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Fashioning a Revolution

Fashion Revolution Week commemorates five years since the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh.

Fashion Revolution, a non-profit enterprise, started in 2013 as a reaction to the killing of 1138 factory workers when their building collapsed. Rooted in social media as activism, the movement encourages people to use digital platforms to petition brands into disclosing supply chains; this has snowballed with the use of the hashtag #whomademyclothes.

It also now includes Fashion Revolution Week that hosts physical events to enable consumers, retailers, and designers to take part. This year, from 23 – 29 April, more than 1,000 events ran across 100 countries. Highlights in London included an open studio at designer and campaigner Vivienne Westwood’s base, while at the opposite end of the market, emerging designer Phoebe English invited guests to construct quilts from recycled off-cut fabrics at her atelier.

In New York, a series of talks on sustainability took place across the city, with industry insiders that included editor Whitney Back from fashionista.com and Cullen Schwarz, co-founder of DoneGood, a browser extension that shows ethical and sustainable products online.

Global connectivity on digital platforms has been invaluable in providing recognition and visibility to otherwise marginalised producers and manufacturers in factories. This year alone 113,000 posts were shared and 533 million impressions made on Instagram - a near 250 percent increase on 2017.

Yet, despite greater participation from luxury brands, Fashion Revolution’s annual transparency index report reveals that the majority are still not publishing enough information about their supply chains.

The 2018 report looks at brands with annual turnovers of over $500 million across different markets like high street, luxury, sportswear, footwear, accessories, and denim; brands and retailers receive points based on the quality and quantity of information made available to the public from company websites, annual reports, and third parties.

“We want a clear, uninterrupted vision from origin to disposal, to foster dignity, empowerment, and justice for the people who make our clothes and to protect the environment we all share”

2018's figures were up, with 64 percent of brands disclosing more policies and commitments than last year; activewear labels like Adidas, Reebok, and Puma scored highest. By contrast, luxury brands reduced the overall average score by disclosing very little on their social and environmental practices: 12 percent of brands scored less than three percent and no brand scored higher than 60 percent.

“We want to see the fashion industry respect its producers and understand its processes,” states Orsola De Castro, co-founder and creative director of Fashion Revolution Day in the newly released report. “We want a clear, uninterrupted vision from origin to disposal, to foster dignity, empowerment, and justice for the people who make our clothes and to protect the environment we all share,” she adds.

In other news, Fashion Revolution will work with the British Council on a three-year partnership, to create online content and toolkits for public use and on-the-ground activities. The initiative is already delivering sustainable fashion programming in Greece, Spain, France, Indonesia and Chile with the intention of expanding across Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia.

This year the British Council commissioned a series of seven short-films, Fashion Revolutionaries, profiling stories of fashion designers, artists, architects and entrepreneurs across the world. The films have been created in the spirit of grassroots movement and sustainability and were produced locally using only smart-phones and the local technologies on hand.

One film featured marine-biologist turned fashion designer, Ken Samudio, who employs relatives of national prison inmates in the Philippines. He uses recycled plastic beads and upcycled leather upholstery, and sources natural local products such as shells to create accessories and embellishments more akin to artworks.

His work is currently on display at the V&A’s Fashioned From Nature exhibition. Samudio is also the first Filipino designer to be featured in Vogue Italia and his collection is currently stocked with retailers like Harvey Nichols, Lord and Taylor, Luisa Via Roma, and TheCorner.com