Here we are again, nearing the end of April which means that Fashion Revolution Week is almost upon us. Next week, April 23-29th is Fashion Revolution Week 2018, and I have been spending some time this week getting ready to take part in the event.
So, what exactly is Fashion Revolution Week? Well, it is a global movement which seeks to create transparency, sustainability and ethical standards within the fashion industry. The fashion industry is one with more than a few dirty secrets, and the Fashion Revolution organization works to generate awareness about the issues and injustices garment and textile workers around the world face. In their own words, “We want to unite the fashion industry and ignite a revolution to radically change the way our clothes are sourced, produced and purchased, so that what the world wears has been made in a safe, clean and fair way.
Personally I never used to think much about where my clothes came from, or who made them- they just appeared at the store as far as I knew. Who spun the threads? Who dyed the fabric? Did the people who sewed them work in safe and responsible conditions? These were not questions that crossed my mind.
Fashion Revolution Week comes once a year, and falls around April 24th, which is the anniversary of the tragic 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The Rana Plaza factory collapse, which is the largest and deadliest garment industry tragedy to date, resulted in 1,138 deaths (including both garment workers and rescuers) and injured over 2,500 people. Sadly, even though it is the largest tragedy, it was not the first to take place in recent history within the fashion industry, and it has not been the last either. There are many factories which are, quite simply, disasters waiting to happen. When word of the Rana Plaza building collapse hit the news, back in 2013, many consumers at the time, expressed outrage, claimed that the situation was terrible and shameful, and demanded transparency within the industry and improvements in the working conditions of the garment workers. But, like many other tragic news stories: people move on.
Fashion Revolution was created in order to keep the issues alive, to keep people aware of what is going on within the fashion industry, and to keep asking questions, and encouraging us, the consumers, to ask brands and retailers, “who made my clothes”?
The fashion industry is one that is not fully “automated”. Someone, somewhere in this world made the clothing on the rack at your local shop. Behind every t-shirt is a face- someone’s mother, or brother or sister; the t-shirt may have been sewn on a machine, but someone was running that machine, and feeding the fabric through it. There are an estimated, 60-70 million people worldwide who work in the garment and textile industries, and about 80% of those workers are female. Some of those workers are treated well and are paid a fair wage, but many are taken advantage of and mistreated. Fashion Revolution Week gives people an opportunity to ask questions about how are garments are being made, who made them and what conditions they made them in. And of course, the goal is to be a part of helping to create change for the lives of these workers.
So, this year, which is the 5th anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, there are several ways you can get involved to help to create change in the fashion industry.
The first way to be involved is to ask brands, “Who made my clothes?” You can do this by showing the label on your garment (like my picture above) and then asking the brand #whomademyclothes? You can also snap a picture of yourself holding this sign asking “Who made my clothes?” You can find the signs here. You can post your pictures to twitter, instagram or facebook. (I’ll be taking part on instagram.) Don’t forget to tag the brand in your post, so they’ll get the notification, and see your question! In 2017, the social media impact was huge, with 533 million impressions of posts using one of the Fashion Revolution hashtags during April. This was an increase of almost 250% from 2016, where there were 150 million! The movement is growing, and change is happening!
For other ideas on how to take part in the event this year, (last year there were over 2 million participants) there is a pdf created by Fashion Revolution, with more ideas, here. Also, check out to see if there is an event in your area, on their page here.
I am really excited for this years Fashion Revolution- because as each year passes, the event gets bigger and bigger- and even though at times it may seem like an uphill battle, I know that changes are taking place in the fashion industry, ethical fashion is becoming more and more available and some of the bigger fashion brands are starting to take transparency seriously. Little by little change is coming, and it’s so good to be a part of that, in my own small way. We can’t be responsible for the actions of others, but we can each take a bit more care in the fashion and purchasing choices that we make for ourselves. It’s so easy to snap a picture of your tag, right? I can’t wait to see what everyone is doing next week, and I hope you’ll join in the movement too!
