with COP26 finished in Glasgow, it feels like climate change is firmly on the agenda. A UN report found that if we carry on at our current rate of growth by 2050, it will take the equivalent of almost 3 planets worth of resources to maintain our modern lifestyles.
But what can we do now? With so many world leaders having met at COP26 it’s a really important time to demand action from our governments, whether by contacting them directly or signing petitions. Contacting the companies that make our clothes, food and other products to demand transparency and change in their unsustainable supply chains can help to make them take action.
On a personal level, using the clothes and products we already own and repairing them when they’re broken can help save resources. Sign up for our newsletter to find out more about our clothes mending workshops, including a free monthly virtual mend-a-long.
Have you started wearing your winter clothes and noticed they need a bit of TLC? We have arranged lots of clothes mending workshops to help you those jumpers, tights and socks darned, jeans patched and hems repaired.
31 October | ‘Fix your Knitwear’ workshop at Woodfield Pavilion
Join us for this workshop to pick up some new sewing techniques that will help you to repair and refresh your tired knitwear. Save a jumper Save the planet!
Tickets are £15 per person (plus booking fee) and includes a small kit of 4 x needles, a selection of yarns (3 woollen yarns and 2 cotton yarns) and a ‘How to Darn’ instructional card.
It isn’t a formal teaching session, an hour to encourage us all to get our clothes mended.
7:30 to 8:30pm
6th November | Sutton Japanese Boro Workshop
Set in the unique Tudor setting of Whitehall Historic House, this workshop will help you mend and up-cycle old or damaged clothes. The workshop will take you through the basics ‘visible mending’ techniques to leave you feeling All materials and kit will be provided in the workshop.
A regular sewing workshop at The Create Place in Bethnal Green Eleanor and Sarah are on hand to help you repair and upcycle your clothes, practice techniques on examples or bring along your own clothes to repair and alter.
We’ll be joining forces with the Woodfield Pavilion, in Tooting Bec Common, to host some workshops as part of their Big Green Weekend and Tooting RepairFest on the weekend of 30th and 31st October.
The first workshop on Saturday 30th will be a ‘Collaborative Protest Coat’ workshop, where we’ll be asking people to take part in stitching a community protest coat using the slogan ‘Repair for our future!’. The workshop runs from 12pm – 2.30pm and it’s free to attend, you can find out more details and sign up on Eventbrite here.
The second workshop on Sunday 31st will be a ‘Fix your Knitwear’ workshop where we’ll be covering a range of visible and invisible mending skills that can be used to repair holes in jumpers, tidy up ragged cuffs, or cover stains including basic darning, Swiss darning, and some ‘quick fix’ techniques. The workshop runs from 1pm – 2.30pm and tickets are £15 (plus booking fee) including a small kit to take home with you, you can find more information and book your ticket on Eventbrite here.
Check out www.thewoodfield.org to find what else is going on for Woodfield Pavilion’s Big Green Weekend over 30th and 31st October.
We’re also working with Tooting RepairFest, which celebrates and promotes local fixing and mending, launches this week! Full details, including how to book events (and a link to a map of local repair businesses) HERE
As it is Oxfam’s #secondhandseptember this month, we’ll be sharing some of our favourite second hand clothing that we’ve collected over the years! We treat buying second hand and repairing our clothes as a year round obsession but if you’re new to the world of second hand, this month is a great place to start! Every September Oxfam asks people to make a pledge to only buy second hand for the month to help reduce the number of clothes going to landfill and raise awareness around the need for more sustainability in the fashion industry. You can do this either buy shopping in charity shops, using resale apps and sites or taking part in a clothing swap.
Eleanor: I got into buying second hand when I was a teenager as vintage clothes were coming back into fashion and the high street in my hometown pretty much only had charity shops to choose from. Skip forward ten years and I’ve ended up in Streatham, which apparently has the most charity shops on a high street in Europe (I haven’t fact checked that but there are a lot!). So buying second hand has become second nature. A little about my second hand outfit – the blue floral kimono I inherited from my Nanna (with some patching and darning to keep it together), the patterned velvet top was a Depop purchase, the black Levi skirt was bought in a vintage shop in Brighton, the gold necklace as also inherited and my Puma trainers were another Depop purchase!
