Fashion + Feminism

Who runs the world? The powerful women behind the sustainable fashion movement

It’s hard to pinpoint when the sustainable fashion movement gained its huge momentum but last year’s Fashion’s Dirty Secrets documentary certainly helped. Airing on BBC Three, the programme shocked many about the realities of fast fashion. During the documentary investigative journalist Stacey Dooley uncovered the deadly affects mass clothing production was having on people and the planet. Before the documentary, fast fashion was still a phrase that many had never heard. The spotlight has been shone on the damage food and transportation industries have on our planet. However, the impact of the fashion industry has only recently entered mainstream knowledge.

How is fast fashion damaging the planet?

It takes up to 20,000 litres of water to make just 1kg of cotton clothing. In the UK, £140 million worth of clothing goes to landfill every year. The amount of synthetic fibres used in our clothes has doubled since 2000. This all means fast fashion is having devastating effects. It’s draining countries’ water supplies, damaging the earth and suffocating the atmosphere by using significant amounts of fossil fuel.

The victims of fast fashion

Fast fashion goes hand in hand with unethical fashion. Real people are damaged by clothes that are produced cheaply. Whilst women consume the most fast fashion, it also claims majority female victims. In India over 3 million people work in the garment industry. 85% of these people are women. They work incredibly long hours for very little pay. A 2011 report found that half of them had been beaten in the workplace.

Women leading the sustainable fashion movement

But whilst women might be the main victims of fast fashion, the good news is they are also the ones leading a movement for this to stop.

Fashion’s Dirty Secrets uncovered a topic that many weren’t aware about.
Following the documentary, a string of influencers, YouTuber’s and bloggers whose careers focused on fast fashion began to talk about its problems. Dooley promotes buying long term quality items, rather than cheap but short lasting. She is a great example of how women are leading the movement that could save our planet, but she’s not the only one.

The beginning of the sustainable fashion movement

In fact, the sustainable fashion movement has been around for quite a while. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll have heard the term fast fashion, it’s been everywhere. As the climate change movement has expanded people have developed more of an understanding of what it is that’s harming our planet. You might think that fast fashion is fairly new term but it’s not. It was first used in the 1990’s by the New York Times to describe Zara’s production process when they opened a store in New York. Since then the industry has spiralled and become the daily norm. But right from the beginning there’s been women fighting against this harmful practice.

Stella McCartney’s Eco-friendly clothing line

Way before the word sustainable became common use, Stella McCartney made her brand dedicated to an environmentally friendly and ethical attitude and has done ever since. In 2001 she controversially launched her fur and leather free fashion line. Many were sceptical but the brand took off. How did she do it? By creating a line that showed people sustainable fashion can look good. Her customers aren’t just those who what to be more Eco-conscious, they also love the products. It works for everyone and has paved the way for other designers to follow suit.

Carry Somers and the #whomademyclothes campaign

In 2013 a devastating event pushed forward the momentum of the ethical fashion movement. It was the Rana Plaza disaster. A garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed and killed over 1000 workers. The event exposed the world to the unsafe conditions workers were forced into. Most of the victims were girls and women.

Carry Somers, a British fashion designer saw it as a call to arms. She started the #whomademyclothes campaign, encouraging people to wear their clothes inside out so their labels showed. The campaign took of and led to the Fashion Revolution Day. The day has taken place on April 24th, the anniversary of the disaster, every year since. Hundreds of global organisations support the day of protest. Carry has created significant change in the fashion world by rallying people together to force corporations to become more sustainable and improve workers rights.

AmyAnn Cadwell and the platform for sustainable fashion

In 2014 AmyAnn Cadwell launched The Good Trade, an online platform discussing and highlighting sustainable fashion and ethical lifestyles. What started as project as part of her masters degree soon became Cadwell’s full time job. She recognised the lack of platforms out their discussing these issues and The Good Trade became the leading online platform for sustainability. Today, the website is still a success and Cadwell is a leading voice for ethical fashion, encouraging other female entrepreneurs by speaking at conferences.

Hope for the future of sustainability

Of course these are just a few of the women pioneering the sustainable fashion movement. There’s many more female designers, leaders and entrepreneurs all battling for a safer and healthier planet. Their efforts are working too. Second hand shopping has become a threat to fast fashion retailers with second hand stores increasing profits and sites like Depop and ThreadUp growing much more quickly than the retail fashion market. The world is moving in the right direction and it’s doing it quickly.

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