Friday, 24 April 2015

#WhoMadeMyClothes... and does anyone care?

Happy Fashion Revolution Day! Across the globe, people are turning their clothes inside out, showing off the labels and asking the brands that they wear one simple question... who made my clothes?

Last year's event was an incredible success, with citizens of 55 different countries generating over 6 and a half million hits on Google, a top trend through the day on Twitter and massive coverage in the international press. This year, Fashion Revolution are hoping to build on that success and get more people than ever questioning the opaque supply chain and secretive business practices of many big fashion brands.

The big question, though, is whether this kind of click-to-protest activism makes a lasting impression. The jury is still out. Experts like author Kevin Lewis, who has written extensively about online activism, isn't convinced. He says:
“The victor of our attention meets our base desires. It must be easy to do, interesting, different, and tied to quick and easy outcomes — whether it is taking a picture and posting it online or dumping a bucket of ice on your head.”
In other words, it's a distraction rather than actual activism, a gesture with little meaning. But surely the principal purpose of campaigns like Fashion Revolution Day is to raise awareness. To which Lewis simply says, "define awareness".

Owch. However, this bleak view isn't reflective of general opinion. The trick is to track just what's going on after you click send on that form you came across on Twitter. Carol Cone, global practice chair of business and social purpose for PR giant Edelman, has found that 20% to 30% of respondents to a poll will pass it around social media, while about 10% to 15% will want to get involved at a deeper level. When you have engagement of any kind numbered in the millions, 10% can still make a heck of a difference.

And of course, any campaign with a huge number of signatories is a powerful persuasive tool if it's used correctly. The people involved in Fashion Revolution Day have decades of experience in the fields of fashion and public relations, and understand the clout of a fat petition. FRD has leveraged the attention that last year's event engendered into a set of talking points that have been discussed in the UK Government, and in continuing dialogues with The European Union and the Fair Trade Advocacy Office in Brussels. That's hardly dead air over the issues.

The trick now is to keep that attention and momentum focussed, and get more people than ever talking about the issues and, more importantly, engaging with the brands they wear. There's a lot of influential people in ethical fashion rallying round the Fashion Revolution flag, and thousands of activists. We could be in for a very interesting day. Let's hope the echoes keep booming.

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