Sarah: This top started life as a large scarf. I saw it in a charity shop on the south coast. I’m really into 1980’s prints at the moment and was drawn to it’s graphic style and bright colours. I’m not a scarf person so I turned it into a top. There was plenty of fabric and I kept the frayed hem of the scarf for the hem of my top. I used a pattern I found in a charity shop. Charity shops are a great source of second hand sewing equipment and haberdashery.
What are you wearing this SecondhandSeptember?
Second Hand Clothing Mountain
Find out why we are supporting Oxfam’s Secondhand September – our blog post tries to explain why we have a mountain of clothes and tips on how to reduce textile waste.
Fast Fashion Therapy at The Create Place, Bethnal Green
Mending Monday was in full swing at The Create Place this week. Thanks to everyone who came along, here is how we got on…
Jess brought a few items along including these dungarees and a halter neck dress that had both ripped in the side seams. She pinned the seams back together before stitching them on the sewing machine. She finished off the edges with a zig zag stitch to prevent the seams from fraying. Jess also fixed a blouse where the sleeve had come away from the cuff. She brought the fabric down to the inside of the cuff and fixed it with a zig zag stitch on the sewing machine.
Sarah returned with another pair of jeans to fix. They had the common problem of fraying on the inner thigh seam and in the knee. Sarah didn’t want to throw the jeans away as there was nothing wrong with the rest of the denim. She used the sewing machine to secure the patch and cover the holes with a zig zag stitch. Sarah also brought a blouse where the sleeves were too tight. She cut off the sleeves and is in the process of neatening the edges to create a sleeveless blouse.
Eileen brought along this beautiful printed skirt which sadly has a couple of rips in the back. She didn’t want to give up on the skirt so is repairing it with a patch. Rummaging in the fabric stash, Eileen found this happy clashing patch to reinforce the weak fabric on her skirt. She started to repair the tear using a Boro stitch.
Connor brought along a couple of pairs of jeans to repair that had holes in them. He had never used a sewing machine before… As you can see, he did a great job patching the jeans using a zig zag stitch on the sewing machine. And a bright red contrast stitch on the reverse.
Karen was busy recovering a seat cushion cover and ask questions on how to mend a blouse and a pair of trousers that had ripped. It is work in progress so we will post photos on a later newsletter. Want to join us? scroll down to find more information on how to join one of our in person or virtual workshops…
Want to join us to mend your clothes? We host regular workshops on a Monday evening:
Mending Monday was in full swing this week at The Create Place this week. Thanks to everyone who came along, here is how we got on…
Justin did a great job mending a rather large patch on the knee of his jeans. First of all he reinforced the hole by placing a denim patch behind the hole. Then zig zag stitched it in place using the sewing machine. He ironed on these fun patches over the hole. We recommended to Justin to hand sew the patches using an over stitch. It helps keep them in place.
Sarah brought her favourite jeans with her to fix. They had the common problem of fraying on the inner thigh seam. Sarah didn’t want to throw the jeans away as there was nothing wrong with the rest of the denim. She used the sewing machine to secure the patch and cover the holes with a zig zag stitch.
Jess found a replacement button that co-ordinated with the button on the other side of the dungarees. It was a shank button and she sewed it on with a double thread to prevent it from falling off again. How to sew on a button. Jess found a replacement button that co-ordinated with the button on the other side of the dungarees. It was a shank button and she sewed it on with a double thread to prevent it from falling off again. How to sew on a button.
Scroll down to find more information on how to join one of our in person or online workshops…
Saturday 3 July, 2 to 3:30pm ‘Fix your Clothes’ Workshop at Whitehall Historic House, Sutton: In this ‘Fix your Clothes’ workshop hosted by Whitehall Historic House, we’ll give you an introduction to the repair skills of darning and patching, and provide you with some of the materials you need to get started. Each participant will receive a kit to use during the workshop, the kit will include a selection of woven and knitted fabric patches, 1 cotton yarn, 1 woollen yarn, 1 regular sewing thread, 2 needles, and an instructional card for each technique for you to look back at after the workshop. Tickets are £10 Book via Eventbright.
