Erin in conversation with Fashion Revolution founder Carry Somers

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Erin caught up with Carry Somers, the inspirational founder of Fashion Revolution during a recent trip to Dublin.

Hi Carry, thanks so much for coming in to the Re-dress studio as I know you are very busy! This years Fashion Revolution day raises the question; Who Made My Clothes. Could you tell me a little bit about the theme and what it hopes to achieve?

Yes. One of the most important issues to address in the fashion industry is transparency, and we saw that after the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh that so many brands really genuinely didn’t know that they were producing at the complex and this shows the complexity of the fashion supply chain. It has become fractured and the people who make our clothes are faceless and it is this disconnection, which is costing lives. And so, before we can start to talk about environmental issues or the water use and the energy and the carbon footprint, before we can talk about even more social issues like the living wage, I think we felt the most important issue to address was transparency. So that’s why we thought ‘Who Made My Clothes’ is a very simple way of consumers letting brands know that we need them to take responsibility for those people and communities on which their businesses depend.

Do you think a time will come when garment labels legally have to trace and describe where the clothes are made?

Oh gosh, I would love to think that day will come. If it does come, it is an incredibly long way off. It would be great to be able to label not just the last country where through which that item passed but at least all of the production countries which have been involved because you know if you are buying something which says made somewhere in Europe it could still be made of Uzbeki cotton which has been picked with child labour.

So I think the first stage really is to look at developing legal frameworks throughout the European Union which require the due diligence of European companies the length of their supply chain so that really our responsibility doesn’t stop at the borders of Europe, that we are accountable all the way. This is certainly something which could be implemented which could help avoid the worse forms of child labour and trafficking in the supply chain. There are precedence for that, we’ve got the proposed legislation about conflict-free minerals and minerals from high-risk areas and timber standards as well so I don’t think it would be impossible to imagine some sort of standard for the textile supply chain within the next ten years. If we have the will to do so!

Can you tell me a little bit about your opinion on fast fashion? I know it’s a huge picture when you look at this, but do you think it is something that is driven by the consumer?

Yes I think it’s very much driven by the consumer but it also is driven by the brands and retailers as a way to drive more profits. Prices of clothing are still falling and we’ve got 4 times as much clothing in our wardrobes now as we had in the 1980s, we’ve even got a third more clothing than we had 3 years ago! That’s astonishing considering we are not spending any more money, so somebody somewhere in the supply chain is suffering for that.

What we need to learn to do, at least for those people who are buying fast fashion is to keep the clothes a little bit longer. If you can, then all of those other costs in the supply chain are reduced and I was actually reading the head of London College of Fashion Francis Corner’s book and she says that we would save about €7 billion a year, in terms of the resources needed to manufacture, transport, launder and dispose of clothing, if everybody kept their garments for an extra 9 months. This is the equivalent of keeping each garment for the average of 3 years and also the knock on effect of that would be around about a 30% reduction in the environmental footprint of that item in terms of the water, waste and energy used.

What do you think could be done in terms of the way we shop? Do you think our attitudes have changed towards the things we buy?

 Yes I believe our attitudes have changed and it’s why we feel like we need to consume more because our needs aren’t being satisfied. Consumption is all about fulfilling our needs but one of our main needs is to belong in society and we feel like we can do that by buying beautiful clothing, but I think we could also meet those needs in a much deeper way if we were to build connections with a wider community of people who were making our clothes and designers can do that through telling the stories behind the garments and through showing the human face.

They can also do it by letting the consumer be a part of the design process as well and that means that our needs for collaboration and for creativity and identity can be met through the design process as well. I think there are certainly different ways to help to slow that process down because if you have been involved with the creation of the piece of clothing, whether through some sort of personalisation or something deeper you feel a lot more attachment to an item of clothing if you’ve invested something in its creation.

Can you tell us a little bit about the campaign for this year and how we can get involved on April 24th 2015?

Fashion Revolution is a platform for everybody who wants to see a better future for fashion. We’ve got 65 countries around the world involved now and the aim is to raise awareness of the true impact of fashion at every stage in the process of production and consumption.

We want to celebrate all of those people who are already creating a better future for fashion – all of the sustainable designers with whom we want to build connections throughout the supply chain. We want people to learn about the makers of their clothes. We also want to look towards long-term improvement within the fashion industry and really get consensus though from everybody in the supply chain about what changes need to happen.

As a platform we want everybody to be able to be involved and so there are three easy ways in which people can do that: Be curious, Find out and Do something about it. We want people to be curious about the clothes they are wearing and that’s why, on Fashion Revolution day on the 24th April, we ask everyone to wear an item of clothing inside out to start to look at your clothing differently, to look at the label and look at where it’s from. Then we want you to contact the brand, whether it is through social media or by phoning them, writing them a letter or email, or even asking the shop assistant the question, ‘Please can you tell me, who made my clothes?’ Let us know what answer you receive in response. Then perhaps you can do some more research, to try to find out more about that brand, to look and see what the alternatives are and to actually do something. That point is part of the European Year of Development, to encourage people to realize that they do have the potential to influence global decisions and actions.

Something as small as a tweet to the brand can make a huge impact. I heard from an industry insider that for every person who bothers to get off their backside and send a message to the brands last year, they considered that represented 10,000 people who thought the same but couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it. So we really can make a difference.

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