Planet: Reconnect

Coordinator of Fashion Revolution Greece Dr Fiori Zafeiropoulou discusses the effects of the fashion industry on the environment, and ethical fashion in a world that constantly promotes overconsumption.

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Author: Evangelos Voulvoutzis

Photo Credit: Fashion Revolution

Hello Fiori! In a few words, what is the Fashion Revolution?

Fashion Revolution is the world’s largest fashion activism movement, formed after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 which killed over 1,100 people.

The project campaigns for a clean, safe, fair, transparent and accountable fashion industry through research, education, collaboration, mobilisation and advocating for policy change. It’s a global movement with country offices and voluntary teams in 90 countries.

In Greece our team was established -together with the global team- end of 2013, we have a network of City Leaders around many cities and islands and an active National Coordination Team of almost 100 volunteers that work all year round on our programs and initiatives. 

Our movement believes in a global fashion industry that conserves and restores the environment and values people over growth and profit. In order to achieve this goal, the organisation conducts research that shines a light on the fashion industry’s practices and impacts, highlights where brands and retailers are moving too slowly and incentivises and promotes transparency and accountability across the supply chain.

Who are the people participating in this movement?

We are people from all around the world who make the fashion industry work. We are the people who wear clothes. And we are the people who make them. We are designers, academics, writers, business leaders, policymakers, brands, retailers, marketers, producers, makers, workers and fashion lovers.

We love fashion. But we don’t want our clothes to exploit people or destroy our planet. We demand radical, revolutionary change. We believe that collaborating across the whole value chain — from farmer to consumer — is the only way to transform the industry. Our mission is to bring everyone together to make that happen.

Fashion revolution survey @ We are Europe
List of brands surveyed by Fashion Revolution in 2021.

The main question of Fashion Revolution is “who makes my clothes?” To what extent can we find an answer to this question for both Greek and international brands?

The Fashion Transparency Index-FTI 2021 reviews and ranks 250 of the biggest global fashion brands and retailers according to how much they disclose about their social and environmental policies, practices and impact by means of public disclosure. I am a researcher for FTI 2021. 

In the last three years, these brands and retail chains have made a big shift towards sustainable fashion in search of solutions to production and textiles and raw materials. Brands reviewed since 2016 show an increase of their transparency by an average of 12%per year (FTI, 2020). 47%publish their list of first tier factories and 11%their list of raw material suppliers (FTI, 2021). 

We are planning on running FTI in Greece for 2022 reviewing the biggest Greek brands and retailers. It is important to ask brands and retailers to disclose a full list of their suppliers of all tiers; this means that we need to find easily on their websites a list of their manufacturers, a list of their textile producers, a list of their raw material producers.

Brands need to know and share with us the state of the workforce of their suppliers, if they are being paid a living wage, if their labour rights are respected. We need to know what their processes are for knowing risks and how they fix them.  

Dr. Fiori Zafeiropoulou Fashion Revolution @ We are Europe
Dr. Fiori Zafeiropoulou © Fashion Revolution

What is the first, perhaps the simplest, rule that the consumer must follow in order to witness a more ethical process of producing clothes?

With garment production predicted to grow by 81% by 2030, there is ever-growing demand for agricultural land to produce cotton, viscose, wool, rubber, leather hides and other natural fibres. 150 million trees are logged every year to be turned into cellulosic fabrics, such as viscose, and cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation in the Amazon. Cutting down forests leads to habitat loss and makes the risk of disease transmission from wildlife to humans more likely, increasing the risk of future pandemics.

Consumers should opt for buying new clothes that are made from the recycling of existing waste, from recycled thread and raw materials, from upcycled textiles, or from used clothes

DR. Fiori Zafeiropoulou

Some of the most severe and exploitative working conditions and worst environmental damage happens deep within fashion supply chains where materials are grown and fabrics are made, as evidenced by recent revelations of forced labour of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region of China.

The time has come to demand a deeper level of transparency, to ask not only #WhoMadeMyClothes but #WhoMadeMyFabric and who grows the cotton.

Being part of International Organizations’ forums and the EU policy making forums the last three years, I have witnessed a dramatic change in actions being taken at all levels from national governments to brands for the protection of the environment and human rights from the fashion and textile industry.