Also, I’ve got a couple of ethical fashion posts lined up for next week, so check back!
Have you ever participated in or will you be participating this year in Fashion Revolution?
In July, I opened my email and found an email from the Canadian magazine “alive”, asking whether they could interview me for an article about vintage fashion, and “turning old into new”. Of course I was interested! Get me talking about vintage and responsible fashion, and I can talk your ear off 😉 The interview, titled “Vintage Revives Fashion”, finally came out in this month’s issue. It was such a long wait and the funny thing is that enough time has passed, I only vaguely remember saying all of the things I was quoted on- well at least that way the article was all new to me too!
It’s a very good write up, and I hope that the article will get some more people thinking about ways to be sustainable in their fashion choices. Who knows, maybe some more people will catch the vintage bug too! You can find it here in case you are interested in reading it!
Fashion Revolution Week finished up almost exactly a month ago now, and though I had originally planned to share some of the 2017 stats etc. as well as some of the highlights of the global event, that information hasn’t been released yet by Fashion Revolution. So instead, today I would like to share some of what I learned and researched during Fashion Revolution about several vintage repro (reproduction) brands, and how to successfully shop vintage and repro with an ethical mindset.
I know I’ve mentioned it so many times before, but shopping true vintage and second hand is an inherently ethical way to shop. The clothing already exists, so by shopping second hand, you are giving it a second life. Where it gets tricky is in new clothing. Clothing made up into the 1980’s was for the most part produced in an ethical way. So much of the mass produced clothing of earlier eras was made domestically, not outsourced to factories in other countries. You see many of the vintage clothing ads selling garments based on quality, proclaiming things like dresses “made of good quality fabric”, shoes that feature “unusual durability”, and one of Sears children’s brand was even called “Ucanttear”, which was made to withstand the rigours of children at play.
There were abuses within the textile and fashion industry of course, dating back to the 1800’s, which is why we see union labels in many vintage garments. For the most part, though, clothing was not suspect. You didn’t automatically assume back then, like today’s clothing landscape, that clothing was unethically made. Today, every $5 t-shirt and $30 dress that sports the tag “Made in Bangladesh” is questionable. It might not actually be the case, because there are plenty of factories that are safe and paying a living wage (one factory in India even took part in Fashion Revolution Week) but, because of the abuses we have seen over and over again in the industry, with cheaply produced clothing made at the expense of the garment workers, we now tend to presume guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around.
One of the problems I find with so many sustainable fashion brands today, is that they are so modern, and hardly any of their clothing fits into my personal style. I love vintage silhouettes and styles, not unstructured, loose, trendy clothes. So, I decided this Fashion Revolution Week to ask the question “Who Made My Clothes” to a few vintage repro companies, to hear what they had to say. I also researched a few other companies to come up with this small list (I am sure there are plenty more) of companies who are making their clothing in an ethical manner.
As a disclaimer, while I would not consider these companies to be “sustainable” since that they don’t share their supply chain, where the cloth and materials come from, or what the environmental impact of their dyeing processes and farming processes are. However I would still consider them to be ethical from a human rights point of view.
The brand Heart of Haute is made in the USA. They have several locations in LA and many of their employees are actually fashion graduates. The garments are “cut to order in San Dimas and assembled by three contract sewing shops in the Los Angeles area”. This way, not only are they supplying local jobs, but they can proudly say ‘Made in the USA”. They do not share their supply chain, but they claim to make high quality garments, designed to last. I would agree with that statement, since last year I purchased a blouse from Heart of Haute. Sadly, I ended up returning it, as I realized that it was too tight and the buttons pulled on the front. The blouse was made of a smooth and sturdy cotton, and all of the seams were finished nicely. The blouse included details like a tie front, and covered buttons, as well as dart shaping so it wouldn’t ride up. I truly do think that it would have been a long lasting purchase. All in all, if I were to come across another item I liked from Heart of Haute, I would not hesitate to buy it.