The Remakery, Brixton, London
Third Monday of the month 6:30 to 8pm : We have teamed up with The Remakery for a regular clothes mending workshop. The format is the same as our session at The Create Place. Bring along an item of clothing that needs mending, along with a basic sewing kit. There are a few sewing machines available, iron and ironing board. Please let us know what you are mending in advance and we can bring along the relevant materials as we don’t have any storage at The Remakery. Book via Eventbrite, cost is £3.50.
The Create Place, Bethnal Green, London
Second and Fourth Mondays of the month 6:30 to 8pm We are back at The Create Place in Bethnal Green. Spaces are limited to 4 people and full details will be sent in advance so we can stay Covid safe. To help manage the limited space only one person can book one place per month. For example if you book for the 14th June you can’t book for 28th June. We are not advertising on Eventbrite, please email us if you would like to book for July.
First Monday of the month we host a free online mend-a-long. Bring along a couple of pieces of clothes mending with a basic sewing kit. Connect with us on video call and join in the chat as we mend. Feel free to ask us and the group questions. Sign up for our newsletter for joining details which are sent a few days in advance (previously on Zoom but we are exploring other platforms). (no online workshop in July, next meet up is 2nd August.
We look forward to seeing you online or in person at a workshop soon.
Congratulations to Fashion Revolution on another successful Fashion Revolution Week! The week kicked off with a thought provoking Fashion Question Time that focused on Rights, Relationships and Revolution. Particularly the link between climate and racial injustice. Thanks to everyone for commenting on our social media posts and joining our mend-a-longs. This is what we learnt…
1. Environmental and human rights need to be top of the agenda for business
Respecting nature and the rights of workers should be a moral obligation, it is also the only way that industry can continue to be viable into the future. There is a necessity to work with nature to create new methods of production, to build workplaces that are safe for and respectful of their workers and to strive towards a circular economy.
2. What’s in my clothes?
A shocking number of chemicals are used in our clothing, with around 800 of them known to interfere with hormones in both males and females. Since 1996 the EU has recognised these chemicals as hazards but she again highlighted how the interconnectedness of government and business meant it had been hard to get them banned. We asked Playtex and M&S #whomademyclothes and #whatsinmyclothes ? Playtex sent us a link to their sustainability credentials. We followed up asking why it is difficult to find this information on their e-commerce sites and why they haven’t taken part in the Fashion Revolution transparency index.
3. We have consumer power
Earlier this week there was news of a football EU super league, which the fans protested against. Within 24 hours of the pressure from the fans the league and government threatening with legislation all 6 UK clubs pulled out. The league can’t make a profit if nobody watches and the TV companies don’t pay for the rights. Just think how we could change the fashion industry if we stopped buying clothes from brands that don’t pay their garment workers a fair wage. If we stopped buying clothes made from chemicals and fibres that damage the Earth, the brands would have to adapt their sourcing policies to appeal to the consumers.
‘…if people are willing it could happen tomorrow, or it could be years and years…nothing is impossible.’
Nazma Akter , Fashion Question Time
4. Legislation is key to genuine change
Preventing Fashion’s negative effects on the Earth clearly isn’t as top of the UK Government’s agenda as football is. The UK Government rejected 2019 Fixing Fashion’s report by the Environmental Audit Committee which could have brought in some legislation against the negative effects of Fashion on the earth. Governments and businesses need to start putting the planet and people before profit. Governments need to shift subsidies from supporting damaging industries to fund those that are sustainable and ethical and to put legislation in place to give workers, consumers and citizens a voice
5. Consume less + mend more!
‘If we consume less it automatically reduces the number of plastics and chemicals in our clothes.’ Baroness Bennet of Manor Castle, Green Party. Before buying new clothes, consider what we already have in our wardrobes. Why hasn’t an item of clothing been worn for a while? Can it be repaired or altered into something you will wear? Or re-sell it on one of the many resell apps available for someone else to love. Follow one of our videos teaching how to mend clothes or join one of our workshops.
