On April 24 2013, the Rana Plaza factory collapsed in Bangladesh, killing 1,134 people, and injuring over 2,500 others.
It was a day that finally made the world face up to the impact of fast fashion. We could no longer ignore the fact that our desire and demand for cheaper and cheaper, some would say 'disposable' clothes, was having an impact, a catastrophic impact, on other people's lives. In fact, 1,134 people had just paid for our cheap t-shirts, with their own lives.
Since that day in 2013, the 24 April has been marked as Fashion Revolution Day. A day when "people from all over the world together to use the power of fashion to change the story for the people who make the world's clothes." This year, with the support of people in over 80 countries worldwide, Fashion Revolution Day is bigger than ever, and has turned into a whole Fashion Revolution Week, packed full of events: catwalks, film screenings, clothes swapping evenings, and most importantly, thousands of people asking the big brands "Who Made My Clothes?".
Right from the very start in 2014, Fashion Revolution has been asking all of us to take to social media on Fashion Revolution Day to post a picture of our clothes, and the brand's label inside it, and to ask that brand if they knew who makes their clothes. The clothes that are our clothes. How many of the big brands have clear, transparent supply chains, and can stand up and say that they know without a doubt that there is no exploitation, no child labour, no unsafe working conditions, in their supply chains? How many will proudly stand up and say that they value people and the planet, over profit?
As well as asking the brands #whomademyclothes, Fashion Revolution are encouraging us all to look at our clothes in a new light. To look at the clothes we already have, and to learn to love them again. To really think about the clothes in our wardrobes and our drawers, and the work and resources that went into making them. And to value them all the more because of that.
I don't think I had ever really fully appreciated any of these things until I attempted to start making my own clothes.
Spending a day poring over patterns, and then agonising over fabric choices. And then another day cutting out the pattern, before that terrifying moment when you make the first cut in your precious fabric, and there's no going back. And that's all before you've even got near the sewing machine...
So why, given all that, do I still go to the trouble of making my own clothes?
I am not an expert seamstress by any stretch. At times, I think I am really only barely competent.
But I do it anyway.
For me, the most important thing, and the biggest benefit to making my own clothes, is that I don't have to ask #whomademyclothes?
I get to know for certain that no-one has been exploited.
No one has had to work a 12/14/16 hour day just to make me a new pair of jeans.
No one has had to work 60+ hours a week churning out cheap leggings, in order to earn as little as 23p an hour, just to put food on the table for their kids.
No one has had to work in unsafe and unhygienic conditions, and been afraid to complain, because if they do they fear they will lose their jobs. So they stay quiet and risk losing their lives instead.
And if I buy ethical fabrics, I can know that at no point in the making of my clothes, has another human being had to suffer, just for me to have a new dress.
This for me is crucial, and I haven't bought any new clothes for over three years now. But making your own clothes provides a whole host of other benefits too:
- I get to take back control of my style, my wardrobe, from the fashion industry. I am no longer dictated to by the whims of the fashionistas, and I get to choose with care the styles that suit me, regardless of whether they are deemed to be in fashion.
- I get to choose the exact pattern I want, and who I buy it from. I can choose to download a pdf pattern from a Work At Home mum, and help her get her fledgling business off the ground.
- I get to choose the fabric I want: the type of fabric, the colour, and the print. And importantly for me, I can choose from a growing range of ethical fabrics-ones with fairtrade and organic status, so that I know that neither people nor planet are being exploited for my fabric choices.
Luckily there are fabulous businesses like Offset Warehouse, and The Organic Textile Company, who are doing all the research and hard work for us, to ensure that when we buy fabric from them, we can be clear what the environmental and social impact of that fabric is.
- Another advantage is that I get to adjust the pattern to my own unique size and shape. Contrary to what the fashion industry would have us believe, we are not all a standard shape-I seem to be a totally different clothes size at my bust, waist and hips, which can make pattern cutting a challenge, but one that is quite easily remedied with a felt tip pen, and a new line drawn onto the pattern.
- I get to 'hack' the pattern to my own likes and dislikes. I get to choose the buttons, and the length of the hem. I can add in pockets, or alter a neckline, so that I end up with something unique, and more importantly, practically wearable, for me, and the things I need from my clothes.
- Through making my own clothes, I learn the skills and techniques needed to 'hack' some of my existing clothes, so I love them more, and love them for longer. Once I started to learn a little bit about how a garment is put together, it became easier to know the nips and tucks that were necessary to refashion some of my existing clothes, or to alter a charity shop find. That in itself is empowering. I now have the skills to change the things I don't like, and can view my wardrobe in a whole new light, armed with a few essential skills.
- It's fun! I get to indulge in a hobby, a bit of 'me time' and come out with actual clothes at the end of it all. And I'm not the only one who thinks that! For the last few years, the sewing and knitting communities have been embracing Me Made May and pledging to show off their handmade garments throughout the month of May. Social media (or my timeline anyway) becomes packed with a celebration of slow fashion, and it is a joyous sight to behold.
With all of that, comes a deeper understanding of what goes into making clothes. All of our clothes. The resources, and the work that go into them, and the talents and skills of the people who make them. Clothes suddenly seem less 'disposable'.
Making your own clothes is a powerful thing to do. It is saying "No" to fast fashion, and "Yes" to something so much more than just another mass produced, poorly constructed t-shirt. It is standing up to societal 'norms' and quietly disrupting the status quo. It is a kind of gentle activism.
Wonky hems and all, I am proud to be able to say during Fashion Revolution Week, and beyond, that "I Made My Clothes".