Modern slavery is rife in the fashion industry, but as we are becoming more and more aware of the systemic human rights violations across the world, our activist spirit has provoked us to stand up and speak up. Seen through the #PAYUP and #WHOMADEMYCLOTHES campaigns, we’re now starting to hold the government and big businesses accountable, disrupting a system that has been quietly going on far too long. There’s no doubt that this is a deeply complex problem – so we aim to investigate the topic further and shine a light on the brands who are proudly doing it right…
For years the fashion industry has thrived under a lack of transparency, only showing us what it is favourable to see. But with a global pandemic and an increase in online activism – social media use in Italy went up 70% between February and April 2020 – brands are rightly being held accountable for their shady business practices.
In March of this year, news broke that countless fashion brands were cancelling orders under force majeure clauses – freeing them from any contract they had with suppliers. Overnight, factories which had completed orders for western brands now had nowhere to send garments and weren’t receiving payment. Garment workers have been stripped of their income and job security at the hands of brands deny any responsibility. The online #PAYUP campaign identified which brands were refusing to pay for goods already in production, and publicly held them to account.
Fast forward to July, and more tales of worker exploitation hit the newsstands. Fast fashion giant Boohoo was found to be using factories in Leicester that were paying staff as little as £3.50 per hour. Sadly, it took the exploitation being much closer to home for the media to finally pick up on the gross negligence that runs throughout the industry. This isn’t the first time that Leicester’s garment factories have come under fire – a 2015 investigation found that over half of the city’s 11,700 garment workers were paid less than national minimum wage.
Analysts have suggested that Boohoo may have to move 40% of its production abroad to combat the bad press. But moving a problem out of sight does nothing to help the estimated 21 million people in supply chains worldwide who are victims of forced labour. Exporting exploitation to a country with less stringent employment practices only increases the risk of garment workers becoming stuck in a cycle of slavery. Modern slavery is a complex issue and it is not exclusive to retailers like Boohoo. Across the UK, 77% of leading retailers believe there are victims of modern slavery in their supply chains. Exploitation takes many forms, the most widespread of which is debt bondage – when an employee is forced into employment to pay off debt. They lose complete control of both their debt and working conditions, with their labour inevitably becoming worth a lot more than their initial debt.
Without the ability to negotiate wages or improve working conditions, garment workers become exposed to a lifetime of exploitation at the hands of fashion brands, who increasingly expect a faster turnover of goods for less and less money in return. The lack of transparency in the fashion industry has allowed modern slavery to thrive in the current climate. Brands shift responsibility onto the supplier and cut ties with the offending factory whilst moving on, free of blame, to another factory with similar practices. They want products made cheaply and quickly but act surprised when it is revealed that garment workers are paid pennies.
This year, the Clean Clothes Campaign released a report surveying major global fashion brands including ASOS, H&M and Nike and found that 93% weren’t paying garment workers a living wage. Poverty pay is yet another form of modern slavery, keeping garment workers unable to save money, pay for decent healthcare and continue education for their children. This cruel power imbalance throughout the supply chain has been designed to line the pockets of billionaires while keeping garment workers desperate for work.
Policy change and government intervention is essential to improving the lives of garment workers worldwide, but consumers also wield an immense amount of power when it comes to enacting change. During the #PAYUP campaign both Kylie Jenner and Arcadia Group brand Burton deactivated the comments feature on their Instagram pages after an influx of consumers asking why they were yet to pay their suppliers. Fashion Revolution’s #WhoMadeMyClothes hashtag has been used over 600,000 times by customers who want brands to open up their supply chains to public scrutiny.
Positive change can seem like an impossible task, but there are so many small actions we can take to make a difference. We don’t all have to be full time eco-warriors; we just need to put a little bit more thought into the choices we make.
If you’re low on cash but ready for a wardrobe refresh, clothes swaps are the perfect place to clear out and pick up new clothes at the same time. Look at what you no longer wear and swap it for something that needs a new lease of life. Collectively, we have so many clothes hidden in the backs of our wardrobes that are ready to be shown off on someone else’s Instagram feed. Hermione Berendt, founder of Revival Collective advises “Not only should we try to make better choices when we shop e.g. renting, choosing second hand, clothes made from organic or recycled materials etc, it’s still important to think about whether we really want or need a piece, and if we’ll wear it 30 times or more, even when we’re shopping in charity shops. This also applies to buying things to re-sell too. If we have the money to spend it’s tempting to snap up all the cute garms but there are other people who rely on charity shops to get nice quality clothing.”
Further to that, when buying new, think about where your money will go. Is it going straight into the bank accounts of billionaires or being distributed throughout the supply chain? Vote with your money. Brands only listen when it affects their bottom line, so invest in the ones that are leading the way, shop second hand where possible and leave fast fashion in the past.
Fanfare is a sustainable British fashion brand that sets out to create powerful, positive change in the fashion industry. Originally launched in 2018 under the name ‘Fabric For Freedom’ by Esther Knight, the collection combines bold and contemporary looks with repurposed and reused materials, designed to create a wardrobe of sustainable clothing made to last. We caught up with Esther to find out a little more about the brand that’s boldy making its mark on an industry that requires revolutionary change.
