Ever since Carry Somers called for fashion brands and retailers to use factories that treat their staff fairly and safely in the wake of the Rana Plaza tragedy, the world has started to listen. Two years on, Carry Somers tells The Pool that supply-chain transparency is still desperately needed, governments should do more and we're the ones with the real power...
What is Fashion Revolution Day?
Fashion Revolution Day was created after the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh. We wanted to create a positive and inclusive platform, bringing together all of those people who are working towards a more sustainable supply chain but weren’t talking to each other: the academics, the retailers and the brands implementing best practice, the designers who are up-cycling, the ethical producers. And we knew that we couldn’t let the Rana Plaza anniversary pass. If we didn’t capture some of the momentum generated, it would so easily be forgotten, and disasters on that scale could potentially continue.
What has the response been?
As soon as I had this crazy idea in the bathtub, it’s taken on a life of its own. It kept growing and growing until 62 countries were involved in the first year and 68 countries now. We didn’t want to be the people tying ourselves to the railings. We wanted it to be a positive campaign – something fun, something aimed at millennials, aimed at the shoppers out on Oxford Street, but trying to give them some alternatives. We wanted to show them that they have incredible power in their pockets, and to say don’t stop shopping at those shops you love, but hold those brands to account.
Do consumers care? Are we too apathetic?
I think people do care and things are changing. Research has shown that people are prepared to pay an extra five per cent to make sure their clothes are made in good conditions. So, even for people on low income who love shopping, purchasing garments ethically from the high street isn’t going to cost them a lot extra.
Can you tell me why you ask people to wear their clothes inside out on the 24th?
On the anniversary of the tragedy, we want people to take a selfie, showing the label on their clothing. We then ask people to tag the brand and ask them, "Who made my clothes?" An industry insider told me that, last year, for every one person who bothered to take an inside-out selfie and contact the brand, the brand took that as representing 10,000 people who thought the same way but couldn’t be bothered to anything about it.
We are on the eve of an election; what should the next government do to help this situation?
We really need to hold brands accountable for their actions outside of the EU. We need to highlight that a life of dignity doesn’t stop at the borders of Europe.
Do brands know what factories they're using?
They really don’t. That was shown in Rana Plaza. A lot of brands were saying we don’t know if we are producing there and people thought they were bluffing and trying to prepare their PR strategy, but they really didn’t know. There is a really fantastic Australian report called The Truth Behind the Barcode: The Australian Fashion Report, that has just come out – it’s got a whole section on transparency and traceability, and out of the brands that they surveyed, 91 per cent didn’t know where their raw materials came. So, how do you know you're not wearing a T-shirt made from slave labour? What are the standards with clothing, when you can basically sew on a Made In Italy label and that’s enough to say it was made in Italy?
Who do you think is doing a good job?
In terms of traceability, two of the brands highlighted in this report are Zara and Adidas. The report says Zara has put a whole new online system in place to cover their transparency and that they are also looking at subcontractors and fabric sourcing. I think Adidas have done a lot in recent years. They are publishing the country and the name of the factory for key events like the Olympics and FIFA World Cup. They also stated if there was any trade-union representation in the factory. That is a very positive move. H&M has just released its sustainability report and has committed to publishing their second-tier factories, looking at the mills and where their textiles come from.
Why are brands changing now?
I think it has a lot to do with the consumers. After Rana Plaza, they can’t hide anymore. We have just seen today that Benetton has finally paid $1.1m into the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund. That has only come from consumer pressure.
When did you start your journey, campaigning for ethical fashion?
I think the person who started the journey was Anita Roddick. It was solely because of picking up her book and reading her autobiography. I had just finished my masters and I had a fully funded PhD ahead of me, with five months off for the summer and nothing to do. I naively thought, if one woman can do this in the beauty industry with no real experience of beauty products, why don’t I try and do this in my summer holidays with fashion? I went to Ecuador and made some knitwear patterns and had all the buttons made by hand. They sold out in six weeks. I thought I can’t go on and do my PhD. This really has a chance of making a difference.
Be sure to take your own inside-out selfie, tag the brand on social media and ask them #whomadeyourclothes
For more ways to get involved, visit Fashion Revolution