About Fashion Revolution Week: This is the eighth year in which the charity ask us to challenge our favourite fashion brands with the question #whomademyclothes? Fashion Revolution was established in 2013 a year after the Rana Plaza disaster that killed 1138 garment workers in Bangladesh. Since then charity have been campaigning globally against the human and environmental consequences of the fashion industry. Encouraging brands to change their practices to a more transparent and circular model.
Fashion Question Time has become a key part of the Fashion Revolution Week calendar over the last few years and acts as an essential platform in bringing together activists, legislators and business owners, allowing the general public to ask them questions and hearing their ideas from inside the industry.
This years’ panel focused on ‘Rights, Relationships and Revolution’ and was made up of Nicole Rycroft, founder and executive director of Canopy, Nazma Akter, a Bangladeshi trade unionist and founder of AWAJ Foundation, Lara Wolters, a Dutch politician and member of European Parliament and Sunny Dolat, a creative director and co-founder of The Nest Collective . Chaired by Baroness Lola Young, co-chair of the UK’s Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion parliamentary group, the panel seemed to be truly representative of the different perspectives that form the fashion industry.
‘The health of the world is essential for people and future generations…Nature needs to be seen as a stakeholder’
Below we go through some of the questions asked and some key takeaways from the session.
Lara Wolters and Sonny Dolat both acknowledged how climate and racial justice are so strongly connected generally, but particularly within fashion. Dolat discussed how ‘as far back as the 1950s the garment industry has relied on black and brown labour‘ and when it comes to the climate crisis, black and indigenous communities are the ones that suffer first. He also talked about how the industries desire to always find the cheapest labour meant that suppliers with bad working practices were moving between countries to set up new factories. Ethiopia is meant to be the next hotspot for the garment industry but one of the main draws here is the lack of a minimum wage.
Wolters talked about many of the ‘undesirable consequences of the fashion industry‘ and of the people affected by racial and social injustice. But she also highlights how many of these ‘oppressed people are now getting a voice’ through social media and there is a much greater awareness of the problems. At the moment there are no straightforward solutions but this pressure will force companies to start making some.
Nazma Akter felt strongly that sustainable consumption wasn’t possible under capitalism asking ‘eight years after the Rana Plaza disaster, what has changed? Nothing’.
Akter discussed how even during a strict lockdown in Bangladesh, factory owners put pressure on the government to keep factories open, particularly as lockdowns were eased in Europe and the USA. She felt there had to be a ‘fight against capitalism and neoliberalism’ in order to place the needs and rights of workers at the top of the business owners priorities.
‘There is a necessity for a fundamental rethink of how we think about business…fundamentally, it’s a question of social and racial justice’
Barroness Lola Young
Wolters responded to this question by discussing the shocking number of chemicals used in our clothing, with around 800 of them known to interfere with hormones in both males and females. Since 1996 the EU has recognised these chemicals as hazards but she again highlighted how the interconnectedness of government and business meant it had been hard to get them banned. ‘Lobby from the industry on these chemicals has been powerful’ leaving legislators fearful that any ban would affect the EU’s trade agreement with the US. There is some hope as an EU commission is still working on banning these chemicals in products with exceptions only being allowed if their use is proven essential for society.
All the panellists felt the need for both incentives and penalties from governments in order to encourage sustainability and innovation in the fashion industry. Dolat mentioned how these are essential as ‘if governments don’t incentivise innovation then people will replicate failed models’.
Wolters discussed how attempts at voluntary schemes have not really worked, and often allowed companies to greenwash or hide bad practices more easily. Legislation needs to affect shareholders, to disincentivise CEOs from making quick decisions that affect the environment and human rights and look ‘to create a race to the top rather than a race to the bottom’. In talking about H&M’s involvement in the forced labour camps in Uighur, Wolters mentioned how initially H&M tried to do the right thing by placing pressure on China to stop this practice but the Chinese government ‘bullied’ them into staying quiet. Similar accounts came out of the US, with the US government pressuring brands to stay quiet in response to the Black Lives Matter protests.
