Fashion Revolution week – what did we learn?

Fashion Revolution week – what did we learn?

What is Fashion Revolution?
Fashion Revolution is a global movement that runs year long. Their goal is to change the way our clothes are “sourced, produced and consumed, so that our clothing is made in a safe, clean and fair way”. On the anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy, Fashion Revolution Week focusses on a series of events that ask brands ‘Who made my clothes?’

Fashion Revolution Week: London
This year there was a noticeable feeling of momentum about Fashion Revolution Week in London. In the previous blog, we were highlighting a different event each day and the choice of was so broad it was hard to pick only one a day.

From clothes swaps, film screenings to panel discussions and workshops there were opportunities to get involved across the city. Not only that but, if you were quick, there was the opportunity for tickets to visit Vivienne Westwood’s studio.

One of the most eye-opening events I attended was the #lovenotlandfill event. It was an opportunity for a behind the scenes look at a clothing recycling centre. It was perfect for a recycling geek like me who has always wondered what happens to our clothes when you put them in a clothing bank.

This recycling centre collected clothes from charity or council run clo,thing backs in London. In addition they receive clothes that can’t be sold by charity shops and also clothes from retailers that are end of line stock, have failed quality control or have been returned to shops and can’t be sold. That translates to a staggering 120 – 150 tonnes of clothes a week. Or to put it another way, 100,000 pieces a week.

Of the clothing that comes in roughly 60% is reused and 40% is recycled. What does reused mean in this case? Well, first it is sorted manually to a surprising level of detail; good enough condition to be reused, material type, clothing type, and even size. Ultimately the clothes then end up being sold on market stalls throughout Africa, Eastern Europe and to a lesser extent China. While it doesn’t end up in landfill, it does sometime have a negative impact on the local business making clothes as they’re overwhelmed by second-hand clothes from the UK.

However, the 40% that’s too dirty or damaged to be reused is recycled instead. This means for synthetic fibres often being reduced down to filling for car seats or synthetic insulation. In the case of wool, it can be stripped back to the fibre and the resale costs for cashmere are sky high. Worth bearing in mind if you have an old cashmere jumper that could go on eBay. My favourite example was cotton clothes that can’t be reused. They are re-purposed and this process is sub-contracted to the prisons service. Prisoners cut the cotton into squares that are overstitched. These are then sent out to cleaning companies to use as cleaning cloths.

The two things that struck me the most:
– The quality and good condition of the clothes. Apparently, most of us will wear our clothes, wash them and put them back in our wardrobes where they will sit. And sit. Until eventually we have a wardrobe clear out and put it in the recycling bank. Apart from the occasional McDonald’s wrapper, the clothes were in pretty good condition. A fact that keeps my faith in humanity alive!
– Once it’s in landfill it’s lost forever, to everyone. The cotton cleaning cloths example showed me that most things can be repurposed. Even if that’s something I do at home rather than send to a prisoner.

What can we change:
– Check out your charity shops for hidden gems. Apparently, charity shops only sell about 20% of the clothing donations they receive. This is in part because not enough of us shop for clothes at charity shops. There are some tricks to make charity shopping more successful. Did you know that the best time to go is at the start of the year and in early Spring as that’s when we are most likely to have had a big clear out?
– Say no to landfill. Are there any other ways to re-purpose what you already have? Can you swap with a friend? Is there an ingenious way your old t-shirts can be re-used?

Want to know more?
1. Do you want to know more about the clothing brands we buy? You can read last year’s transparency index published by Fashion Revolution. It gives details for over 150 brands on how they deal with issues such as Traceability (are they publishing details about their suppliers and how detailed is it) to implementation (how are they assessing and reporting on how their policies are implemented).

Or a browse around the Fashion Revolution website has plenty of ways to take action!

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