Who made my clothes? It’s a question that Fashion Revolution have been urging us to ask since the Rana Plaza tragedy, in order to achieve greater transparency in the fashion industry.
When I saw that Fashion Revolution had developed a short online course with the University of Exeter, I couldn’t wait to get started. This first week has been about how the Rana Plaza disaster was reported around the world and then focusing on clothes we have in our wardrobes.
I’m already fascinated! For one exercise we took an item of clothing from our wardrobes to consider how many people were involved in creating it and it really got me thinking about how, potentially, a massive number of people have come into contact with our clothes from start to end.
I know a fair amount of my clothes are made by me, but there’s no point in using those for these tasks. Instead I pulled out a skirt. I apologise for the image quality, I really should have ironed my own skirt!
I bought this skirt in 2011. I remember because it was after Eleanor was born and I was sick of the sight of maternity wear. I wanted to feel like myself again. I bought it from a catalogue I had at the time, along with the light grey t-shirt it was pictured with. Apparently it’s from a line of clothing by someone who was on X-Factor, but having never watched it I have no idea who she is! Here’s what I wrote about it for my assignment:
“My skirt is a powder blue colour and has a large embroidery of two magpies sitting on a blossom-covered branch. It’s a knee length, three-quarter circle skirt which has two main pieces, two lining pieces, two waistband pieces, an invisible zip & a hook and eye.
The label tells me it was made in China, so I immediately imagine a large, crowded factory with women all hunched over their sewing machines; all responsible for their own part of the skirt before passing it on to the next woman in the assembly line. I imagine that at least 8 women handled this skirt, each having their own job to do: cutting the fabric; pressing the fabric; sewing the side seams; sewing in the lining and labels; attaching the waistband; sewing in the zip and hook and eye; overseeing the machine embroidery and hemming the skirt. I imagine that they work at lightening speed, with little time for breaks or even chatting.
The outer layer of the skirt is 100% cotton, and the lining is a mix of 85% polyester and 15% cotton. I wonder where the cotton was grown? The cotton was grown, harvested and probably sold to a textile mill where it was woven. I wonder if the fabric was dyed at the textile mill or at the factory?”
I ran out of space, which is just as well because I could have written so much more! I started thinking about where the zip might have come from, and the hook and eye. Potentially each component of my skirt could have travelled some serious miles before reaching the factory in China where it was all put together. Then of course the skirt would have been inspected, packed and shipped over to the UK, before being picked, packed and sent to me. The sheer number of people involved in this journey astounds me, and yet I’d never considered any of these people before. I assume they were mostly women, as 85% of the world’s garment workers are, and I do wonder what their lives were like. Did they enjoy their work? Were they treated well? Paid fairly? So many questions that I’m hoping to unpick a little over the coming weeks.
If you want to join in, it’s not too late to sign up for the course here.