I first had the idea for Fanfare while I was working as a high street buyer. Buyers are responsible for the whole production line: your job is taking everything from sketch to store. You’re the one that’s selecting fabrics and the one picking the suppliers and you’re the one that is contributing to the sustainability – or the lack of sustainability – of the product. If there’s an unethical part of the supply chain, you tend to know about it, and if you don’t know about it, you’re certainly contributing to it. I was on the phone to the suppliers when they were still at work at 3 in the morning putting pressure on them to fulfil their orders and reduce their prices. I was doing this knowing that it isn’t going to be me as the brand that suffers, and it probably isn’t even going to be them as the supplier that suffers, it’s going to be the workers that suffer the most from this pressure. I saw this huge industry-wide problem very early on in my days working as a buyer and I just couldn’t ignore it, so I decided to make a change. I moved to Vivienne Westwood to learn more about ethical fashion, and there I spent quite a few years researching to decide whether starting my own business was the right step for me – I wanted to be around people with similar values so that I could help make a difference, and Vivienne Westwood was a great place to start.
At the time I found that there wasn’t a single business (we’re talking about 7 years ago now) that was doing all of the things that I wanted to do – being fair to people and the environment but at a more affordable price range than the likes of Stella McCartney or Westwood. I wanted to create that middle ground offering affordable and cutting-edge contemporary fashion without compromising on ethics. That’s when Fanfare was born, and the brand today feels like a culmination of everything I’ve been working towards for the last 10 years. At Fanfare I want to bring revolutionary change to fashion supply chains, end modern slavery in fashion and raise awareness around sustainability, all through the development of design-led contemporary clothing. We work with anti-trafficking charities such as IJM and A21 Campaign, both of which fight to free people from within the fashion industry across the world, helping local law enforcement to end slavery in the long term.
We see ourselves as a pioneer of a new type of fashion – brands that care about innovative design and creativity on the same level as the wellbeing of the people who work with us and the resources that we use to make our garments. It’s an exciting time for us; we recently underwent a rebrand, bringing a new collection and a whole new visual aspect to our website, and we were recently nominated for a Drapers Sustainable Fashion Award in the 2020 round.
It’s a tough time for a lot of people, but we’ve been fortunate that coronavirus hasn’t hindered our plans too much; as a small brand our operations can be done remotely which helps us to stay agile and adapt to these kinds of sudden changes.
Over the next few years, I would love to see Fanfare grow and make a big difference to the world of sustainability. Our business model holds people and the planet at its core – everything is made locally in London. The materials we use are all high quality and are certified from organisations such as GOTS and OEKO-TEX, so we’re really ensuring that everything we do has as little impact on the environment as possible. In the future, it would be amazing to have a physical retail space for our brand which we could use to help educate people as to why it’s so important to be aware of how your clothes are made and where they’re coming from, and help people make better choices in future when they’re buying new clothing.
FASHION SHOULDN’T COST THE EARTH.
If you’ve ever visited Brighton you’ve most likely found yourself fumbling around in the many colorful trinket-y shops found in the North Laines. You’ll also know that, among many other things, it’s got bohemian, floral & hippy vibes galore (kudos to Brighton for staying on-brand). You can usually gage a good idea of how close you are to these shops by how frequently you find your nose wafted with enchanting incense. Sitting sweetly on the outskirts of the ever many jewellery stands and rails of repurposed denim, you’ll find the vintage boutique, All about Audrey.
The charming lady behind it all, Audrey, is a far reach from her hometown in Dundee. But has been a vintage clothing fanatic since the 90s, when she became obsessed with finding old clothes and fruitful fabrics. Closely followed by her next biggest love: travel. Audrey has lived and worked in countries all over the globe including the South of France, Australia and the Swiss Alps. Her favourite pastime on her travels was discovering quirky shops and finding beautiful clothes and jewellery. This inspired her to start selling her own handmade jewellery on the beaches of Bora Bora, in Ibiza and even in the mountains of Chamonix *weeps at the sorry sight of dusty suitcases*. With the vision of opening a shop planted firmly in her head, Audrey made her way back to the UK and decided that the vibrancy and creative energy of Brighton made it the perfect place to settle and open her dream shop. There’s no question that All About Audrey fits in perfectly where she landed. Brighton’s infamous Laines are a tribute to how shopping locally can drive the local economy and for that matter, community spirit.
It’s important that we take it upon ourselves to support these livelihoods, giving priority over fast fashion giants wherever possible. While many of said giants were able to survive due to a surge in online shopping (boredom combined with the undying need to fill a void)). Many of the smaller inhabitants of the Laines haven’t had such luxury. This is your public reminder to think twice before you support the giants that induce modern day slavery and contribute to a huge percentage of the environmental damage seen today. It’ a much warmer feeling to know who you are supporting, and rock a piece that’s the only
of its kind.
If you visit the store, you can expect to find a mixture of vintage and handmade clothes and jewellery with a 70s vibe and a bohemian but also refreshingly unique feel. Audrey loves working with Indian patterns and often recycles fabric from sari’s to rework into beautiful dresses and clothes. Audrey’s passion for floaty silks, cotton dresses and wildflowers has become her trademark. Much like many other small businesses found amongst the Laines, Audrey was impacted by bitter crunch of lockdown. Audrey put most of her staff on furlough, with two staff staying on board, setting up studios in their own home to keep business going. Thanks to their online store and large social media following, the business was able to double online sales made during the lockdown period. Audrey found herself hand-delivering orders to locals. That’s not to say that business hasn’t been slow since the easing of lockdown, looming anxiety around job security and financial stability is evident. HOWEVER, things are picking up and Audrey and the team remain positive. So, what does the future hold for this gorgeous shop? Audrey plans to grow the brand’s online presence and carry on her travels overseas to source more vintage fabrics and hunt for new suppliers to make more beautiful, ethical and sustainable clothing, and we can’t wait to watch it grow!
All About Audrey