Friday, 24 April 2015

Fashion Revolution Day: who made your fabric?

As a sewer, the answer to the question, "who made my clothes?" can often be, "I did!" I'm a long way from having an entirely me-made wardrobe - not sure I'm even aiming for that - but I do really enjoy noticing that pretty much every load of laundry we do now includes at least one thing that I sewed. Who made my clothes? Not an underpaid, exploited worker in a dangerous factory somewhere: I made them myself.
If I stop there, though, at that feeling of pleasure [virtuousness? self-congratulation??] at being able to sew my own clothes, I think I'm missing the point of the question. Cutting and sewing fabric is just the final stage of making a garment. It's understandable that it's that stage that comes to mind today, because we're commemorating the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster that killed 1,133 (or more) people who were mostly garment workers. But there's a lot of work that goes into producing clothing before the cutting and sewing happens - starting with growing cotton (or flax, hemp, bamboo, nettles, pine trees, banana palms...) from seed, or raising sheep, goats, silk worms, or llamas, or maybe drilling for oil, through all sorts of processes (some much more complex/polluting/resource-hungry than others) just to make yarn, and then onto dyeing, knitting or weaving. People are involved at every step. Much has been done to make our home-sewn clothes before we ever pick up our scissors.

So instead of using Fashion Revolution Day as a celebration of home-sewing, a kind of fun warm-up to Me-Made May, maybe we could adapt the question so that it serves its intended purpose: to encourage us to think about people we often forget, who work to produce the goods that we buy. Who makes my fabric? Where are they? Are they working in safe conditions? Are they paid a fair wage for their labour? Can they unionise to defend their rights? Is their neighbourhood impacted positively or negatively by the production of the cloth (or the raw materials for it) that I buy?
With so much choice confronting us when we shop for fabric (or clothes), it's hard to keep sight of these issues. We all prefer not to ask uncomfortable questions, and instead we get caught up in the search for - or the thrill of finding - just the right shade of blue, the perfect drape, the ideal amount of stretch, the prettiest-ever print, and all at a good price... We don't actually believe that any of those things are more important than the safety and well-being of our fellow humans, but we're easily led to behave as if they are. I "need" some turquoise striped jersey - but not like the person picking the cotton needs a living wage and protection from deadly pesticides. We forget to think of it that way; the point of Fashion Revolution Day is to remind us.