Wear It Right - challenging our unethical fashion industry
The fashion industry has long had a exceptionally damaging effect on our natural environment, generating unsustainably high carbon emissions, water consumption, chemical pollution, waste and more - as well as exposing vulnerable populations to these environmental risks, whilst often also compromising their workers' rights.
The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the lack of vital support available to garment workers in countries such as Bangladesh. It's clear that we need to rethink our attitude to fashion, and transfer to a fair and inclusive circular industry. Change often starts at home - asking yourself what you can do to extend the lifecycle of your clothes and shop ethically. That's where organisations such as 'Wear It Right' come in...
The 'Wear It Right' initiative stemmed from a university project. Its founders - Lily Jackson, Lizzie Bajin-Sharp, Freya Cormack and Martha Woods are motivated by a collective goal of helping to achieve this transition.
Lily explains how the group's work experience placement with a local NGO was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Their alternative assessment was to create an initiative for a new NGO. She says, 'we all had a passion for fashion (no rhyme intended) but had a shared feeling of guilt for the treatment of garment workers abroad and the environmental impact of fast-fashion'. The proceeds from 'Wear It Right' will go directly to the National Garment Workers' Federation, the Bangladeshi trade union.
Clockwise: Freya Cormack, Lizzie Bajin-Sharp, Martha Woods and Lily Jackson
Martha describes how 'Wear It Right' plans to start out by becoming a student group at Bristol University, and pressing for a volunteering grant, so that they can start fundraising and putting their business model in place! She says this will 'allow us a platform to start from, and gain support and awareness of our project'. Freya adds that 'we would love to continue to grow the website and model into an NGO that is able to generate funding to send to the NGWF'.
In terms of a business model, they state that originally they plan to be self-sufficient, in the format of an online charity shop. Lily explains their plans for encouraging clothes donations - a brilliantly original concept in an overly material world. Buyers will be encouraged to set up an account, and in exchange for donations of preloved clothes, they will receive points. These will get entered into a quarterly raffle for the chance to win amazing experiences - 'it's all orientated around the idea that we, as people, need less STUFF and more EXPERIENCES!'
'Wear It Right' decided against going down the route of incentivising customers to donate clothes by handing out vouchers to buy new clothes, as they feel it would undermine their company's ethos of sustainability.
When they have created a successful and reputable brand, they plan to approach brands, and pitch for a preloved section on their websites, in order to reach a larger audience, including those that may not actively seek out sustainable clothing or prefer to shop from specific brands.
'Wear It Right's dynamic mission statement aims to involve brands in the long term. I ask them how they plan to achieve recognition and encourage these relationships. Martha asserts that the pressure that consumers put on brands to work more sustainably will play a pivotal role in cultivating recognition, and facilitating a more circular industry, in contrast to the waste produced through fast fashion.
Source: Think Sustainability blog
The immediacy of cheap, fast-fashion seems to be considerably rooted in our society. I wondered how challenging the 'Wear It Right' founders think it will be to direct shoppers towards ethical fashion. Lizzie agrees that it will be difficult to change our consumer habits globally, but adds that there does seem to be a movement towards shopping more ethically. She claims that 'one of the issues is that at the moment it is expensive to buy well-made, ethically sourced clothing that is also made by giving the workers a fair wage', and points out that for groups such as students, it's hard not to turn to the cheap option. She believes that their model 'will appeal to people who are interested in keeping up with fashion trends, but doing so in a sustainable and affordable way'.
Lizzie outlines the issues that the Bangladeshi workers - that they hope 'Wear It Right's funding will help support - are currently facing, including an inability to afford rent, job insecurity and discrimination in the workplace, as well as a lack of effective safety guidelines, including functioning fire alarms. Women often aren't considered for higher paying roles, despite making up the majority of the workforce. According to Forbes, western brands have cancelled $2.81 billion worth of exports in Bangledeshi factories during the Covid-19 crisis. Muhymin Chowdhury, head of Sajida Foundation's challenge fund and fundraising, claims that this has affected 1,150 factories and subsequently the lives of 2.27 million workers and their families, 47% of which now have no income. 80% of Bangladesh's exports are clothes, putting their economy in jeopardy.
Cally Russell, the founder of LostStock, one of the organisations that has inspired 'Wear It Right', describes the instability that garment workers face: 'most deals between the retailers and the factories are payment on delivery, so the factories take all the risk up front by manufacturing the garments before they have been paid for the materials and labour'.
Source: The Telegraph
The environmental issues perpetuated by the fashion industry are extensive. WRAP calculated that in 2016, the total carbon footprint of clothing in use in the UK, including global and territorial emissions, was 26.2 million tonnes. Not to forget its colossal water consumption - the global average water footprint for 1 kilogram of cotton is between 10,000 - 20,000 litres. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation states that the textile production accounts for annual global emissions of 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. Fibre production, preparation and processing contributes most to these carbon emissions - increasing second hand use extends garments’ lifetimes and reduces demand for new clothing, thus reducing the overall carbon footprint.
'Wear It Right' hopes to assist in dismantling the psyche of fast-fashion, and support the increase in funding to the National Garment Workers Federation, so that workers' rights can be improved. Most of all they just want their project to be a success!
Lily says that LostStock has given them the ability to believe anything is possible. 'I think, given the recent successes of both depop and high-street charity shops, Wear it Right offers a unique balance between the two, combining online-access with the philanthropic aspect of charity shopping.'
I can't wait to see how their project progresses to play a role within the bigger picture, of a much needed restructure and revitalisation of the fashion industry, while helping support those who need it.