Nicole Rycroft commented on how there isn’t actually a need to normalise these incentives as they are already normal for other ‘pernicious industries‘ with trillions of dollars given out in subsidies to the fossil fuel and farming industries. She instead questioned how we move this across to industries operating in the circular economy or with socially just practices.
‘We are not against the industry, we are against the system’
Rycroft talked about how the idea of limiting growth in production doesn’t have to be seen as going backwards and how we need to look at disrupting linear supply chains.
‘We’re smarter than using 400, 500 year old trees to make fabric and pizza boxes’
There is a sense of positivity when looking at the innovation she has seen in the industry in adopting rental, repair and remodelling business models and sees the brands ability to change as necessary as they won’t be ‘viable businesses in thirty years time’ when access to raw materials runs out.
‘Rights of humans and nature are inextricably bound’
Baroness Lola Young
There was optimism in Atker and Rycroft’s responses to this question with both stating it simply comes down to people’s willingness for change.
‘…if people are willing it could happen tomorrow, or it could be years and years…nothing is impossible.’
Rycroft discussed how the scientific research on the climate crisis shows it is essential that we turn our situation around in this decade but also, that ‘if Covid has shown us anything, we can literally change everything overnight if we want to’.
Orsola de Castro, co-found of Fashion Revolution, finished with a closing statement that reinforced the need for a complete reevaluation of our systems in order to evolve and asked fashion brands to see sustainability not as a business opportunity but as a moral obligation.
Key points from Fashion Question Time 2021
Environmental and human rights need to be top of the agenda for business – respecting nature and the rights of workers should be a moral obligation, it is also the only way that industry can continue to be viable into the future. There is a necessity to work with nature to create new methods of production, to build workplaces that are safe for and respectful of their workers and to strive towards a circular economy.
Legislation is key to genuine change – governments and businesses need to start putting the planet and people before profit. Governments need to shift subsidies from supporting damaging industries to fund those that are sustainable and ethical and to put legislation in place to give workers, consumers and citizens a voice.
Our voices do have power – without social media, many of the accounts of oppression and abuse suffered by garment workers would not have surfaced about the fashion industry. Marginalised people and their allies now have a voice against corrupt governments and businesses and we can continue to place pressure on brands and politicians to change their behaviours.
‘There are no experts and learners in this life, we are all continuously both.’
As we enter our second Fashion Revolution week during the COVID-19 pandemic, we look back at how repeated lockdowns have changed the fashion industry.
With the majority of industries being hit negatively by the COVID-19 pandemic, the fashion industry has not avoided the effects of repeated lockdowns across the world. Brands that were formerly a staple of the British high street, like Debenhams and Topshop, have closed all of their stores as the way we buy our clothes has been pushed almost entirely online. Just over one year on from the start of the first lockdown in the U.K. and during Fashion Revolution Week, we wanted to reflect on how these changes have affected those working in the fashion industry. Many saw the first lockdown as an opportunity for the fashion industry to hit pause and come out the other side of it more sustainable, but are we actually any closer to this?
The totally imbalanced power structure of the fashion industry was brought into sharp focus in the first few months of the pandemic as international brands began cancelling their orders. In an ideal world, this could have at least been a sustainable choice as they knew there would be a decreased demand for their products and many would go to waste. The reality is these large brands often pay for their orders weeks or months after they’ve been sewn and at the point of cancelling these orders, garments workers had already put in many hours of work to produce them.
Big brands seemingly felt no responsibility for the workers in their supply chains as their wages and livelihoods were taken away from them. According to Clean Clothes Campaign, a global network dedicated to improving the working conditions within the fashion industry, in the first three months of the pandemic alone estimates reported that garment workers were owed ‘between $3.2 billion and $5.8 billion (USD)’ (around £2.4 to £4.6 billion) in lost wages or unfair severance pay. Through placing pressure on these brands with campaigns like #Payup much of these initial cancelled orders have been repaid, but the delay in payment has created unstable conditions for the suppliers and this money hasn’t always reached the garment workers.
