So Kate Middleton has been shopping locally for her trip to India. Good for her for supporting the local economy – and respecting the fashion talent and craftsmanship of her host country. After she wore a £140 patchwork print dress by the House of Anita Dongre based outside Mumbai, the fashion brand’s website crashed with people trying to put in orders; Anita Dongre was firmly on the international fashion map. The power of Kate Middleton!
What was interesting however, was not the fact that this dress is about to be cloned on an industrial scale but that the dress could be traced back to the seamstresses who worked on it. Babita Sabath and Chanda Padol were photographed in the airy, light and spacious factory where the clothes are made. Babita, 35, looked happy and proud of her work – despite the fact that it was reported that she earns 7,500 Rs per month (£75). That works out at £3 per day – a shockingly small amount to be paid for making a dress fit for a princess (or for anyone for that matter).
The Daily Mail described her as the ‘Slumdog Seamstress’. While she is appalingly paid, Babita is infact paid more than many of her garment worker compatriots – and appeared to be working in a safe and well-managed environment. In India garment workers are earning an average of 6,284 rupees (£64) but the workers’ rights group Labour Behind the Label estimates that they need to earn more than double that amount for a decent living. The House of Anita Dongre is an upmarket fashion brand that produces limited numbers of clothes. It is a world away from the fast fashion industry that employ the majority of the country’s textile and garment workers.
It’s a great moment to reflect on not just who makes the Duchess of Cambridge’s clothes, but on who makes our clothes in general. In a perfect world, we would be able to link everything we buy with the woman (as it usually is) who made them. In this well-connected digital world, you’d imagine that wouldn’t be such a difficult ask. But the reality is, most of the high street brands – and many of the designers – who produce our clothes have no idea about who is making them, or in what conditions. There is a lack of transparency in the fashion industry that veils a supply chain that has become completely out of control. Far few brands could show you the Babita who sewed your jeans, your sweatshirt or your new Anita Dongre look-a-like boho frock.
In India garment workers are earning an average of 6,284 rupees (£64) but the workers’ rights group Labour Behind the Label estimates that they need to earn more than double that amount for a decent living
On Monday these issues will be scrutinised during the second Fashion Question Time at the Houses of Parliament hosted by Mary Creagh MP. Panellists will include Livia Firth, Creative Director of Eco Age, Jenny Holdcroft, Policy Director at IndustriALL Global Union, Mike Kane MP, Shadow Minister for International Development, and Allanna McAspurn, CEO MADE-BY. It is a rare opportunity to discuss one of the least glamorous aspects of the fashion industry – how justice can be achieved for garment workers around the world.
The event will mark the start of Fashion Revolution week 2016 which is a week of activities designed to make us remember the Rana Plaza factory disaster which killed 1,134 and injured 2,500 garment workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2013. Campaigners in 84 countries around the world are demanding a cleaner, fairer more transparent fashion industry. It’s a very simple call to action.
Orsola de Castro who started Fashion Revolution with her fellow campaigner Carry Somers, was delighted to see the makers behind the Duchess of Cambridge’s dress. In fact, the Duchess is a fashion revolutionary in the making. ‘She obviously loves her clothes: she wears them several times, re-styles them to make them look new and relevant, and passes them on to family or friends,’ says de Castro. ‘Whether she buys "pret-a-jeter" (my new word for fast fashion!) or designer, she cares for her garments the same way. That to me implies that she makes a genuine emotional connection, which is ultimately the one way one can be sustainable, by loving the clothes you wear.’
Carry Somers agrees. ‘Fashion Revolution wants all brands to be able to answer the question #whomademyclothes. We are delighted to see that the House of Anita Dongre is able to show us the faces, too often hidden, of the people making the Duchess of Cambridge's dress. Answering the question Who Made My Clothes requires transparency, and this implies honesty, openness, communication and accountability.’
To find out how you can make a difference and be part of the Fashion Revolution go to to fashionrevolution.org. There are loads of ways to get involved, and if there are no activities planned where you are, download the How to be a Fashion Revolutionary booklet (with an intro by yours truly) and get inspired to create your own event. Don’t forget to ask #whomademyclothes – and don’t stop until you get an answer.
Fashion Revolution week is 18-24 April