Monday, 23 November 2015

Modern Slavery And Fashion As A Drug

Queen of eco-fashion Livia Firth attended the Trust Women conference in London last week–and she pulled no punches in making her contempt for fast fashion clear.

Livia's concern was primarily that of low wages for garment workers, and how the big brands use their hefty negotiating power in emerging markets to make sure the bad situation stays that way. She said:

"The fast fashion companies are like drug pushers. They go to these countries promising to lift millions out of poverty, they get the business, and then once they start production in that country they start pushing prices down."
"They can always impose the lowest wages and local governments and entire countries are enslaved by that. Say you are in Bangladesh, if you are too expensive they'll go to Vietnam or Myanmar, which they are doing."
The solution, as far as Livia is concerned, is to create a global consensus on wages. She took the opportunity at Trust Women to announce the launch of a new survey into what she calls "legal fundamental rights for a living wage across all borders."

This idea tied neatly into one of the major themes of the conference–that of modern slavery. There's a strong argument that the business practices of multinational fashion brands are, by driving down wages and forcing the need for long shifts, creating a sweated underclass amongst the people that they claim to be helping by bringing in their business. As new collections hit the stores every week, we consumers are encouraged to buy and buy again, with no thought given to the provenance of the clothes, or the people who make them. This toxic attitude has to change.

Livia therefore announced a new initiative based on the idea of pledging to wear clothes more than a couple of times. The #30Wears campaign urges people to keep their clothing for at least–you got it–thirty times. That's obviously good sustainable practice, but for Livia it's as much about respect for and solidarity with the women who make the clothes in the first place. She said:

"By treating them (clothes) as disposable we are endorsing the slavery in another part of the world, where someone is producing them for nothing.
"So how about telling that woman in Vietnam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, that we actually know she exists and we care for her? So when we buy something, let's wear it at least 30 times, in respect for her."
As ever, you can depend on Livia Firth to come up with provocative ideas, and squaring up to the big brands on wages is a strong move. We'll be watching for the results of her survey, due in May next year, with interest. As for keeping clothes for thirty wears–we're already on that. Some of my socks are old enough to walk themselves to the washing machine.

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