Fashion Revolution week 2020 successfully wrapped up last week. Despite the global pandemic, Fashion Revolution still pulled together some amazing and passionate people from around the world to talk about and advocate for the importance of sustainable fashion. 

We interviewed Carry Somers, co-founder and global operations director of Fashion Revolution to learn more about what the Fashion Revolution is and why it matters.     

You co-founded Fashion Revolution in 2013 after the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory. What’s Fashion Revolution’s mission in a nutshell? 

We believe in a global fashion industry that conserves and restores the environment and values people over growth and profit. We are working to deliver our vision through raising public awareness with creative tools and resources, conducting research, incentivizing and promoting transparency, and advocating for policy change.

Fashion Revolution 2020 focused on Consumption, Composition, Conditions, and Collective Action. Could you explain those four categories in a little more detail? 

Consumption: We must rethink the entire system, moving from a model built on overconsumption and disposability to one that is circular, where materials and products can be used for much longer. Our Love Story and #Haulternative activations have seen people around the world celebrating the clothes already in their wardrobes. Fashion Open Studio invited the public to discover alternative ways of producing and buying clothes by showcasing designers who embed innovation and sustainability in their design and manufacturing processes. You can see last week’s events on our YouTube channel

Conditions: From child labor in cotton fields to bonded labor in garment factories, the global fashion industry is one of the biggest contributors to modern slavery, yet it remains a hidden crime. We are calling for greater transparency across supply chains, from field to factory to warehouse, in order to root out the worst forms of exploitation. Fashion Revolution is calling on citizens to ask #whomademyclothes and to send brands an email using the template on our website home page, asking them what they are doing to honor existing contracts and ensure that the people working in their supply chain are protected and compensated throughout the Covid-19 crisis. Asking #whomademyclothes to brands and retailers where you shop sends a strong message that you care about the way your clothes have been made and want the assurance that the people making them have been paid fairly, treated with respect, and that the environment wasn’t destroyed in the process. Brands really are listening to their customers.

Photo courtesy of Fashion Revolution

Composition: I have just returned from sailing over 2000 nautical miles from the Galapagos to Easter Island, the remotest inhabited island in the world, as part of eXXpedition. This all-female Round-the-World sailing voyage is carrying out scientific research into the devastating environmental impacts of plastics and toxins in the oceans, microplastics from packaging, microfibres from textiles and the chemicals in and on these plastics. By introducing our new campaign question and hashtag #WhatsInMyClothes? we hope to shed light on the substances hidden in our clothes. As part of the #whatsinmyclothes focus, the Fashion Transparency Index 2020, published last week, considered brands’ approaches to restricted substances, their commitment to eliminating virgin plastics, and the steps they are taking to prevent microplastic pollution.

Carry holding a fiber sample found on her journey with eXXpedition. Photo by Clair McCluskey, courtesy of Fashion Revolution.  

Collective Action: Individual actions are important but not enough to bring about the systemic change needed to end the exploitation of people and the planet in the global fashion industry. The people who make our clothes are better able to increase their pay and improve conditions when they have a collective voice in the workplace. As citizens and consumers we are louder, more powerful, and stand a better chance of achieving change when we work together. This is what Fashion Revolution Week is all about.

How did COVID-19 affect Fashion Revolution Week this year? What are some positive results you’ve seen from what’s been happening around the world?   

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have heard about the devastating impact of brands canceling orders, including orders already in production, and changing payment terms with many brands invoking the force majeure clause to free them of their contractual responsibility to pay suppliers. Responsible purchasing practices go hand-in-hand with the ability of suppliers to pay workers wages, especially during this crisis.

In this year’s Fashion Transparency Index, we asked brands about their purchasing practices, their exit strategy when they stop working with a supplier, their policies and procedures around homeworkers and migrant workers, groups who are disproportionately affected by this pandemic, and their approach towards living wages for workers in their supply chains. This pandemic has highlighted the need for transparency and for brands and retailers to account for their actions and impacts.

Photo courtesy of Fashion Revolution

More broadly, Fashion Open Studio was the first international fashion showcase to produce an entirely digital schedule, with a packed program of events from designers in the UK as well as across 12 countries. Most of the events can now be seen on our Youtube channel. Many designers do not have access to their studios at present, so they used this opportunity to connect with audiences online through workshops and tutorials, conversations, and discussions around sustainability with practical solutions and ways to engage creatively. The theme of this year’s annual Fashion Question Time, also held online for the first time, Mass consumption: the end of an era couldn’t feel more relevant to the present situation with retail stores shuttered in most of the world and people starting to reassess and reprioritize their spending.

What can we expect to see from the Fashion Revolution over the next few years? How do you see the organization growing and expanding? 

Fashion Revolution started life as a predominantly online movement and this online pivot has given us an opportunity to test out running larger events and showcases on digital platforms. Fashion Revolution and our country teams around the world will undoubtedly continue to engage more online in the future, as well as continuing with our physical events when we are able to do so again.

What’s one thing you wish people knew about the fashion industry? 

Our skin is the body’s largest organ and there is surprisingly little research into how we absorb harmful chemicals from our clothing through it. Emily Penn, the co-founder of Exxpedition, decided to have her blood tested for 35 chemicals which are banned by the UN and found 29 of them inside her body including pesticides and flame retardants. We are surrounded by these chemicals every day, on our soft furnishings, our pillows, and our clothes and there are considerable knowledge gaps about how these enter our bodies.  

Photo courtesy of Fashion Revolution

What we do know is that these toxic chemicals are endocrine disruptors which could potentially affect our health and fertility. The body burden of chemicals is passed on from mother to child, with levels of some hazardous chemicals increasing from generation to generation. Yet so few people seem to understand that our clothing contains chemicals. I’ve thought for several years that the message about human rights and environmental abuses in the fashion industry just doesn’t touch some people, but when the impact of our clothing hits closer to home and potentially affects our own health, our children’s health – that’s when we’ll start to do something about it. 

What’s the best thing people can do to advocate for a better fashion industry

Ask #whomademyclothes and #whatsinmyclothes. If you want to learn more, our free, accredited online course Fashion’s Future: The Sustainable Development Goals, launches on 4 May. 

Carry Somers. Photo by Sienna Somers, courtesy of Fashion Revolution.

Interview questions by Jessy Humann