From the elaborate Haute Couture, to shawls from Sarojini Market, from Vera Wang wedding gowns to Chickpet Saree shops, from Chanel Formals to the oldest, comfiest T shirts in our cupboards – one must wonder what goes into the finished products and what happens to the piles of discarded material after. Eventually leading us to the bigger question – how do the chemicals used in these things impact our environment?
On 30th July, Church Street Social hosted a discussion with these questions in mind. Organized by Social, in collaboration with both the British Council and the worldwide movement of Fashion revolution, the event consisted of 16 short films, produced by the British Council, India.
The first floor of Social was slowly filling up with various people, all engaged in heated discussions. The audience spilled over from the designated seating area to fill the tables that had been put aside. Some on chairs, some in couches, there were even some sitting on top of the tables, arguing about fashion houses in India. The event hadn’t even begun yet.
The audience was thrown into a fusion of various neon colors when the event started. Bright vertical lines lit up the walls off the stage. The chatter grew louder and overpowered even the blenders making cocktails.
The babble died down when the Emcee for the day, Anna, came into the front and welcomed everyone to the event.
The speaker for the day was Abhishek Jani, CEO of FairTrade India. An organization which is working towards a better relationship between the workers and the companies. It also ensures a greater transparency with regard to who made the products and how they were made.
He began his speech by stating that the worldwide Fashion Industry was the second largest contributor to pollution. Also, that workers within the industry are often mistreated and underpaid. His short speech concluded with three points as topics of discussion; fashion as a polluting industry, difficulties or changes in traditions pertaining to fashion and the change that the Fashion Revolution hopes to achieve in the global industry.
What was behind the making of Fashion Revolution?
Fashion Revolution, with its goals overlapping with that of FairTrade India, is a worldwide movement that was born in response to the Rana Plaza Tragedy of 24th of April in 2013. The tragedy involved the collapse of a factory where many leading branded clothes were made. Despite the wide cracks in the building that the workers pointed to, the company authorities forced them inside for their daily work. According to the Fashion Revolution website and The Guardian which reported the incident, the building collapsed — injuring more than 2,500 workers while claiming the lives of 1,134 workers.
This prompted the founder of Fashion Revolution, Carry Somers to form the movement with the hopes of changing the ways of the industry. Their manifesto includes – stopping the exploitation of workers, giving a space for their voices, to foster and celebrate various traditions and crafts, to stand for the solidity of democracy as well as to preserve and enrich the environment.
Keeping true to the title of the event, ‘Films on Innovative and Sustainable Fashion,’ 7 short films commissioned by the British Council of India as part of Fashion Revolution Week 2018 were featured. Exploring the innovative stories of 7 practitioners across the world, including fashion designers, architects, artists, and entrepreneurs in these fields. This provided an insight into how the artists are influenced by their own traditions and how to ensure sustainability in their respective countries.
To this list were added 9 more short films about the traditional ways of material making. These films showed the challenges that native artists faced, also highlighting the changes they are going through to adapt to the needs of the current global market.
The discussions that followed were focused on the fashion houses around the world. Where, as Abhishek Jani explained, transparency and sustainability are becoming a big part of the commitments that the brands are taking on. Due to the raising awareness globally, brands are now putting effort into meeting at least one of the demands at a time, often finding themselves pledging to less water wastage, and reduced release of pollutants into the environment. Which, according to the speaker is hardly ever implemented in India.
He added that the next generation of students in the field must be educated on the options that they have as future designers and makers.
However, as one member of the audience pointed out, “understanding the problem is one thing and doing something about it is another matter altogether.” Jani agreed and also said that the number one factor that people consider while buying clothes is not the sustainability or the environmental footprint of the product but the price.
In the current Indian market, the brands that have pledged to a cause, can also be seen increasing the prices of their clothing lines. Which cannot be avoided because if they are sold at a lower price, it would devalue the time and effort the workers are putting in. Jani followed this by predicting that as the demand for sustainable clothes increases, the price will decrease.
He concluded that sustainability and the decrease in pollution can be reached in simpler ways without having to change entire wardrobes. Which is to use the clothes that we already have and to reuse them as much as we can instead of going after the latest fashion. Offering his own example, he said that today he only buys when absolutely necessary.
All Photographs by Bibith Joy
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