The journey towards a cleaner and fairer fashion world is well under way
The recent string of garment factory fires, building collapses and worker protests point to the fact that the mainstream fashion industry is a bit of a basket case. On the whole, fashion has lost its grip on who is making our clothes and how they are made.
Despite most major fashion companies having policies in place that are meant to ensure fair and safe working conditions for workers and minimum impact on the environment, human rights abuses and the use of toxic chemicals are still occurring regularly.
And fashion companies don't make it easy for us consumers to know what we're buying. There is no universal clothing label that is easily understood and spells out exactly what goes into our clothes.
Part of the problem is that the big companies themselves don't know exactly how the clothing they sell has been made. A fashion company will sign a contract with one factory who, in order to meet the prices and quantities demanded by international buyers, will subcontract to another unauthorized factory.
The current system is not working. It's not working for the majority of people employed by the apparel and textiles industry globally, and it's not working to protect our increasingly fragile ecosystem. It's not even working for mainstream fashion brands, who continue to face the risk that a tragedy much like Rana Plaza could happen again - and this time they'll be responsible.
But fashion doesn't have to cost the earth. And people shouldn't have to face poverty and death to ensure that we can keep buying cheap, fast fashion.
Let's talk about the positive stories. They are some truly pioneering brands and retailers that are doing things differently - the fair way.
The Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF) came into being in 2004, launched formally in 2005, and really was the first organization of its kind. It was created by a pioneering group of designers who wanted to make fashion in a more sustainable and ethical way but lacked the tools and industry capacity to do so. Keen to address the challenges they all faced with a unified approach, they pooled resources together and shared what worked and what didn't.
EFF launched the SOURCE platform in 2011 based on the experiences, lessons learned and the challenges yet to be tackled that all those involved in EFF had discovered together and shared since 2004.
SOURCE is a platform of tools and services for the fashion and textiles industries, from field to final product. It aims to make it easy for fashion professionals and businesses to work sustainably, inspire and motivate teams, facilitate research and industry collaboration and put the spotlight on best practice.
The overall aim of our work is to transform livelihoods for 2.5 million people in the developing world and significantly reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry.
Since 2004, we have seen a big transformation beginning to take root. There are more fashion brands than ever before incorporating organic or eco-friendly materials into their collections and employing fair trade practices.
Eight years ago, it would have seemed a little farfetched that a company as cheap and fast moving as H&M would have become the world's largest purchaser of organic cotton.
Even though there are huge and fundamental problems yet to be addressed within fashion, the journey towards a cleaner and fairer fashion world is well under way.
Over the past few years, we have brought together a wide network of those across the global fashion industry who really are transforming the way our clothes are made.
Take for example, GUNAS - an accessories brand that combines cutting edge fashion trends and ethics into a product that is both beautiful and sustainable.
GUNAS accessories are made of 100% vegan materials and are produced in the brands own sweatshop-free factory in New Delhi. The company pays for the schooling expenses of its employee's children and further donates a portion of sales to charities that work closely towards the welfare of animals and the environment.
Image: SOURCE Founding Partner brand, GUNAS
Fans of GUNAS already include celebrities such as Anne Hathaway, Alicia Silverstone, Jenny McCarthy and Indian movie star John Abraham.
Empowering women through design, Austin, Texas-based brand Raven + Lily is another brand proving that fashion can do more than look good. By partnering with artisan groups in Cambodia, Ethiopia and India, Raven + Lily is helping to preserve age-old hand-crafted techniques like weaving, embroidering and jewelry making using recycled and salvaged materials and eco-friendly dyes.
Image: SOURCE Founding partner brand, Raven + Lily
In addition to providing employment for marginalized, at-risk and HIV+ women, proceeds of all sales are used to fund health care and literacy programs, school scholarships and micro-enterprise training for women and children.
Irish meets Indian brand, Ayuvastra has taken the principles of Ayurvedic medicine and applied it to the way that clothing is made. Using ancient 5,000-year-old dyeing techniques, this line of casual and yoga wear is entirely done by hand and organic. The plants and herbs used for the dyes are harvested sustainably by tribal people who live in protected forests in Kerala.
Image: SOURCE Founding partner brand, Ayuvastra
Each fabric is infused with specific herbs that can help treat skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, the fabric also helps with conditions such as rheumatism, arthritis, blood pressure, diabetes and respiratory conditions, such as asthma. The result is clothing that is that brings healing properties to the wearers skin.
London-based Braintree is another fashion brand that's demonstrating how people, planet and profits are all important in making good looking, good quality wardrobe essentials.
Image: SOURCE Founding partner brand, Braintree clothing
Most Braintree clothing may be created using natural materials like bamboo, hemp and organic cotton, but there's certainly no shortage of style.
Every year we host the SOURCE Awards, which recognize excellence and innovation in sustainability and fashion. Some of the previous winners have gone on to show at London Fashion Week, be stocked in top boutiques and be featured in the likes of Vogue and Elle.
The applications are now open for this year's SOURCE Awards. Keep your eye on the winners to discover more inspiring stories behind your clothing.
Sarah Ditty is Editor in Chief of SOURCE Intelligence, EFF
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