Another brand which I have tried on in person at a store, is the brand Retrospec’d, which is made in Australia. On their website, they say “All Retrospec’d garments are made in Australia to the very highest standard. The majority of the fabrics themselves are the product of many months spent finding colours and design elements that are “just right”. The result is fresh, vintage-inspired fashion that simply can’t be found anywhere else in the world.” The dresses I saw were made of a lighter cotton sateen, which had a very nice finish and drape, and many of them had border prints, which are always fun. I can’t recall how the insides were finished, but I think that the dresses were lined- I know that the bodice on the 1950’s full skirted dress I tried on was lined in the same fabric as the outside of the dress was (minus the border print). I didn’t end up purchasing the dress, as it didn’t fit well, (sadly!) but had it fit, I believe I would have purchased it. These dresses are definitely more of an investment, but I think that for a well made garment, ethically made in Australia, and with so many yards of fabric in the skirt, and fun touches like border prints, it is well worth it.
A company I have not purchased from (or tried on any of their garments) is Emily and Fin. I know that Nora from Nora Finds owns a few dresses from Emily and Fin, and that she likes them. I was pleasantly surprised to discover on Emily and Fin’s website, a page which states that to ensure their products “are made to the best standard possible and in a safe working environment, we aim to work alongside like-minded businesses; visiting them regularly in order to build strong working relationships and guarantee best practice of manufacture and care” and that all of their pieces are “designed and developed in-house in our London studio” taking the time and care to “ensure a high level of attention is paid to the fit and quality of each garment.” It sounds like they are committed to producing well made, quality items. This seems to be confirmed with a browse through their website, (in which I wanted to add so many items to my cart). They have garments made of fabrics like Tencel (which is a natural and usually eco friendly fabric), viscose (another natural fibre) and 100% cotton (though no mention of organic cotton). Again, the prices are an investment, but this is for a high quality, natural fibre garment, made in ethical conditions. The styles are elegant and timeless, so a dress or blouse from Emily and Fin would definitely withstand the trends.
A company I just found out about from Porcelina’s recent post, is Pretty Retro. This is a UK brand, which offers “affordable, wearable clothing without compromising on style or quality.” And that it is “one of a family of brands run by 20th Century Clothiers Ltd. based in the North of England. All garments are ethically manufactured in Europe and to a high standard.” There are a lot of companies in the UK, which sport the tag “Made in England” etc. I don’t live in the UK, so that doesn’t help me much, but for my UK based readers, this might help you! I can’t testify to the quality of their items, but Porcelina mentioned that she already considers her purchase of their tie top to be a “great staple”, and after a few washes, it seems to be holding up well. They have some fun and pretty styles, and don’t seem to be too badly priced either.
The last vintage repro company I got an answer back from, is Collectif. This is a very popular UK brand, and though I have never purchased anything from them yet, I was interested in one of their garments. I sent them an email about it, and received a reply back right away from their helpful customer service staff. In regards to a specific item I was looking at, they said “it is made in our own facility in China (as with most of our garments.) We work closely with all of our factories to ensure that the garments are ethically made. We have our own facility in China with a team who manage our production. Some of our production and design team have visited our factories there and seen first hand that the working conditions are ethical and the company owner and Chinese Facility Manager visit the factories every week.” They also have a page here in their FAQ’s that outlines their policy. I wouldn’t say that Collectif is a sustainable fashion brand quite yet, as they don’t make any mention of environmental credentials etc, but it is great to see them taking a step in the right direction, by using ethical fashion processes, and also making that information available on their website for the customer to see, without even having to ask. I decided against purchasing the garment I had been looking at, for now, but if I came across something I liked, I might decide to purchase from them. I know plenty of other bloggers have been very happy with their Collectif purchases.
Edited to add: Since originally writing this, I would say that Collectif isn’t doing anything that sets them apart as sustainable or fair trade. Brands that say they pay the garment workers minimum wage etc. isn’t something to be congratulated about- that’s just following the law. So, while they are saying that they have visited the factories etc.- they are still outsourcing their production. That may not necessarily be bad- but it’s not really great either.
