Hello, hello, I hope you’re all doing ok and are able to find some joy in the everyday. We’re now hopefully on the last stretch of lockdown in the UK (that all strangely rhymed).
I wanted to start off by apologising for my radio silence. A family friend and a relative unexptedly passed in the same week and then my laptop charger decided it was a convenient time to break. Things do usually come in three! Being online this week has been pretty draining as a woman, so I’m sending solidarity to all of my affected sisters, non-binary and trans babes.
After lots of late nights, I have made the difficult decision to pause Not What It Seams while I catch up on work, finish my degree, prepare to move in with my boyfriend and seek treatment for my mental health. This also gives me time to think about where I want to take this newsletter and how I can better my content for my amazingly supportive readers - I’m always open to suggestions, or a general chin wag by the way!
In the meantime, stay vigilant, read between the lines and keep demanding better of brands. Mel x
In other news…
Myanmar garment workers are calling on the fashion industry for guarantee of safe employment after participating in pro-democracy protests. Despite co-signing a Statement of Concern which pledged to “remain committed to our employees and to the people of Myanmar”, H&M have since paused placing new orders from its 45 suppliers in Myanmar. This sets a dangerous precedent, forcing garment workers into a precarious situation without protection from respected stakeholders.
Since being passed in 2015, not a single brand has faced repercussions for non-compliance with the Modern Slavery Act, despite a long history of sweatshop scandals in the fashion industry. Human rights organisations have branded it a failure.
It wouldn’t be International Women’s Day without exploitative fashion brands jumping on the bandwagon. Solidarity tees, charitable donations and social media campaigns mean fuck all if the mostly young women of colour garment workers in your supply chain aren’t paid fairly or permitted to unionise. Fashion is a feminist issue. The industry traps global garment workers in poverty and a culture of gender-based violence; infamously steals the work of female indie designers; disproportionately employs men as CEOs and factory managers for higher pay; and capitalises on our insecurities with impossible-to-keep-up-with trends and unrealistic body standards. So Missguided, Pretty Little Thing and the like can politely stick their ‘girl power’ slogans where the sun don’t shine.
Following reports of abuse in apparel supply chains, several brands have grouped together to help combat gender-based violence and harassment in garment factories.
The Environmental Audit Committee is urging Boohoo to link its bonus scheme for senior executives to the achievement of its pledges on workers’ rights and environmental sustainability. For a hypercapitalist industry fixated on profit, financial incentives can be a powerful form of regulation when backed by enforceable legislation. As history has shown, we cannot trust Boohoo to monitor their own supply chains.
For all of its problems, Lost Stock helped to rehome cancelled clothing stock and financially support 113,000 garment workers in the process. Now they’re embarking on a new fashion journey, transforming into made-to-order brand This Is Unfolded. When I previously asked Lost Stock if they’d continue to support garment workers after the pandemic, they informed me that “as long as there is demand and stock available we aim to continue with Lost Stock and we hope to play our part in evolving and improving the supply chain long after the pandemic is over". The last time I checked, the cancelled orders crisis is far from over. According to the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), brands still owe their supplier factories some $22 billion! Questionable timing aside, This Is Unfolded are doing lots of things right - operating on a non-seasonal, made-to-order model, paying garment workers bonuses and not pretending to be 100% sustainable - but I’m still not convinced by their high street comparable pricing and surface level transparency. As a charitable initiative, Lost Stock didn’t turn over a huge profit but they did gain a lot of press, followers and loyal customers. So, I’m also iffy about them capitalising on their existing customer base to encourage them to buy more clothes they probably don’t need (you have to buy 3 at a time). Ahead of their rebrand, CEO Cally Russel accused justifiably frustrated customers of a trolling campaign, while their Trust Pilot score has been suspiciously cleaned up. It’s like they’ve been gearing up to become a successful fashion brand all along. Because let’s be real: we need more organisations, legislatives and citizens to fight the cause for garment workers more than we need another fashion brand. The very essence of Lost Stock is now lost.
H&M have issued a €500 million bond to help them achieve their 2025 targets, including increasing the share of recycled materials to 30% and reducing emissions by 20%. Nowhere have they committed themselves to paying their workers fairly or radically cutting back their production. The media still hasn’t taken the hint, with one headline reading “Fast Fashion Slows Down at H&M”. If H&M actually slowed down, I’d cut them some slack but until then I won’t buy into their greenwashing. And that’s not even mentioning how ineffective their 2025 targets are!
