This year, Fashion Revolution’s annual campaign has expanded into a week-long series of events featuring hundreds of activities, stunts and social experiments across 84 countries worldwide. Throughout Fashion Revolution Week, April 18th to 24th, consumers will demand transparency and raise awareness of exploitation in the fashion supply chain by posting on social media using the hashtag #WhoMadeMyClothes.
Fashion Revolution plans to “directly challenge every stakeholder in the fashion supply chain – retailers, brands, factories and private label manufacturers, to start to tackle exploitation in the industry by demonstrating transparency,” with its 2016 campaign. Companies will be invited to show responsibility by sharing the faces and stories of the farmers, makers and producers involved in their supply chain, answering with the hashtag #IMadeYourClothes.
Fashion Revolution will also publish a Transparency Index, developed in partnership with Ethical Consumer, assessing 40 of the top selling global and national brands in the United Kingdom (UK).
To kick off the week’s events on Monday April 18, the UK Houses of Parliament will host “Fashion Question Time,” which will feature a panel of leading fashion industry experts including designer and entrepreneur Livia Firth, who is also the creative director of sustainability consultancy Eco Age and an Executive Producer for the film, The True Cost.
Consumers are invited to participate in local events and online, such as by posting a photo of their clothing’s label on social media and tagging the brand “to get the real story behind what they’re wearing,” or by creating a #haulternative video showing off their previously-loved fashion finds as a way of refreshing their wardrobe without buying new items.
Each day will also have a theme, such as: “Let’s be Transparent: Looking at how brands are performing with supply chain transparency;” “How To Be a Fashion Revolutionary,” focusing on better ways to buy, wear and dispose of fashion, and coinciding with the launch of the #haulternative campaign; or “It's Time For a Fashion Revolution,” which will focus on policy issues, Fashion Revolution Co-Founder Carry Somers told The Huffington Post in an interview. She added that her organization is keeping these issues on the policy agenda by collaborating as a key stakeholder in the European Commission’s Garment Initiative which will launch this spring.
“Who Made My Clothes should be a simple question. Most people would expect a brand to at least know the final factory where their garments are cut and sewn,” said Orsola de Castro, Co-Founder of Fashion Revolution. “The Behind the Barcode Fashion Report published last year found that 48% of brands hadn’t traced the factories where their garments were made, 75% didn’t know where their fabrics came from and 91% didn’t know where the raw materials came from.”
“Brands rarely acknowledge that the clothes they sell have been made by thousands of people working in factories, fields and other hidden places around the world. The global fashion industry is opaque, exploitative and environmentally damaging and desperately needs revolutionary change. Producers have become faceless and this is costing lives.”
Somers and de Castro launched Fashion Revolution as a one-day event in 2014 as a call for a more ethical fashion industry on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh which killed over 1,130 and injured over 2,500 people on April 24, 2013. Now in its third year, the event has grown into a full week.
However, the 2016 campaign coincides with H&M’s first “World Recycle Week,” through which the retailer aims to rally 1,000 tonnes of garment donations across its 3,600 worldwide stores, and is incentivising donations by offering discount vouchers to those who participate. To promote the ambitious campaign, the company partnered with artist and singer M.I.A. on the release of a song, “Rewear It,” and music video.
Fashion Revolution and some of its fans were not pleased by this ‘coincidence,’ and have accused H&M of trying to steal their thunder. The Fashion Revolution team published a blog last week saying, “We applaud the good work that H&M is doing with women and girls’ education programs, or by publishing 95% of its cut-make-trim factories and 35% of its textile and yarn mills, by using organic and sustainable materials in the Conscious Collection, and the fact that it has committed itself to a paying a living wage for 60% of the garment workers in its supply chain by 2018.
“While H&M certainly does more than most fast fashion retailers when it comes to social and environmental issues, they’re also not being totally honest with their customers.”
The blog goes on to slam H&M for not making the campaign a collaborative effort with other brands, accusing the company of misleading consumers about the amount of reclaimed clothing it will actually turn into new textile fibres, questioning the profits made from second-hand reselling, and pointing out that a recent investigation found H&M is “dramatically behind schedule” in its fire safety improvements in garment factories in Bangladesh.
Mostly, the blog stresses that Fashion Revolution is intended to commemorate the Rana Plaza tragedy, and as a time to work in solidarity to improve the industry. “The outrage is actually that it is disrespectful,” De Castro told The Guardian. “We’re remembering the carnage, not staging a carnival where people go around dressed in fashion waste.
“When you focus on pushing an initiative that’s about buying and consuming more, you do nothing to challenge the idea of garment workers as machines.”
In response, H&M clarified that any proceeds from reclaimed garments is invested “into social projects, as well as research and innovation projects on how old textiles can be turned into new fibres,” and released the following statement: “As soon as Fashion Revolution made us aware of their concerns, we clearly communicated that we do not have the intention to build this particular week as a recurring World Recycle Week in the future, and immediately offered to choose another week if we were to do another World Recycle Week-campaign next or in the coming years.”
As Fashion Revolution blog post says, H&M’s “big effort to address an epic textile waste problem is a good thing,” but the organization reminded conscious consumers, “if you’re planning to go into H&M that week and bring back your unwanted clothes, make sure you also ask H&M #whomademyclothes and urge them for a real answer. If you could know the story behind what you’re wearing, wouldn’t that make you appreciate it more? And if you’re planning to use that H&M voucher, then make sure you buy something you know you’re going to wear a minimum of 30 times… or better yet ask yourself if you really need it at all.”