Category Archives: fashion

WATCH // Modern Slavery: Are we complicit?

photo (5)


Earlier this month I was invited to participate in a panel on modern slavery at the University of Edinburgh, organised by the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability.

The panel addressed a lot of issues, including the (potential) impact of consumer boycotts and buycotts. I called on consumers to remember they are more than consumers, and to also consider/imagine alternative ways to support workers.

The event was recorded, and I’ve embedded it below for you to check out.

During the discussion, I mentioned a website I had used to calculate ‘how many slaves’ work for me. I mentioned this was an interesting tool to help consumers think through linkages, but also voiced concern that context was lacking. I realise that I never mentioned the actual name of the site, so in case you’re interested and not already familiar, here it is. Bangladeshi labour rights activist Kalpona Akter shared some thoughts on this tool with Design and Violence last year, here.

On the panel with me was Kathy Galloway, Head of Christian Aid Scotland, Karen Bowman, Director of Procurement at University of Edinburgh and Mei-Ling McNamara, a PhD Student in School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures at University of Edinburgh. Chairing was Michelle Brown from the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability.

We would love to hear your thoughts on modern slavery in general, but also in the unique context of the global fashion and apparel industry. Please share in the comments, or with us on Facebook or Twitter.

ATTEND // Beauty by Design: Fashioning the Renaissance


This past weekend, I headed to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh to check out the exhibit Beauty by Design: Fashioning the Renaissance.

I’m so glad I did. The show challenges current assumptions of beauty by exploring how perceptions of body image have changed over time:

“The theme of body image is central: the historic paintings have been approached both as a means of challenging current perceptions of physical beauty, and as inspiration for a more diverse and emotionally considerate practice on the part of today’s fashion designers.” (National Galleries Scotland)

Leading the project is the Programme Director for Fashion at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) at the University of Edinburgh, Mal Burkinshaw, and Dr Jill Burke of the School of History of Art. The work is the result of a collaboration between National Galleries of Scotland and ECA, and has been in the works since 2012, when the project first launched.

The exhibit runs until 3rd May 2015, but if you’re not near Edinburgh, you can read more about the project here, and here. I’ll upload some photos to our Facebook page to check out as well.

Garment worker wages: select reports on trends and analysis from 2014

ILO 201415 Global Wage Report


The International Labour Organization (ILO) has just released their 2014/2015 Global Wage Report. While the report is not specifically focused on garment worker wages in fashion and apparel systems, it does overview global trends and highlights wage gaps, and I think it’s a good one to read through and bookmark to keep on hand.

With the report, the ILO has included a couple of short video clips explaining key terms, such as real wage and labour productivity, average wage and PPP$.

ILO videos re 201415 Wage Report

The Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) published three reports in 2014 relating to wages for garment work in the fashion and apparel sector:

Living wage in asiaStitched up 2014

Tailored Wages 2014

And of course, this worthwhile read from the CCC and the Asia Floor Wage in 2009 remains highly relevant: Stitching a Decent Wage Across Borders.

Stitching a decent wage across borders










Click here for the full list of CCC publications.

What resources have you turned to in 2014 for trends and analysis relating to garment worker wages? Share in the comments below, or let us know via Facebook and/or Twitter.


WATCH // The TEN, animations from Textiles Environment Design (TED)


Textiles Environment Design (TED) has launched The TEN in a series of short animations.

The TEN is all about practiced-based action research:

They are not a check-list, but rather they are a framework for creative thinking and action. As ideas emerge, The TEN can be used to develop layers of strategic innovation – a chance to redesign and improve, or simply to communicate concepts and products more clearly. (TED)

And did I mention The TEN is available in Chinese? Amazing.

I’m really loving #10, Design Activism, but be sure to check them all out!





Test your knowledge! And track fast fashion with this interactive Africa study map

How well do you know your geography when it comes to Africa? Unfortunately, many of us need to study up.

This online tool could be a great addition to learning activities on fast fashion supply chains – specifically on second-hand trade.

Add this tool to:

via Africa is a Country

Africa Study Map

UPDATE III // The NICE Consumer Project & the Copenhagen Fashion Summit

The initial stage of the NICE consumer project comes to an end this week and the NICE  Framework for Achieving Sustainable Fashion Consumption through Collaboration will receive its final revisions during the Copenhagen Fashion Summit. The framework is designed to inspire action from government, industry and civil society, it also highlights areas where more discussion is needed; for example, how can we create a transparent value chain, or an environment which fosters sustainable business models and supports sustainable behaviors?

