Hopefully, at some point – whether it was in the changing room queue at your favourite shop or when you were pulling on your jeans this morning – you've paused to think for a moment about where your clothes come from. When we get dressed each day or treat ourselves to a new garment, it's very easy to forget the origins of each item and its impact on the environment as well as human life.
Research published in November 2016 by Greenpeace Germany revealed that clothing production doubled from 2000 to 2014, with the average person buying 60% more items of clothing each year and keeping them for about half as long as 15 years ago, creating vast amounts of textile waste. Chemicals from textile factories pollute rivers and oceans and these factories also require high levels of energy use while pesticides from cotton-growing contaminate agricultural land. According to Greenpeace, one of fast fashion’s worst culprits is the increasing use of synthetic fibres, particularly polyester, which creates nearly three times more CO2 than cotton in its lifecycle. Found in 60% of clothing, polyester can take decades to degrade, also polluting marine environments with plastic microfibres. With all this in mind, I haven't even mentioned the women, men and oftentimes children making our clothes or the substandard working conditions they endure.
These frightening facts and figures about the devastating repercussions of our overconsumption can be a hard pill to swallow and something that we easily push aside. For this reason (as well as many others), Fashion Revolution's new podcast is a necessary listen for anyone hoping to be more socially responsible and change their approach to fast fashion.
Launching today, Fashion Revolution's podcast explores the hidden stories behind the clothing we wear. Through interviews and investigations, Fashion Revolution explores the intersection of sustainability, ethics and transparency in the fashion industry. In the debut three-part series, host Tamsin Blanchard, an international fashion journalist, speaks to researchers, supply chain experts, garment workers, politicians and activists. Each episode takes you deep into fashion's social and environmental problems but also provides practical actions to help make a positive difference.
"I think it's important to educate shoppers about the journey their clothes make because increasingly the fashion we buy has become faster and cheaper," Blanchard told Refinery29. "This is a problem not only because of the sheer volume of clothes we are buying now (much of it worn once or twice, if at all) but because the women – and it is mainly women – who make our clothes are being exploited so we can feed an unsustainable and mindless shopping habit. Nobody wants to be part of a chain that inflicts inhuman working hours, indecently low pay, verbal abuse and dangerous working conditions onto those who make our clothes. But in the race to make the cheapest, quickest, bestselling clothes, that's all too often what some of our favourite brands are doing."
"I love fashion," Blanchard continues. "Not only do I love clothes, but I am a part of this industry, and have been for almost three decades. I feel a real responsibility as a fashion journalist to help change the way the industry is going. It's not about pointing fingers. We are all in this together. It's about helping other fashion lovers like me make the best choices and to understand that clothes do not materialise by magic but are made by somebody – often in a faraway country – who is not being paid fairly, or treated in a way that we would want to be treated ourselves. All I want is to be able to trust the brands and retailers who are making an extremely good business out of selling us some really fantastic fashion to ensure the garment workers are not worried that the factory they work in is about to collapse around them, and that they are not having to work 60+ hours a week on a wage that doesn't feed them or their families."
So what can we expect from the podcast? "Being part of Fashion Revolution's Who Made My Clothes podcast has been an educational journey for me and I hope it will similarly educate and inspire others to be part of the change in the industry," Blanchard explains. "We are already seeing some positive steps including the new Bangladesh Accord following on from the Accord set up after the Rana Plaza factory disaster in 2013. The podcast features Eric and Guy who have been part of a year-long research project called Garment Worker Diaries, which has followed a group of women in Cambodia, India and Bangladesh, talking to them about their everyday lives – and how they finance them. It's really important to put names to the women whose hands make our clothes and to realise they are dealing with the same sorts of everyday issues we all have to deal with – ensuring our children get to school on time, cleaning the house, budgeting for meals and clothes. There are many aspects of our lives that are universal. But these women have the added stresses of poor working conditions, the lowest pay, and the inability to speak out if they are being bullied or harassed. The podcast will explain why unions and freedom of association are so important and how we can help to campaign for brands to make sure their factory workers are properly unionised and able to negotiate for better wages. I would love to think that Usha, Fatema and Halema, who feature in episode two of the podcast, might be listening in and feeling hopeful that by taking part in the Garment Worker Diaries, their voices are being heard and that the rest of the world is listening too. Together, we can change the way our clothes are made."
It's highly likely that this compelling podcast will make you reconsider your approach to clothes and what and how you buy. And if you're feeling particularly proactive, it ends with a call to action letter, a template to send to your favourite brand to ask them to disclose how many of the workers in their supply chain are covered by collective bargaining agreements. Let's all join the fashion revolution.