Who Made My Clothes? is a program of the Fashion Revolution. I’ve been following them and its co-founder Carry Somers since she came to Oaxaca in February 2016 to take one of my natural dye and weaving textile excursions.
I introduced her to some of the weavers who make my clothes and the rugs that adorn floors and walls where I live in Teotitlan del Valle and Durham, North Carolina.
When I got notice of an online course Who Made My Clothes? produced by Exeter University and Fashion Revolution, I decided to sign up. The first of three sessions over the next weeks went online yesterday. I’m eager to tell you about it.
But first, what also prompted me to pursue this course was the discussion we had during the WARP Conference about recognizing and naming the people who make our garments.
This is true here in Oaxaca, where many of us value, buy and wear beautiful locally made dresses and blouses. If we can afford it, we might buy from Remigio Mesta’s Los Baules de Juana Cata, from the Textile Museum Shop, or from Odilon Morales at Arte Amuzgos. Buying fewer pieces and choosing better quality can be one justification for paying a higher price.
This is a mantra of the Fashion Revolution: the high cost of fast fashion, disposable clothes. Who is paying the price? Our planet and the workers. In the end, we are, too because we are contributing to a system of over-consumption.
- 75% of garment workers are young women
- the world purchased 400% more clothes than we did 20 years ago
- in the USA in 2012, 84% of unwanted clothes ended up in the landfill or incinerator
If we buy on the street, we have no idea who made the garment or what they were paid for their labor. Usually, it’s a reseller who takes this work, either buying outright or on consignment.
- What are we doing to make our own clothes?
- What are we doing to mend our own clothes?
- What are we doing to buy at up cycle/thrift sales?
- What are we doing to buy directly from the maker?
- Do we read labels? Check clothes “ingredients?”
The WARP conference was also about fashion designer theft, talk of label switching by designers in the NYC fashion industry, and mainstream appropriation of indigenous cultural patterns.
A challenge in this week’s online lesson was to read about the 2013 tragic Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, when more than 1,100 people died, mostly young women. From this rubble, the Fashion Revolution was born.
The women in the building were making clothes for brands we all know: Gap, Walmart, H&M, Sears, Tommy Hilfiger and more. Questions came up: Who is ultimately responsible for worker safety? The brands, the subcontractors, the government? All of the above? How does one person make a difference?
So, the course developers are asking me to look in my closet, evaluate what’s there, choose my favorite garment(s), ask whose lives are in the making of these clothes? What materials: cotton, synthetic, linen, flax? How old is the oldest thing in my closet?
The dress and skirt I made (above) last week, took me hours of labor, a total of about four days. I’m particular. I like French seams. I also made my own pattern. I appreciate good garment construction and fabric.
There may still be room in the course. We have a week to finish the first module, and its insightful, reflective and purposeful to ask: Who made my clothes?
If we care about the food we ingest, we can also care about what we choose to say about ourselves in what we wear.