Not news as such but I was wondering if I’m the only one being haunted by a Shein ad boasting that 1000+ items are launched everyday?!
Germany's government has agreed on a draft law for reforming corporate responsibility for sustainable supply chains, but critics aren’t convinced.
Heavily impacted by a succession of lockdowns, Primark hopes to offload millions of pounds worth of last year's clothing stock when its shops reopen in England on 12 April. This is the perfect opportunity to make “last season’s” clothes a thing of the past.
“Waste will either be the next frontier of colonialism and greenwashing or waste will serve as an opportunity for greater reckoning and reparation. Choose the latter” - a powerful open letter by OR Foundation cofounder Liz Ricketts on why there can be no sustainability revolution without fashion justice.
A new sustainable fashion resource, Fashion Values, has launched, bringing together a network of sustainability experts, fashion professionals, educators, academics and students from across the fashion system. The programme was developed by Centre for Sustainable Fashion in collaboration with Kering, IBM and Vogue Business.
You’ve heard of a Big Mac, now get ready for a McDonalds’ chicken hoodie. Putting the fast in food, popular chains are now looking to be a force in fast fashion. I mean with their shared history of labour scandals, they’d fit right in but at least the food industry is actually regulated…
Sophie Benson asks if Gen Z killed fast fashion, why is the industry still booming?
Whenever somebody tells you fashion is “just clothes” or ridicules it as some female fancy, show them this tweet: “Fashion is only unimportant if you don't care about human rights, ecology, climate change, agriculture, mining, the plastic crisis, chemical pollution, trade, logistics, supply-chain management, animal welfare, cultural preservation, art, the economy, or politics”.
While lots of us are lounging around in yesterday’s pyjama bottoms (don’t lie), some women are spending thousands on renting clothes in lockdown. It’s certainly a win for circularity but my first thought was “why? Are you waltzing around your kitchen in a ball gown?!” Sure, renting is a great way to participate in trends but, with one interviewee describing herself as a “dedicated non-outfit repeater”, sometimes it risks driving our desire and consumption for new.
A big barrier to fair fashion is its image. Utter the words “sustainable fashion” and sceptics imagine itchy utility fabrics or smock dresses more akin to potato sacks. Enter Project Cece’s image recognition tool that finds sustainable alternatives for clothing in user uploaded images. It’s a brilliantly innovative way to source your clothes ethically.
This fantastic post by Aja Barber captures my thoughts on the consumer/corporation responsibility debate. Speaking of which, I cannot wait to read Aja’s new book Consumed which is available to pre-order now.
I’m guilty of labelling fast fashion as poorly made, temporarily trendy clothes. While I’m commenting on the quality of materials and the lightning speed of production, this can be misread as a judgement of the garment workers themselves. Fashion Revolution’s Orsola de Castro recently posted on this topic and I’d recommend checking out the debate in the comments.
While sweatpants sales are booming, 88% of surveyed garment workers said they’ve had to eat less on their diminished incomes.
Lauren Bravo explains why, just like her own mother, we should pick up the needle and thread for sustainability.
“Numbers may tell only part of the story — the other part is human experiences — but it is a crucial part when it comes to measuring change” - a fascinating long read on whether the fashion world fulfilled its promise of more Black representation.
There have been some interesting developments in the fashion marketplace. Kering Group now has a 5% stake in luxury secondhand platform Vestiaire Collective, while activewear brand Tala is now available on ASOS. Is sustainable fashion becoming more accessible and mainstream or is it being hijacked by industry offenders? Are we jumping into bed with the enemy?
Tansy Hoskins on how “buy now, pay later” schemes are landing a cash-strapped, clothes hungry generation into debt.
A thought-provoking article on who is responsible for the world’s garment workers.
Clothing brands are asking President Biden to appoint a fashion czar. While very needed in an unregulated, whitewashed industry, the position should be representative of the many marginalised voices throughout the supply chain. Without intersectionality, many systemic problems will remain unaddressed.
Christina Binkley on fashion month’s realignment.
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