in labor, human rights and environmental issues in Central America, Mexico and SE Asia and has supported responsible industry development in East Africa and The Middle East.

Leading up to April 24th and the second anniversary of the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh social media networks are abuzz with a poignant question few consumers are able to answer; who made my clothes?

 The lack of a reply to this simple question has far reaching implications well beyond the global garment trade, the proverbial ‘poster child’ for labour intensive manufacturing sectors. Dozens of consumer goods industries have followed the trails blazed by apparel brands which have over the past seventy odd years here in North America, been pushing ever greater amounts of manufacturing to low cost countries where health, human rights, safety and environmental enforcement has often been lax, to put it mildly.

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Our toys, tools and furniture, laptops, books, stationary supplies, medical equipment et cetera have increasingly made their ways out of our communities and economies to far flung destinations few of us will ever visit. Meanwhile many of the multinational brands and retailers which have retained design and intellectual property centres in North America have ‘relocated’ on paper, funneling profits through offshore tax entities in Barbados, the Cayman Islands and Hong Kong among others. Not only have the jobs tied to making everyday consumer goods been purposefully torn from our shores but in adding insult to injury the people who sell them back to us then cheat local communities of public investments in health, education and infrastructure.

Decades into a global revolution in apparel manufacturing which has put fast, cheap fashion into the hands of all but the most destitute among us (and even they are often left with little choice but to accept the cast offs of our voracious need for constant newness) a growing awareness of these issues seems to be creeping into mainstream thought. A growing number of industrial accidents and globalization’s communication revolution have brought many of the issues faced by workers at out of sight, out of mind factories half way around the world into our homes and classrooms. From the tragedy in Bangladesh to recent factory fires in Pakistan to last year’s strikes by thousands of Cambodian apparel workers it is increasingly difficult to feign ignorance of these troubling events.

From out of the many discussions between stakeholders of what exactly to do about the issues at hand a small but vocal minority within the industry have been calling for a return to

localized, traditional fabric crafts which have almost been lost to us. The ‘go local’ or ‘meet your maker’ movements which are just now gaining traction and attention in the West don’t always call for offshore jobs to come flooding home. (Frankly it’s a long shot that such an effort would have any measurable success.) What they have latched onto though and what they do in varying degrees espouse, is a reconnection with those who provide us the goods and services we need to live our daily, modern lives. They have called for greater knowledge and awareness of the origins and impacts of the materials used to provide us a whole range of consumer goods and this has resonated with many people in our depressed and manufacturing-vacant communities. It is a first important step towards rethinking the business models, largely designed to maximize profitability above all else, that have grown into complex global webs of systemic exploitation into which we have been co-opted.

More than simply a social media or hashtag fad then, ‘Who made my clothes?’ is a late stage wake up call to each and every one of us concerned with the future of our communities, the strength of our economies and the dignity of the human spirit.

Coming Spring 2015

 

 

 

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