Category Archives: Fast Fashion

WATCH // Modern Slavery: Are we complicit?

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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.

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.


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

READ // Let’s Clean Up Fashion 2011, Labour Behind the Label reports

Labour Behind the Label has released a new report, Let’s Clean up Fashion 2011: The state of pay behind the UK high street (LCUF).

With respect to a living wage on the high street, this is the 5th edition in a series of LCUF reports from LBL.

The findings have ranked Levi Strauss and Gap Inc. with a score of 1 out of 5 (along side H&M, and others), while Zara, Monson and NEXT were found with the highest scores at 3.5 out of 5.

According to LBL, initiatives taking living wage seriously must be grounded by four essential pillars:

  1. Taking a collaborative approach
  2. Worker organizing and freedom of association
  3. Examining commercial factors paying the cost
  4. Rolling it out: developing a route-map for sustaining a living wage

The fact is that workers do speak out to demand better wages. At best they are often ignored; at worst they are persecuted, threatened, dismissed or harassed. Companies must do more to ensure respect for trade union rights in the quest to provide a living wage for garment workers.” (Labour Behind the Label, Let’s Clean Up Fashion 2011: Pg. 1)

Readers who have followed LBL’s LCUF reports in the past will likely be surprised to see Gap Inc. with such a low score, considering the company received one of the highest grades in the 2009 report. According to LBL:

Gap plans to work on developing good management and human resource systems with suppliers, which are needed. However, Gap supplied no evidence of plans to translate this work into real wage gains for workers. More worryingly, it states its intention to focus mainly on the achievement of compliance with minimum wages. This shift seems to suggest Gap has given up any plans to work towards providing living wages to workers in its supply chain altogether. We hope this isn’t the case.” (Labour Behind the Label, Let’s Clean Up Fashion 2011: Pg. 28)

LBL has created on online petition calling on Gap and H&M to do more. Click here to take action.

For readers on twitter who’d like to spread the word, here are some suggested tweets via LBL:

  • Which highstreet brands are doing most to improve pay & conditions for workers? Find out from Let’s Clean up Fashion:
  • Who’s ethical on the highstreet?  Find out in the NEW edition of Let’s Clean up Fashion: @labourlabel
  • Enough to feed your family – too much to ask? Gap & H&M seem to think so. Take action to ask them to reconsider:

Click here for company profiles and scores, and here for advice from LBL on where to shop.

Otto von Busch Hacks Fashion Theory

As you know, we’re huge fans of Otto von Busch for his innovative work and research in ir/responsible fashion and hackivism.

In a recent project, Otto hacks fashion theory through a series of small booklets. We’ve just added them to our required reading list and so should you!

Fashion is the celebration of the immediate future. By being constantly new, fashion indicates that the future can be something else, and it pulls us there, by force almost, promising the endless possibilities of the new, the unwritten, our possible better self.” (The Virus of Fashion, Axel Trumpfheller and Otto von Busch: Pg. 27)

Click here to access and download the booklets.

Thanks to TED for sharing this project with us (stay tuned for the launch of their new site), and congratulations to Otto on his new post as Associate Professor of Integrated Design at Parsons New School of Design in New York!


Mass Faintings, Fixed-Duration Contracts and the ILO’s Better Factories Cambodia Program

You’ve likely followed the mass faintings of garment workers that have taken place in Cambodia this year. While most reports have cited gruelling working conditions and worker exposure to toxic chemicals as likely causes, reasons for the faintings remain unclear.

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Fast Facts // Cambodia

The face of the Cambodian garment worker is that of a young, rural female. (Tearing Apart at the Seams, Yale Law: Pg. 8 )

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Earlier this month, while investigating the faintings, the International Labour Committee’s Better Factories Cambodia (ILO-BFC) program offered various recommendations to factories, including the obvious suggestion that they adhere to full compliance with the Cambodian Labour Law (Media Update 06-08 August 2011 “Actions Have to Be Taken to Prevent Mass Fainting”: ILO-BFC)

Speaking of the Cambodian Labour Law…

Cambodian garment workers have seen a difficult year. Back in September, guest writer Dr. Robert Hanlon informed us on how the Cambodian court was cracking down on garment worker protests. The Clean Clothes Campaign still continues to fight for the reinstatement of workers who were fired during the protests: “Over 300 Striking Garment Workers Still Victimised.”

Add to this a recent report out of Yale Law School’s Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic, “Tearing Apart at the Seams: How Widespread Use of Fixed-Duration Contracts Threatens Cambodian Workers and the Cambodian Garment Industry.”

The report highlights an amendment to relax restrictions on fixed-duration contracts would compromise the rights of garment workers under both Cambodian and international law. As a result, the authors advise the government not to amend the current labour law.

The Cambodian government has been considering amending the labor law to ease restrictions on fixed-duration contracts. The country’s apparel industry is already facing heightened international scrutiny because of the mass firings of workers who participated in a strike last year over low wages. One of the main competitive advantages of the Cambodian garment industry is its reputation for progress on protecting workers’ rights, so it is important to understand the human rights consequences of using FDCs and the impact that permitting their expansion could have on Cambodia’s competitiveness. (James Silk, director of the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic)

The study calls for the ILO-BFC program, along with other relevant parties, to work with stakeholders to support long-term contracts. In return, the program has stated it will investigate “how the general trend in using short term contracts can be converted in the industry wide understanding of the long term benefits of changing over to longer term employment relationships” (Media Update 17 August 2011, “Yale Law School releases a report on Fixed Duration Contracts”: ILO-BFC).

While we wait to learn how all of this will continue to play out, we thought we’d leave you on a positive note, and (re)draw your attention to an important health and safety education initiative we posted on our Facebook page a couple of weeks ago: The ILO-BFC’s Garment Workers Open University 2011.

Each Sunday, nearly 500 workers, from 20 garment factories, attended a full-day training to learn some basic knowledge about the Cambodian Labour Law, and obtain information about social protection services available to them. (ILO-BFC)

Check out the training resources available through the ILO-BFC, as well as their 2011 tentative training schedule. Click here for the list of active factories registered and monitored through the ILO-BFC.

i-Sustain // The Centre for Sustainable Fashion partners with i-D to transform perceptions of clothing

The Centre for Sustainable Fashion has partnered with i-D to deliver a 12 part series designed to transform the way we buy, wear and consider fashion.

In i-Sustain: Issue III—the third instalment— Alex McIntosh investigates marketing, consumption and notions of a collective conscious while featuring designer Ruth Ferguson’s responsible swimwear collection: Olga Olsson

We’re not foolish enough to think that in a few hundred words it’s possible to shed light on the ethical black hole from which the ‘democratically’ priced fashion we crave emerges but one thing is for sure, as long as we keep demanding it faster and cheaper that hole is going to get deeper.” (Alex McIntosh)

We’re already looking forward to the next issue. Be sure to follow this exciting project.

Past issues //

i-Sustain: Issue I, featuring Borders & Frontiers

i-Sustain: Issue II, featuring Partimi designer Eleanor Dorrien Smith


Source: The Bulletin, The Centre for Sustainable Fashion