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Fashion Revolution Day 2015

Posted by Katherine Hughes Education Communications and Project Officer

9th Mar 2015

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Ian Cook is an Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Exeter, and runs the spoof shopping website followthethings.com. Ian is Fashion Revolution Day's education lead, you can download the Fashion Revolution Day teaching materials at the bottom of this post. 

 

In the summer of 2011, we asked people visiting the Eden Project in Cornwall, England to write postcards. The architecture of its biodomes, the placement of plants within them, and the signs and activities explaining their cultivation and use are designed to educate visitors about the plants from which many everyday things are made. We stopped passers-by to ask if they had anything on them that was made from the plants they'd seen. Typically, people would mention their clothes or shoes. So we asked them to imagine someone whose job it had been to pick their cotton or tap their rubber. What they would say to that person if they had the chance? We asked them to write this down on a postcard. Almost everyone wrote 'thank you' notes. It's surprising how many people say that they've never thought about this before. But, for some, writing a postcard can be a tipping point, the beginning of a process in which curiosity leads to research, which leads to action.

This research process can begin by asking someone to turn an item of clothing inside out to look at the stitching. Stitching implies a sewing machine and a person whose job it is to stitch pieces of cloth together to assemble a garment. You can usually find a seam or two that are a little wavy. You can see where the loose ends of threads have been cut off. These are traces of the work done by the people who assembled that garment. You can then look at the label stitched into it. It will tell you in which country it was made. So, you know that the people who stitched it together work in Bangladesh for example. The label will also tell you the materials that have been used to make it, such as cotton. But it won't say where in the world people farmed it, turned it into cloth, dyed it, and so on. It also won't mention the origins of its thread, dye, zips, buttons, beading or other features. Who makes these? From what materials? Where in the world? And what's it like to work in these places? How much do people get paid for this work? What can they do with that money? How much of the price paid for that garment went to them? Who decides? How could things be different? How are things different?

 

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One of the most pressing issues in Development Education is the need to avoid what Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls 'the danger of a single story'. Learning about (un)ethical fashion should not reproduce the stereotypical 'single story' that all garment workers in the Global South work in dangerous and exploitative conditions, and live lives of hopeless poverty and misery. Placing learners as consumers who are, in part, responsible for these conditions can lead to senses of blame, shame and guilt that can depress, disempower and disincline them to action. 'The problem with stereotypes', Adichie says, 'is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete'. So, it's important to develop learning resources that enable the creation of multiple stories, that involve the excitement of finding things out, that surprise, take unpredictable twists and turns, that raise further questions, are underpinned by information from credible sources.

The most engaging resources are often those that latch on to ways in which students enjoy learning. Take, for example, Fashion Revolution Day's Fashion Ethics Trump Card game. It's a game that a group of students can be asked to make and play with their own clothes. It's based on garment industry research by the American non-profit organization Not for Sale. Its online free2work database provides letter scores for 300 brands' ethical trade policies, transparency, monitoring and worker rights.



 




What's fascinating about this game is the way that it challenges the single story of exploitative fashion brands. There isn't one group that is equally ethical and another that is equally unethical. Fine-grained distinctions are made between brands in the game, and these differ depending on the category you choose to play. Almost without exception, a company's worker rights score is noticeably lower than its policies score. If you want to find out why, free2work publishes brand scorecards that explain in detail how these scores were calculated. Levi's gets a D+ for worker rights because, among other factors, it doesn't pay a living wage, doesn't guarantee suppliers a stable price regardless of world price fluctuations, and no suppliers are know to have independently elected trade unions. For those who want to find more than this a detailed research report is available online.

Making and playing a card game combining your own clothes with such detailed information can help to make it more meaningful, compelling, involving, and easier to remember. Anyone who has played a game of Top Trumps can recall their favourite pack, the card that beat the rest, and the one that always lost. This knowledge can stick outside the classroom, when players go shopping and think about the card they'd be able to make for their new purchase. But the kinds of actions that Fashion Revolution Day aims to encourage include, but are not limited to, ethical and sustainable shopping behaviours. We are all global citizens as well as consumers, and this is where our collective power resides. In April last year, on the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, tens of thousands of people did much more than blame their own poor shopping choices for what had happened to those garment factory workers. One of the most popular actions involved people turning their clothes inside out, taking selfies with the label showing, and tweeting them to the brands with the hashtag #insideout asking Who Made Your Clothes? Some brands responded and some garment workers tweeted photos saying We Made Your Clothes! Most stayed silent.

But actions took place in 62 countries, including an outdoor catwalk in Barcelona, Spain, a spoken word and poetry competition in Nairobi, Kenya, and a Critical Mass cycle ride in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The hashtag #insideout was trending globally on Twitter. Teachers and their students were involved in these actions and will be again this year. This is why we have decided that Fashion Revolution Day will continue asking brands this simple question, but in 2015 it's more personal 'who made my clothes?' This month we're publishing our education packs for primary and secondary schools, further education colleges and universities, and a quiz. All of these will help teachers and students to Be Curious, Find Out, and Do Something.

 

Choose your learning pack:



 


Blog post written by Katherine Hughes

Education Communications and Project Officer

More by Katherine Hughes