The fashion industry is, at last changing. In this article we will look at how that started, gained momentum and what we can all do to help. These are exciting times - we've woken up!
Now is the moment for sustainable, ethical, eco-friendly fashion. A fashion industry that looks after people and planet. How did it all start and how do we keep it going? Let's investigate!
The days of ''make do and mend''
It seems like such a long time ago now, when the country was struggling through a world war and resources were rationed to make sure everyone had what they needed to get through. None of us would ever want to return to those difficult days, but there is much we can learn from how people adapted and reworked their clothing, not only to keep it going for longer but also to introduce new styles and fashions.
It's a really inspiring story of resilience and creativity. It was part of the education system that people were taught how to make, redesign and repair their clothing. And fashion for women was all about padded shoulders, narrow waists, and knee-length skirts. In fact, skirts became shorter because there wasn't as much fabric available. In 1945 people had 36 ration coupons for clothes; a simple dress used 7 so people were buying not more than 6 or 7 garments a year. Not a pair of dungarees in sight, although trousers were just starting to become popular for women. How they would envy my Alexas!
It was during the WW2 that the jumpsuit was invented. I had no idea that this was where the idea came from. Now we have Frankie and Eddie which we all love for just the same reasons as the boilersuit in the 1940s. The advantage of jumpsuits and boilersuits were that they could be put on really quickly when the sirens went off, and they were comfortable and warm, with lots of pockets so you could take what you needed with you.
Interestingly, rayon had been developed in the 1930s and was the most popular material in use by the 1940s. Rayon is made from purified cellulose, so it's not actually considered a synthetic fibre. But nylon was just about to explode in popularity, introducing a wave of synthetic clothing that was cheap to make. And so it began. As wealth grew and clothing got cheaper we lost the skills and desire to make do and mend and aquired a taste for more choice and variety when it came to fashion.
The beginnings of fast fashion
Through the 50s, 60s and 70s cheap, mass-produced clothing became more and more popular. It wasn't just the volume of garments that began to increase; they also became more uniform. By mass producing clothing, there was a tendency to promote one body type to the exclusion of other shapes. By the 70s there was a huge market for cheap, polyester clothing and not many asked questions about where the clothing came from or who made it and in what conditions. The problems we are now encountering had their beginnings here. And these problems were multiplied exponentially as a throwaway culture increased demand for cheap, poor quality clothing, and big clothes stores were ready to take advantage. Our desire for the buzz of something new has fueled a problem that stretches right around the planet.
...and the beginnings of change
Even in the early days, there were people looking ahead and realising the problems that would come along later. There was a book published in 1962 which described the problem of the widespread use of agricultural chemicals. The book was called Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.The thing with agricultural chemicals is that they are highly toxic and polluting, and they have enabled humans to grow lots of food and lots of cotton (amongst other crops that end up as fabric) but at a huge environmental cost. This is still a key problem in the fashion industry but since the 1960s there have been companies and organisations talking about and finding better ways. Patagonia and Esprit were front runners in bringing environmental concerns to their businesses and in finding better ways to do things. There were others working hard through the 1990s and 2000s too, to research and understand the impact the fashion industry is having on the environment and to develop different models and ways of working.
The human cost of fast fashion
And then something terrible happened that got our attention in a way that couldn't be ignored. On 24th April 2013, the Rana Plaza Building collapsed killing 1138 people who were working for 5 clothing companies. As more information emerged about the tragedy, it became clear that there were loads of issues coming together to result in this catastrophe. Essentially the problem was that the fashion industry has been exploiting people and planet for decades.
Now it feels like a snowball is gathering pace down the mountainside. And one of the key parts of that is the way in which customers are now demanding information about how companies are carrying out their business. This article from The Guardian is a good read, describing how it's no longer good enough for stores to send returned items straight to landfill or to exploit workers in order to make cheap clothing. Across the industry and into the halls of government, there is an increasing voice demanding clothing recycling facilities and accountability to ensure companies take their responsibilities seriously.
Let's start a Fashion Revolution
As a result of the Rana Plaza Disaster the Fashion Revolution was born.
It's a really exciting movement. I love how they describe themselves: “We are the people who wear clothes. And we are the people who make them”.
Fashion Revolution pioneered a conscious approach to fashion industry - from production to consumption and introdued #whomademyclothes hashtag. It's something we had become distanced from which made it much easier to ignore exploitation. Now we are learning about how our clothes are made and by whom and inevitably with that information, we care about the true cost of our choices.
There's loads of information on the www.fashionrevolution.org site – it's absolutely worth taking the time to read what they've got to say. It's such a positive message:
“Rather than making people feel guilty, we help them recognise that they have the power to do something to make a positive change. We call ourselves “pro-fashion protesters” because we love fashion and want to see it become a force for good”.
Yes! This! We feel this way too! Read our latest blog for Fashion Revolution here
How does Lucy & Yak fit in ethical fashion movement?
When we started out, it was with the idea that it is possible that a clothing company can make great products, look after everyone along the production line and tread gently on the earth. It just doesn't have to be any other way and we are setting out to join the many brands who are leading the way. There is no satisfaction in any other way of doing things; we want to leave a trail of good behind us. We will constantly be working on trying to improve; there are always going to be things we can do better and we really appreciate input from our customers to help us with this.
One of the things we are always looking into is our packaging. We had an online debate and our customers gave us some great feedback and ideas – we really value everyone's input. We are now using 100% biodegradable mailing bags; we are aiming to eliminate plastic completely from our work, and our cards and returns slips are 100% recycled card. Bit by bit, we can turn things around and make sustainable, ethical fashion the norm, not the exception.
We also use www.depop.com to sell faulty garments that are still wearable and use those that aren't for offcuts. We're getting closer to being zero waste, and are also looking into and developing a repairs service to make sure that we can fix problems and keep our clothes out of landfill. Keep your eyes peeled for this one coming soon!
We have an amazing team in India headed up by Ismail and a team based in Yorkshire too. Everyone gets paid at least/ more than a living wage and we spend time personally in each setting to make sure everyone is looked after properly and that working conditions are as they should be. It's such a privilege to work with many talented, hard-working people we connected with over the past two years.
We're also really enjoying investigating the different fabrics that are available. More than 90% of our cotton garments are Organic, but we're also exploring fabrics like hemp and linen. Who knows where this will lead us but it's all about learning together to make things better.
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