Since my last update I have attended a workshop in London, and taken part in the final webinar, Stress Testing the NICE Consumer Framework on Sustainable Consumption of Fashion. At this event there were presentations from Puma, Levi Strauss & Co., Futerra, and Vanessa Friedman from the Financial Times. The session also included a summary of the progress midway through the consultation process. Cody Sisco [BSR] spoke about the major priorities raised by participants and other important areas including supply chain transparency, and the need for increased education, understanding and collaboration. For design students out there, he also mentioned the important role designers can play in moving things forward! A full recording of the webinar is available to download at BSR.


The Copenhagen Fashion Summit

The Copenhagen Fashion Summit starts today and promises to be an exciting event, which will bring together around 900 stakeholders to discuss sustainability and CSR in the fashion industry. Organisers have been keen to include young people in these discussions and a number of student representatives from around Europe will gather today for a Youth Summit, and present the results of their discussions at the main event tomorrow. The Summit will also launch an industry specific code of conduct, a joint initiative by the UN Global Compact and NICE.

“As an industry facing serious and widely publicized social and environmental challenges, the fashion and textile industry is uniquely positioned to launch a sectoral initiative under the umbrella of the UN Global Compact.”

George Kell, Executive Director of the UN Global Compact

If you can’t get to Copenhagen but want to keep up with the event then I know that @katetfletcher and the @NICEconsumer have already been tweeting live from the summit!

Further reading//

Press release: United Nations Global Compact joins forces with the fashion industry to launch first sector specific initiative

BSR: NICE Consumer Project Summary

BSR: NICE Consumer Research Summary




UPDATE II // The NICE consumer project

As promised here is an update of the second NICE consumer consultation webinars, The Art of Sustainable Consumption. At this session we heard from four speakers presenting a range of responses to sustainability. In bringing them together we were able to imagine what  ‘sustainable consumption’ might look like and also how some of these approaches could be linked.

Giordano Capuano -Vivienne Westwood- presented the model of ethical production behind Westwood’s Ethical Africa collection. The project began as part of an initiative of the International Trade Centre, which aimed to link luxury brands in the West to producers in communities where poverty is high. The exciting thing about this project (and others like it), is the long term ambition which involves, empowerment through meaningful work and training, and sharing skills that will help to achieve sustained trade opportunities in global markets. Whilst this example demonstrates positive production and sourcing, it is not a solution to ethical production that could be replicated in all sectors of the fashion industry today.

Next up Henrik Lampa (H&M) talked about how H&M is actively seeking to improve its supply chain through a more sustainable fabric sourcing policy, guided by research from Made By. Conventional cotton production has a negative effect on the environment and can also be damaging to people the land they rely on through the heavy use of pesticides and water; working towards ‘better’ cotton is a step in the right direction, and H&Ms efforts here will hopefully prompt other companies to follow suit!

[For insight into the limitations of current LCA models and benchmarks, check out Pulling Wool over our Eyes: The Dirty Business of LCAs, by Tone Skårdal Tobiasson, Editor at, and Kjersti Kviseth, Partner 2025design.]

Of course we also know that fast fashion is problematic in relation to the volume of disposable goods produced, and the production speed that is necessary to be competitive. These factors can translate into difficulties for suppliers and negative conditions for production workers; however it is hard to see how improvements here can be made from within individual companies when this would compromise their competitiveness in their market sector. Perhaps tackling this problem requires a multi-brand approach that will give all companies a level playing field whilst improving conditions for garment workers?

The next presentation by Mo Tomaney of Central Saint Martins, focused on design-led responses to sustainable consumption. Mo inspired us with these case studies from the design world, Junky styling, From Somewhere and Gary Harvey. Finally she introduced the student program Reclaim to Wear, which aims to prompt the next generation of designers’ to think sustainably. As a student designer myself this is of real interest to me, and I believe design could be involved at every level of sustainable consumption in diverse and exciting ways. Design can also act as a valuable conduit between seemingly conflicting needs, such as the desire for rapid change and the need to reduce waste.

Aptly, the last speaker Ellen van den Adel, talked about post-consumer textile waste. Discussing how the consumer benefits emotionally from the knowledge that their waste will be reused, and how consumers understand the message about recycling and many do recycle or want to. However the viability of the textile recycling industry is threatened by a number of factors which are likely to become more influential into the future. In response to this Work in Progress have collaborated with Textile 4 Textile to develop an automatic sorting machine capable of sorting textiles by colour and fibre type; this sort of technological advancement may help protect the used textile trade. Education and dialogue between companies, designers and textile recyclers could also help to improve the end of life opportunities for our clothing.