Fashion Revolution @ We are Europe
Percentage based on the pool of fashion brands showcased at the top of article. Data collected for the FTI. © Fashion Revolution

This is the result of pressure coming from consumers and civil society organizations. We are the drivers of this change, and this is not a trend, being sustainable in fashion is the new status quo. By merely talking with each other about these issues we participate in this systemic change. Consumer research picks up on everything that influences our consumer behavior decision making. 

Consumers should opt for buying new clothes that are made from the recycling of existing waste, from recycled thread and raw materials, from upcycled textiles, or from used clothes.

They should also understand that cheap clothes are like ‘toxic food’, they are not an alternative, it means that no-one has been paid and that nature has suffered in their making. We are all connected to this human and nature suffering is coming back to us. 

What is the first thing an entrepreneur should do, from the smallest garment factory to the owner of the largest fast fashion chain in the world?

I would suggest to fashion entrepreneurs and fashion managers to review Fashion Transparency Index items and implement policies one by one in a 5 year strategy plan. 

They should consider how to design products that use existing recycled materials and fibers, and how these products could be reused extending their end of life. 

When it comes to managing their supply chains, traceability and transparency are the most important elements which will help them be in line with the new EU and national regulations. 

I would suggest to fashion entrepreneurs and fashion managers to review Fashion Transparency Index items and implement policies one by one in a 5 year strategy plan.

DR Fiori Zafeiropoulou

As a founder of a ready-made garments manufacturing studio, Social Fashion Factory, I always control the origin and synthesis of my raw materials and textiles. I buy vegan and 100% plant-based only. I never use virgin plastic; I use recycled plastic polyester when it comes to making athletic clothing and swimwear. I opt for proximity in my sourcing of materials to control over CO2 emissions. I visit my textile suppliers’ weaving facilities to control overworking conditions. I control the origin of threads and farming locations. 

Fashion Revolution @ We are Europe
Evolution on a 2 year period of the amount of data shared to the FTI. © Fashion Revolution

We design garments using zero waste approaches and making sure they are high quality endurable products. When it comes to end of life, I ask my customers -Brands and Retailers- to collect torn garments so that we can mend them and return.  

The fashion industry is among the five most polluting industries in the world. First of all, the question that comes to my mind is why?

We are living in a climate emergency and the fashion and textile sector is one of the most polluting and wasteful industries. The true environmental and social cost of our clothes is high. Clothes and textiles are the number one source of primary microplastic to the oceans accounting for 34,8% of the global total.

Fashion is the second industry in risk of labour trafficking (GSI, 2018). The industry continues to lack transparency, with widespread exploitation of people working in the supply chain. Clothing production follows numerous stages before reaching the stores (cotton crops, farming, spinning of yarn, dyeing of fabrics, sewing, packaging, forwarding, air emissions from various stages of the supply chain to end user. 

We consume 60% more than we did 14 years ago and we keep our clothes for half of the time we did.

DR Fiori Zafeiropoulou

Our clothes are made from materials and processes that require the extraction of natural, non-renewable resources and produce considerable negative environmental impacts. Polyester represents around 60% of global fibre production, is a common plastic and is made of crude oil.

When we wash clothes made from synthetic fibres like polyester, they shed thousands of microplastics into our waterways, potentially harming human health and biodiversity. At a global level, clothing and footwear account for 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) annually and for 20% of global wastewater. Fashion emits more Greenhouse gases than international flights and maritime combined. 

We consume 60% more than we did 14 years ago and we keep clothes for half of the time we did. 40% of our clothes are never worn. Every second, one truck full of textiles is landfilled or incinerated. In Greece municipal solid waste is currently at a threshold of 19% (Europa, 2019) of a recycling rate being almost at the bottom of the scale in Europe. 

This industry is also infamous for relying in some case on unfair working conditions, child labour and slavery. Is it something that your project investigates ?

Seventy-five (75) million people work directly in the fashion and textiles industry, about 80% of them are women. Many are subject to exploitation, verbal and physical abuse, working in unsafe conditions, with very little pay. There are 25 million people working today as modern slaves, 1 out of 4 are children and the average age of enslavement is 12 years old. There is an estimate of 2 billion informal workers around the world that lack basic labour, social and health protections.

The value of products at risk of human trafficking imported by G20 are $354 billion; the top five products at risk of human trafficking imported by the G20 are: 1) laptops, computers & smart phones with $200.1 billion value, 2) garments with $127.7 billion! Globally 218 million children between 5-17 years old are in work conditions. Of them 152 million are victims of child labour and 73 million work under hazardous conditions. Europe has 1,243,400 people in slavery.

