When you dine at a hip restaurant, they love telling you about the plate and what went into it – the provenance of the meat, the endangered heirloom vegetables, and the hand-harvested produce fresh from the restaurants garden. But it doesn’t stop there. We often can’t help but learn about the goods we buy, especially when buying high quality products. Oftentimes, companies are putting faces to the makers, showering us with images of their workers, the designers, and their facilities. In response, we buy into it–we care that we receive quality food, or that we are having skilled workers make quality, sturdy products.
So is there any reason why we can’t know about our clothing as well? Sometimes we know about who made our clothes or the materials that went into them, but that oftentimes isn’t a factor for why we buy it. Much of the time, we choose clothes because they suit us, because they are a bargain, or because we need it for a certain circumstance. Sometimes we make a choice because of who makes it–but we oftentimes choose it because it’s a specific brand that makes it, not a person.
The Fashion Revolution week was born in the UK to commemorate the disaster of Rana Plaza, in which 3639 workers lost their life when the building they were working in collapsed. These people were working in extremely unsafe conditions to produce garments for brands like Primark, Walmart, JC Penney, and Benetton.
The founders of the movement want to raise awareness among consumers and invite them to ask “Who Made My Clothes?” to the brands that they support. You probably came across a few pictures of friends on social media who wore their clothes inside out to expose the label and tagged the brand to ask who made their clothes.
The aim of the Fashion Revolution is to address and raise awareness of consumers shopping at big box stores and “fast fashion” brands. For us clothing enthusiasts, these stores do not make up the bulk of our wardrobe, and rarely make it into our dressers. But sometimes we buy our disposables (underwear, t-shirts, lounge pants) from these stores or places like them. We want to feel like we made a good purchase and to know what we are buying.
With regards to consumption, two questions come to mind: First, how much of the information that we receive about a product is accurate? Second, should we really care about who is making our stuff?
To answer the first question: part of the problem is most of what we consume is the marketing that brands churn out, urging us to buy their products. And brands pick up on that fact, thereby developing more and more marketing campaigns around their producers. They sell to us that they have family providers or old factories. But it doesn’t mean that this information is not misleading; we see products made in Italy that are just “finished” in Italy. We see pictures of excellent working conditions when they are terrible. We hear that the product is “full grain” but in reality the marketing team picked up on the word and doesn’t know what that means. As consumers, we have to be more particular, more critically-minded, and more informed in order to pick apart these marketing campaigns and really determine just how accurate the PR is.
Whatever happened to “union made goods”? There are still plenty of these products, but we don’t seem to care as much anymore. That is in itself a shame. We should realize that economically it makes sense to compensate people accordingly for their time, so that they in turn can contribute to the economy.
This returns us to the second question; the answer to which is yes, we should care. We oftentimes look at small producers and decide that we want to buy from that small producer because we like the quality of their goods; we know that what we are going to get the person stands by their work. Similarly, when we choose to buy from larger brands, we have the power and the right to ask who makes the clothes. By asking this question, we show that we are invested in their product and perhaps these brands will invest more in their labor.
It is important that we become more conscientious consumers. Obviously we should buy goods if we like them, but perhaps we should change our criteria. Instead of buying something because it is the cheapest option, we should budget and buy what is the best option for within our budget. By doing so, we are likely to get better quality goods. Instead of buying something because it’s on sale, we should save and buy things that are more likely to be worn. Instead of buying from a giant chain store and disposing of our apparel when it wears out, we should buy more clothing (or anything at all) of high quality and treat it well. Instead of buying new shoddy crap that falls out of fashion quickly, we can (and many Styleforum members do) find stylish gently used garments that have a long lifespan both in durability and in aesthetic.
By doing this, we not only contribute to slowing down the pace of our apparel consumption, but we also avoid wastefulness. In return, we fill our lives with clothes that we are going to enjoy for a long time, and that will see a lot of use, providing us with satisfaction.
Harkening back to days gone by, in which we had tailors make us this or that–we never really had to think about who made our clothes. And for some of us today, we don’t have to do that either, especially those of us buying suiting or classic menswear from smaller makers or tailors. We know that the work is happening on site, we can and oftentimes meet the cutters or the tailors. Even having a garment altered, we see who is working on our clothing. And just think, how much happier you are when you get that garment made just for you, when you see how well it fits. We should still be in awe, seeing a swatch of cloth and seeing the finished product. It’s like magic: that joy in the hearts of both the maker and the recipient should be enough to remind us that from where we choose to buy our clothes matters.