The collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh in April 2013 shocked the world. The building had been illegally extended and on 24 April the whole thing collapsed; 1,138 garment workers lost their lives and hundreds more were left with injuries that rendered them incapable of returning to work.
The date of the incident has now become Fashion Revolution Day, the centrepoint of a new movement to end exploitation in the fashion industry. The Fashion Revolution campaign seeks to raise consumer awareness, using the social media hashtag #WhoMadeMyClothes. Three years after its inception, Fashion Revolution is growing – determined to ensure garment workers’ rights stay on the agenda.
Each year, Manchester’s Stitched Up Cooperative marks Fashion Revolution Day. This year, we held three events: a double-bill film screening and panel discussion, a clothes swap and an ethical fashion show.
The film event, held in partnership with the Resyntex textile recycling project at Manchester Metropolitan University, involved two films focused on very different aspects of the fashion industry. The Secret Life of Your Clothes examines what happens to the clothes we donate to charity shops, and follows a bale of clothing as it’s exported to Ghana. Clothes to Die For tells the stories of several survivors of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, all of whom face ongoing struggles as a result of the incident, including inability to work and lasting psychological trauma.
We had a full house and a lively discussion after the films, with many people eager to find out what they could do to help. We feel it’s vital to offer ideas for practical action alongside awareness-raising – the key is channelling this positive energy and encouraging people to act.
That’s why Stitched Up is currently working on a number of projects to encourage people to become actively involved in creating a fairer fashion industry. Having previously worked with Labour Behind the Label, we are establishing a regular discussion group for individuals wanting to learn more about the issues facing garment workers and campaigning for change. In May, the group participated in the Clean Clothes Campaign’s global day of action against H&M. The actions sought to hold the retailer to the promises it had made under the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh in the wake of the Rana Plaza incident – things such as ensuring factory fire escape routes were clear and doors kept unlocked. Forty-five demonstrations took place across eleven countries and the day received coverage in the press and social media worldwide.
Stitched Up also organises alternative fashion shows, seeking to democratise fashion by showcasing clothes from local, sustainable designers, modelled by real people from our community. Shoppers view the clothes up close and gain an insight into the design and production processes by speaking directly to the designers.
Our other activities include teaching clothes making, mending and upcycling workshops, hosting regular clothes swaps, selling sustainable fabrics via our reclaimed haberdashery and holding educational events for the local community such as film screenings and speakers. We’ve also set up a monthly Manchester Repair Cafe, where visitors can get help fixing broken household items.
We’d be delighted to hear from anyone in or near Manchester who’d like to get involved. And wherever you are in the world, we’d urge you to check out the Fashion Revolution website – it’s a global movement that’s growing by the day, so there’s bound to be something happening near you.