Fashion Revolution @ We are Europe
Percentage based on the pool of fashion brands showcased at the top of article. Data collected for the FTI. © Fashion Revolution

Greece is 2nd on the European list with 7.9/1000 percent of the population living in slavery about 89,000 people. Greece is known as “the center of trafficking in human beings in Europe”, as it is a country which, because of its geographical location, is the entry into the European Union and accounts for 90% of cases of illegal immigration into Europe. (Global Slavery Index, 2018).

What should be the position of the states on this issue? Should we implement legal actions?

Fashion Revolution together with 70 civil society organisations and 65 EU-MPs submitted to the European Parliament and the European Commission the ‘Civil Society Shadow Strategy for Sustainable Fashion & Textile Sector – TGFL’ (2020) which is already being incorporated in the new EU Circular Economy Plan

The movement is calling on the fashion industry and governments to recognize the interconnection between human rights and the rights of nature. We believe we need a radical shift in our relationships—with each other, with our clothes, within fashion supply chains and with the natural world—so that the rights of people and the rights of nature hold more of the power wherever decisions are being made. 

We argue that the human exploitation and ecosystem degradation we see all around us today are the product of centuries of colonialism and globalized exploitation, stemming from a western-focused worldview in which human and environmental prosperity are seen as isolated and disconnected from each other

Garment sales are moving inversely with garment utilization, yet the fashion industry generates $2.4 trillion every year.  In order to combat the climate crisis and protect precious natural resources, we must rethink consumption-as-usual.

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. We must embrace new ways of enjoying clothes such as sharing and swapping.

Fashion Revolution @ We are Europe
Percentage based on the pool of fashion brands showcased at the top of article. Data collected for the FTI. © Fashion Revolution

Fashion Revolution will be campaigning for a revolution in the way the industry works, for the health of the earth and the oceans and for our own prosperity and wellbeing. 

We cannot continue to extract dwindling resources from an already stressed natural world, pollute our land and our oceans, fall far short of climate change targets, dump our waste on the shoulders of countries we have culturally depleted and ignore inequality and human rights abuses in every part of the industry. 

According to Special EU Barometer 2019

According to Fashion Revolution Consumer Survey 2018

In the last few years, we observed a shift towards second hand clothing. Do these practices actually help the purpose of the Fashion Revolution and the change of mentality in terms of clothing consumption in general, or is the individual change of mentality too weak to bring an actual change on sustainability?

Data shows that only 1% of textile and clothing waste is actually being recycled, so there is much more that can be done. Vintage and secondhand clothing will have a share of 30% of the market in the next coming years. It is the only way to move forward in addressing the major issue of waste that our planet cannot take any more. 

Data shows that 1% of textile and clothing waste is actually being recycled, so there is much more that can be done.

DR FIORI Zafeiropoulou

As I already told you above, it is the strength of the individual that leads to the systemic change in our industry. Thanks to these individuals we now see change happening on all levels. We need to embrace this sustainable and ethical living mentality and make these minor changes in our consumer behaviour. If you consider the changes that we will need to make – and already have been asked to- in our lives if we continue to distort our climate and exploit people then these minor changes will seem to you as comparatively invisible. 

During the pandemic, we witnessed a pause that no one expected. Do you know if this pause was observed in the consumption of the clothes we buy? And if so, was the difference in the environmental impact of the fashion industry noticeable?

The Covid-19 pandemic dramatically exacerbated the aforementioned problems of the industry and led to a considerable shift in consumer public opinion and reinforced pressure from the EU and international organizations on governments and the industry for stricter regulatory frameworks and compliance.

My initial predictions at the first lock down were that people would find the time to reflect on what is happening around them. I believe that people are well-intended and good-willed; only a very small percentage of the population can deliberately harm another person or an animal. The harm that we are causing happens in the dark, hidden behind the complexity of the fashion supply chains and in unconscious choices. 

Data shows that global consumption in the fashion industry has dropped after Covid-19 health crises, it shows that people understood that they do not need all this stuff. The predictions are that fashion consumption will not return to the frenetic levels in terms of volume. 

About the project

Fashion Revolution is on Facebook & Instagram. You can follow their content with the hashtag #whomademyclothes

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