When talking about the people who produce our clothes, it is easy to assume that these abuses of workers’ rights are happening in other countries as this can be where much of the media attention focuses. But the pandemic has highlighted the often ignored problems within the garment industry in the U.K. In 2018 the Financial Times reported on the illegal practices of some of the factories operating in Leicester, referring to them as the ‘dark factories’, with the average wage being reported as £4.25 and in some, it being as low as £3.
Leicester became a hot spot for Covid last summer with lockdown extended there even once other parts of the country began to open. The spread of the virus there was eventually linked back to the working practices of these factories with no social distancing measures put in place and staff being asked to carry on working even when they were sick. These actions placed pressure both on workers’ livelihoods and their lives, in January this year it was reported that women working in garment factories were one of the groups most at risk from dying from Covid.
Labour Behind the Label, a not-for-profit campaigning group, who published the report into these factories last year, found that the online fashion retailer ‘Boohoo accounted for at least 75% of clothing production in Leicester’. Scrutiny was placed on Boohoo with £1 billion being wiped off its market value overnight and online campaigns like #boycottboohoo piling pressure on the retailer through its social media channels. Boohoo has since promised to stop working with any suppliers that fall short of its code of conduct but these promises have been made before. Boohoo is just one of the thousands of fashion companies relying on an unregulated industry to make huge profits for their CEOs and shareholders.
Blame continues to be shifted from retailers to suppliers with neither taking full responsibility or genuine action, leaving garment workers still being exploited and underpaid.
With Boohoo recording pretax profits of £92.2 million in 2019-2020, many have said its successful business model has been the cause for the demise of older high street brands. In a year that’s seen Debenhams, Edinburgh Woollen Mill and Arcadia, the retail group that includes Topshop and Dorothy Perkins, go into administration it’s easy for their owners to blame the pandemic. In reality, the lack of regulation in the industry has meant that the multimillionaire owners of these companies have been able to take resources out of their businesses finances for years just to top up their own bank accounts. In 2005, Sir Phillip Green, the former owner of Arcadia, gave himself one of the largest ‘paycheques in corporate history with a £1.2 billion dividend…four times the annual profit made by Arcadia’ according to Labour Behind the Label. This huge sum was actually paid to his wife in Monaco meaning that no tax was claimed on it. Just the loss of these three companies sees almost 30,000 jobs put at risk here in the U.K. and they are yet to pay their suppliers for cancelled orders.
With little positive news coming from the large fashion retailers over the course of the pandemic, hope for a shift towards greater sustainability in the industry has come from individuals, as consumers, as home sewers, as repairers and as online activists.
Online activism is often criticised for being performative without seeing any real change but the power of so many people, and particularly for brands, so many consumers, contacting fashion brands directly via Instagram or Twitter is undeniable. The #Payup campaign forced many brands into paying for cancelled orders and #boycottboohoo forced Boohoo to review and make new policies in terms of ethical working practices. Fashion Revolution Week encourages us to contact our favourite brands to ask them #whomademyclothes to make them look into their own supply chains. The more we all try to continue this action outside of campaigning weeks or when the news is focused on other stories, the more likely it is that brands will have to actually follow through on their promises and change their behaviour.
The demand for reusable face masks when the first lockdown began to ease in the U.K. meant that many people who hadn’t touched a needle and thread in years were suddenly becoming home sewers. Blog posts teaching people how to make their own face masks from old clothes took over the crafting side of the internet, whilst sales of domestic sewing machines soared up by 127%. For many, the desire to learn new skills in lockdown added a sense of purpose to their day, in our article for Pebble magazine last April we talked about the therapeutic aspects of sewing and how helpful it can be in practising mindfulness.