Those are the companies I heard back from. Two companies whom I never received a reply from are Trashy Diva and Retrolicious. Trashy Diva’s garments are designed in the US, but they make no mention of where they are made- and since I never got a reply back from them, I unfortunately can’t tell you! Do any of you know?
I also asked Joe Fresh, a Canadian brand, where their clothes were made, but did not receive any reply back from them either. I wasn’t really expecting to, but it is too bad, as they have so many cute styles- but have a terrible track record of human rights abuses. I used to purchase a lot of clothes from them years ago, before I knew about “cheap, fast fashion”, but I don’t buy from them anymore.
So what was the one thing I learned during Fashion Revolution Week? You can ask “Who made my clothes” all year round, and if you don’t see the information on a company’s website, you can ask them directly. It’s so obvious, but somehow I had just never really thought about it before. We can do our homework, and research brands, but if we don’t find a satisfactory answer we can also ask companies directly. And sometimes, if you ask the question, you might be pleasantly surprised by the answer.
Fashion Revolution Week may be over for this year, but Fashion Revolution is not! I know that this is not an exhaustive list of ethical vintage repro companies, so if you know of other companies that are producing ethically made clothing, let us all know in the comments! I’d love to find new repro brands to buy from.
And, if you want to ask a brand yourself, about their clothing production methods, here is an outline of the letter that I emailed to the brands:
“I have been wearing vintage styles for a few years now, and I love that there are vintage reproduction companies making beautiful vintage inspired garments today.
“I have in the past purchased _____ from you,” or “I have never purchased from you before, even though I Iove so many of your styles, and I have seen a fair number of vintage bloggers feature outfits by you.” However the one thing I couldn’t find any information about, is where the clothing is made.
The most important concern I have when deciding to purchase new clothing, is in making sure that is produced in an ethical and sustainable way. I want to make sure that when I wear something I feel great about it, not just because it is a lovely style, but because I know that the people who made it are being treated in a fair manner. Where are your garments being made? Are they being made in an ethical manner? I would love to know that those who make the clothes are being treated fairly, have the freedom to speak out, work in safe conditions and are being paid a living wage in order to live with dignity, opportunity and hope.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions!
Sincerely, ____ (your name)”
What are your top ethically made vintage repro brands? Have you ever purchased from any of these vintage repro brands? Have you ever asked a brand where their clothes are made?
I have only been consciously dressing ethically for five years now (since 2012) but in that time I have picked up a few tips. Making the decision to start dressing ethically can be both exciting- as well as completely overwhelming when you start to look around you and see only fast fashion, or sustainable fashion brands that you cannot afford to buy from! The first step to dressing ethically (yay!) is not in completely overhauling your entire wardrobe, but in taking small steps starting from this point on. So, continuing in the spirit of Fashion Revolution Week, today I am sharing both a completely ethical outfit, as well as my tips on how to start dressing ethically yourself.
My purse was from a vintage store, and the scarf and shoes were thrifted.
Secondhand clothes make up a large portion of my wardrobe, because they are a really great and affordable way to dress ethically. Because used clothes are already in existence, whatever history and supply chain they may have had previously is given a second chance at life when you add it to your wardrobe. There are so many textiles already in existence, and unfortunately many of them are sent to the landfills. (11 million tonnes each year in the USA alone!!!) This is obviously unsustainable, and one of the best ways to combat this is to wear secondhand clothing. For my fellow vintage lovers, we’ve already seen the value in wearing “old” things 🙂
While shopping second hand may be time consuming- and might not be the best option when you need something very specific, if you treat it like a treasure hunt, you might be surprised at what you can find. Some of my favourite pieces in my closet are thrifting finds: one man’s trash is certainly another’s treasure.
My shirt was “thirdhand” as it originally belonged to my aunt, who then passed it on to my sister, who finally passed it on to me!
