Guest Post: Who made your Clothes?
Who made your Clothes?
We all buy clothes, but do we ever think about where they really come from? As a fashion lover and a big clothes shopper, for me this question has been a journey - literally! One that included a trip across the world and back again.
In 2018 I volunteered with the charity Tearfund on one of their Go trips to Bangladesh, working alongside local communities tackling poverty. While there I was challenged, inspired and provoked to think about how my actions affect the world around me, including the clothes I wear. Here’s what I learnt.
Photo: Lucy Dunne. Lucy and her team mate Shilpy in salwar kameez.
A different kind of shopping
Standing in front of the mirror I admired my new outfit. I’d been waiting a few days for it to arrive - a pair of mint green trousers with a funky zig zag pattern and a matching tunic and scarf to complete the look.
This wasn’t a normal online shopping order from ASOS or H&M. I was 5000 miles from my UK home in a small Bangladeshi town during my Tearfund Go placement. My new outfit was a Salwar Kameez - a dress worn over trousers with a matching scarf - the traditional day to day outfit worn by women across Bangladesh.
Unlike most of my shopping experiences in the UK, this outfit had started with a trip to the fabric market. Piling into a vibrant auto rickshaw we drove into the bustling heart of the town, where there were numerous stalls stacked high with bright fabrics and patterns. After browsing and oohing and aahing over the beautiful cloths (it was tough to choose!), I had picked out my zig zag fabric. Now it was time for a visit to the tailor to get the fabric made into my new outfit.
Photo: Lucy Dunne. A ribbon shop in the market in Bangladesh
Wake up call
Before my placement in Bangladesh I had already begun to question where my clothes came from. Brought up on a steady diet of charity shops (I love a rummage!) I had never been a big highstreet shopper, but I also had no idea what sustainable fashion was. After leaving school I spent a year studying illustration in Brighton and decided to do my final project on charity shopping (I told you I was a fan). As I began my research I unearthed a pile of dirty laundry about the fashion industry that I had never seen before.
From drained seas and environmental damage to poorly paid, exploited workers I was shocked. Was this really the impact of the clothes we bought? And then I read about the Rana Plaza factory collapse.
On April 24th 2013, a factory in the heart of Bangladesh collapsed killing over 1000 people and injuring thousands more. They were garment workers, creating clothes for brands like Primark,
Mango and Gucci. Clothes we wear in the UK.
The factory collapse was a wake up call to consumers and brands. It was a wake up call to me too. As I read about the horrific disaster I was realising that the cost of our cheap highstreet purchases can be fatal.
Fast forward a few years back to my placement in Bangladesh. Sat in the back of our team minibus we were driving past the street where the Rana Plaza factory had once stood. It was a surreal moment. I could see nothing to mark the spot, or any clues to the horrors that had happened here. But it had. So, how did living in the country where the disaster took place change my attitude towards what I wear?
The answer is it put me in touch with the people who make my clothes. I met the tailor who took my zig zag fabric and skillfully transformed it into a beautiful, hand crafted outfit. And the reality is that behind every t shirt, dress or pair of trousers I own there's a pair of hands who made them. It highlighted to me again the importance of knowing who that maker is. I want to know they have safe working conditions, and are paid fairly and promptly. I want to know they have the same rights I would expect, because their value is far greater than a £20 t-shirt from Topshop.
Photo: Lucy Dunne. A fabric shop in the market in Bangladesh
Now when I buy clothes new I do my best to find brands who care about and for the people making their garments. Brands like good tee co! So I want to challenge you to ask yourself the same question I did; who makes your clothes? A great resource to help you with this is the website Fashion Revolution. It’s full of information and actions you can take as you question how your clothes are made.
We all have the opportunity to use our buying choices, and our voices, to respect and care for the people behind our wardrobes. Let's take it.