Second-hand clothing sales have also seen a huge boom, with data from eBay revealing that ‘two secondhand fashion items were sold every three seconds between January and July’ of 2020. The time to reflect on our buying decisions has allowed many people to realise how easy it is to buy quality items second-hand. Online resale marketplace Depop has also ‘seen demand for its service double during the Covid-19 pandemic’, and McKinsey’s State of Fashion report for 2021 shows that this rise in second-hand sales is being driven largely by Gen Zers (people aged 18-23) and millennials (aged 24-39), with 48% of people in these age groups surveyed stating they intend to buy more second-hand items after the COVID-19 crisis. With other data from the report suggesting that 71% of respondents ‘are planning to keep the items they already have for longer’ and another 57% are ‘willing to repair the items to prolong usage’, there is hope that this change in behaviour can’t just be called a passing trend.
A year of uncertainty has shown how fragile the business model of the fashion industry can be and in times of crisis, it is those at the bottom of the industry who pay the price. This post has only covered a small snapshot of the issues that have happened in the last year, the accounts of forced labour that have come out of Uighur highlight how long-lasting and hidden these problems can be.
Educating ourselves about them can be overwhelming but a shift in the public consciousness about the value and quality of second-hand and repaired items is undeniable and if it continues, brands will take notice. The responsibility for large scale change lies with governments and industry heads, but our choices now can help to change their behaviours and shape a fashion industry we can feel proud to support.
If you want to take part in this years Fashion Revolution Week you can find out more information about the campaign and the organisation here. Join us for our online workshops for help with your repair and sewing problems.
‘Two thirds of our clothes contain 100% of chemicals and yet are not disclosed to the consumer. We are breathing, eating, drinking the fibres in our clothes, the majority of which are plastic and chemical’
Last year, journalist Ray Ritchie interviewed Peter Gorse of Golf Refugees as part of Ethical Brands for Fashion Revolution Week. Peter believes fashion brands should use blockchain technology and fully disclose all the processes; including wages, list of chemicals used to make our clothes. Peter researches textiles and said he has ‘gone past how they look and feel and now I just see a product that is shredding what they are made of constantly’. As 60% percent of our clothes in the UK contain Polyester, ultimately a plastic, this is a frightening thought.
Peter states that there is not enough focus on the process of a fabric, only the fibre it is made from. All the characteristics of our fabrics are achieved by separate chemical treatments. He doesn’t divulge the chemicals involved, probably because there are so many. But he does say around 5% of the chemicals in our clothes are are carcinogenic and hormone disruptive. They should be disclosed and not hidden.
Clothes are sold on their positive aspects, ‘100% cotton’ for example, but Peter says we should realise there is a positive and negative to everything. Once consumers accept this brands are more likely to divulge what chemicals are in their fabrics and clothes. In 2011, Greenpeace launched a ‘Detox’ campaign asking fashion companies to stop polluting waterways with hazardous chemicals from clothing production. Their report in 2018 shows that 80 companies that voluntarily took the pledge to use less damaging chemicals by 2020 and ‘have achieved significant progress.’
According to Sustainable Angle, for Polyester alone, ‘substituting one metric ton of virgin polyester with its recyclable counterpart can reduce toxic substances by up to 90%’. However, Peter considers plastic bottles to be one of the worst plastic items to use as it is turning this PET plastic into a more harmful form due to the shredding of microfibres. It is a difficult debate as the alternative is single waste plastic being put into landfill and ending up in our oceans.
Dying and printing is another process our textiles go through to bring us the vibrant colours and patterns that we love. It is also one of the most polluted processes our fabrics go through. Indigo denim for example, the synthetic dye won’t stick to the fibres without the oxygen being removed, it then has to be put back in at the end of the process. Each step culminates to being damaging to the environment.
This was all interesting but depressing. Other than wearing clothes made from undyed hemp and organic cotton, where do we go from here? Peter suggests:
Brands need to move to using safer chemicals. Governments need to bring in legislation to make it happen.
Clothes and textile labels should highlight the chemicals involved, the positive and negative aspects
Future biology based clothing and dyes made from bacteria and fungi
Consumers to buy less and look after what we already have
Not buying new clothes and repairing clothes massively reduces their carbon footprint. It is acceptable for jeans to have holes but less acceptable for shirts and t-shirts. We need to learn to live with the holes or learn to patch them. Materials are robust and can last for decades.’