Some easy ways to start wearing secondhand clothing would be by thrifting and shopping at vintage and consignment stores. If you don’t have a thrift store in your area, consider having a clothing swap with friends, accepting hand me downs from others, or buying online through places like Etsy or ThredUp. (ThredUp is an online thrift store. I’ve never purchased from them before- but I know plenty of other people who have had great success shopping there.)
I upcycled my skirt from a thrifted extra large wrap skirt.
Another great way to way to dress ethically is by making your own clothing or accessories. Learning to sew, if you don’t know how to already, is a great life skill and can really help you to appreciate the value of clothing (and the hard work that goes into making it!) By making your own clothing, you are escaping the “fast fashion” trend and instead creating thoughtful, slow-fashion pieces.
Although, one of the downsides of sewing your own clothing can be in not knowing where your fabric is sourced from, one of the best ways I have found to sew sustainably is in refashioning and upcyling. This is second hand and handmade combined in one: the best of both worlds 🙂 Some of the projects I have upcycled (including this dutch wax print skirt) are featured in these posts here, here and here. Even if you don’t want to get involved in time consuming refashions, second hand textiles such as linens or extra large maxi skirts give you a lot of fabric to work with to cut new things out of, and some thrift stores even sell yard goods! That being said, I do still purchase new fabric from time to time, if I have a specific project in mind. I would love to one day be able to source all of my fabric from sustainable textile mills, but in the meantime I am glad to be able to hand make slow-fashion pieces for my wardrobe.
And, even if you don’t want to sew for yourself, have you considered the handmade pieces other people are making (both clothing as well as accessories)? Check out your local craft fairs and farmer’s markets, or search on Etsy. There are so many talented people out there who are selling lots of beautiful handmade items. Some of them even take custom orders- so you can get exactly what you want!
My belt is from the Canadian company Brave Leather, and as well as being fair trade, it is also made of vegetable-tanned leather byproducts sourced from the food industry.
Another way to dress ethically is in buying from (and supporting) companies that are producing sustainable and ethically made goods. When it comes to finding ethical fashion brands, keep in mind that it’s like getting a grade in school- if you get a good grade you tell everyone, and if you get a bad grade, you tend to keep it to yourself. Ethical fashion companies usually have easy-to-find information about their practices and supply chains. If a company doesn’t have that information for you, they probably aren’t an ethical company (although that’s not always the case.)
The best way to find ethical fashion companies I’ve found, is simply by searching the internet with keywords like “ethical fashion brands”, “fair trade fashion companies”, “ethical leather purse”, “fair trade jewellery” “sustainable fashion” etc. This will bring up tons of companies for you to choose from, as well as sites dedicated to sharing ethical brands, such as this one. I shared a post a few weeks ago listing some ethical jewellery brands, here.
My fair trade bracelets are engraved brass, copper and mother of pearl from India, which I purchased from Ten Thousand Villages. The Pearly Bracelets and Etched Bangles are currently still available.
I find buying ethically made clothing to be out of my reach at the moment. I don’t feel confident in purchasing clothing online, because I am never sure if it is going to fit how I like it (and since I don’t live in the USA, where many of the companies are from, I don’t qualify for things like free shipping and returns). And unfortunately I don’t have any local ethical clothing shops to buy from. However, once thing that I do like to purchase from ethical companies is accessories. Things like jewellery, belts, and purses are a great first step to buying ethically. You don’t have to “try on” a necklace, so it is easy to purchase things like that online. I also do have a Ten Thousand Villages store a couple of hours away from where I live, so I’ve bought plenty from them over the years. Investing in ethical companies is a good option, because it sends the message to the fashion industry that this is something that is important to you- and by helping fair trade companies to succeed, you are helping to shape the future of the fashion industry too.
My necklace was from Ten Thousand Villages. The Engraved Choker is currently still available for sale. My earrings are vintage and second-hand from my mom.
Well, those are my tips for some ways to start dressing ethically. It can seem overwhelming at first, but small changes make big differences over time! I hope that wherever you are on the ethical fashion scale, that these few tips can help you, and, if you have any other tips, please do share!
What are your favourite ways of shopping and dressing ethically?