The seminar inspired a level of optimism about what is already happening to improve the sustainability of the products we consume, at the same time an approach to disposable ‘fast fashion’ remains unclear. This is the most complex of topics as it is inseparable from broader themes such as our economic structure, competition, and many social and cultural factors (for example the speed at which information travels today is related to the rapidity of trend cycles), all of which go far beyond fashion itself.

Listen to the entire webinar and view the presentations here.


GET INVOLVED // A framework for sustainable consumption

Consumers can play a pivotal role in transitioning the fashion industry toward more sustainable business models.” (BSR)

This year the Copenhagen Fashion Summit follows the theme of consumption, and will see the launch of a framework for sustainable consumption, developed by the NICE Consumer project. The framework will also be presented to the EU presidency council, and at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development later in the year. The NICE consumer is a collaborative project between the Danish Fashion Institute and BSR, which actively engages stakeholders from the industry, civil society and the government.

So how can we be involved?

As consumers we are an important part of the discussion on sustainable consumption. This project is giving people the opportunity to take part, through a series of free interactive webinars taking place in March and April. The sessions will introduce the project and track its development in the run up to the Copenhagen summit. Participants will also be able to interact with the speaker through online polling and Q&A sessions.

Anyone who is interested can sign up through the website, but hurry the first event will be held on the 13th of March!

Further reading

THE NICE CONSUMER research summary and discussion paper: Toward a framework for sustainable fashion consumption in the EU [pdf]




The Fair Wear Formula

The Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) has recently produced a short film which presents a clear summary of what they do, how they do it, and the reasons why. The organisation works towards fair labour conditions for garment workers. To define this they identify eight labour standards based upon the UN human rights principles. These objectives include maintaining a living wage, an end to child labour and the right for workers to form or join a union. The FWF supports brands in achieving these aims in an open manner and provides consumers with the information they need to shop ethically.

The position of the FWF is one of rational and constructive action, working in collaboration with many stakeholders to implement and monitor clear strategies for improvement. Brands who sign up may find they have work to do, but by signing up they are showing a genuine commitment to change. This is in contrast to the reactionary cut and run approach that is sometimes taken in response to exposure for labour rights abuses which can be more damaging to the workforce and does not help to address the long term issues.

When doing some customer research last year, I found that a lack of transparency in garment supply chains hampers efforts for change. I was told by many people that they didn’t have the information they needed to make ethical purchases. There was also a lot of confusion about what to believe, for example, when a brand’s ethical policy did not seem to reflect the reports in the news. The FWF provides consumers with a verification of labour conditions, however in the UK, there are still only a handful of brands signed up. This leads to another opinion repeatedly expressed to me: the lack of choice for ethical shoppers. If we as consumers want transparency and choice in the purchases we make, then maybe we should be the ones asking brands demonstrate their commitment to ethically produced fashion. One way may be to sign up for the FWF code.


Source: Fair Wear Foundation

Fashioning the Future Award winners announced, London

On November 10th, the Centre for Sustainable Fashion (CSF), at London College of Fashion, announced the winners of this year’s Fashioning the Future Awards — themed UNIQUE.

Congratulations to Ashley Brock (United States), Sara Emilie Terp Hansen (Denmark), Evelyn Lebis (Sweden), Christian Frank Muller (Germany) Alice Payne (Australia), and Lara Torres (Portugal).

Here is a taste of just two of the award winning entries (now added to the ‘Projects for Change’ collection on the left):

“Man sinking to the floor” from “An impossible wardrobe for the invisible,” by Lara Torres, is “a video installation showcasing water soluble clothing in order to comment upon the transient and disposable nature of fashion.” (CSF) Click here to view the entire series of performances.

Lara Torres present’s the recordings/documentation of seven performances in a video screening. These videos are based in the creation of temporary clothes that are produced with the aim of being destroyed. They refer to the los[s] of the object and the documentation of this loss. The action of effacing the clothes leaves a trace (the seams) translating a strong relation with memory and forgetfulness.” (Lara Torres, An impossible wardrobe for the invisible: vimeo)

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ThinkLifecycle, by Alice Payne, is “a widely applicable content management system joining new and existing industry practices in order for companies to evolve towards a sustainable fashion industry.” (CSF)

The ThinkLifecycle CMS grew from the need for sustainability to be a central concern within the mass market design process, rather than a tacked-on extra. Mass market fashion is affordable, accessible and democratic. However, it is based on a linear model of production where resources are extracted en masse, manufactured into garments and then sold to consumers, who rapidly dispose of them to purchase new product.” (ThinkLifecycle)


Congratulations to all the winners, finalists, organizers and participants!


Source: the CSF

Photo Credit: Alex Maguire, via the CSF