An Ode to Ethical Fashion: 10 years of Clean & Unique By Lee Rammelt
Friday night, March 17th 2017, a crowd of conscious and curious minds met at Pakhuis de Zwijger. The occasion: celebrate a decade of Clean & Unique, the platform and partner for a sustainable future in the fashion and textiles industry. Host and heart of both the evening’s event and the agency of change is Roosmarie Ruigrok. Not one to be right at the centre of attention, her approach was to invite a number of key speakers for a series of round table discussions.
At the core of this debate lies the mandate: Do not look away.
Even though textile and fashion manufacturing has been moved out of Europe to low wage countries on the other side of the globe, out of sight is not out of mind. It may be an inconvenient truth, but fast fashion’s destructive impact on the environment and the exploitation of people, do not allow for turning a blind eye. It has been Clean & Unique’s quest for the past decade to put this point across, clearly and with conviction.
Table 1: Visionairs
Tara Scally: Dutch Clean Clothes Campaign
Rianne de Witte: Fashion Designer, worked with Made By
Sophie Koers: Fair Wear Foundation
To move forward we need the visionaries, who can see beyond the struggles of the status quo. At the forefront of the movement for a better future in fashion we find organisations like the Clean Clothes campaign, Fair Wear Foundation and Made-By. It demonstrates how one single action of protest can turn into a collective of global change makers. Tara Scally, Rianne de Witte and Sophie Koers can all testify to this.
It is an enormous challenge, as the industry has become incredibly fragmented and global brands do not have a full view of their own supply chain. Even when Codes of Conduct have been signed and the deal has been sealed, unwanted human sacrifices are still too often made, succumbing to the pressure of delivery deadlines and cutting costs. Documentaries like China Blue and The True Cost paint a dire picture that makes it impossible to deny that action is needed now.
Wearing second hand clothing may help reduce waste and enhance a product life cycle, but it does not change anything at the start of the loop. This is where change is needed most. Yes people need jobs, but they don’t need jobs that do not provide them with a living wage. Jobs that may even eventually kill them.
In the past fifteen years great progress has been made to raise awareness, but it has been a repetition of the same story, since not enough real change has been achieved. But it is not hopeless and we are not helpless. Use social media. Tell brands you want to change.
Table 2: Entrepreneurs
Annouk Post: Author of ‘Exploring a Sustainable World’ & Fair Wear Foundation
Carlien Helmink: Studio Jux
Elsien Gringhuis: Studio Elsien Gringhuis
Jeannette Ooink: Awearness Fashion
Annouk Post, Elsien Gringhuis, Carlien Helmink and Jeannette Ooink do much more then dreaming of a world where fair fashion is the norm. As creative catalysts they continue to advocate change, through publications, presentations and sustainable fashion collections. And even though the Netherlands is a market moving in the right direction, Norway, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland seem to be a little ahead of the game. There are great platforms and organisations, like Eerlijk Winkelen, Kies Duurzame Mode or Store stories. For fair fashion to break out of its niche, more is needed than sustainable products and a good background story. Even though every drop in the ocean counts….
So what does it take for game changing action? Is it bottom up, from a consumer’s perspective or top down, by regulating the industry through laws and covenants? Yes, minister Ploumen put it firmly on the agenda inviting textile companies and brands to join forces in managing their supply chains. Considering child labour will not be legally banned until 2020, law makers seem lacking behind to meet the real urgency for change? Do large fashion monopolies need to be dismantled through government interference? Does the future lie in small scale suppliers?
Will slow fashion be able to move the mountains that fast fashion has buried us under? Consumer platforms offering a new perspective, require patience and persistence, but they can empower the small decision makers. You.
Table 3: A World of Change
Nienke Steen: CSR & Buying consultant at Modint
Bert van Son: Mud Jeans
Marieke Vinck: Charlie + Marie sustainable fashion concept store
Roosmarie Ruigrok: Fashion Revolution
Rana Plaza, the death of 1134 workers, was a devastating tragedy that shook the world. To make sure it did not turn into a tiny tremor, like the seven accidents like this that still happen on an annual basis, Rana Plaza sparked the Fashion Revolution. April 24th is now permanently marked on the Fashion Calendar to make sure we never forget, but also to continue actively working on change.
Is it possible for brands to operate fairly and sustainably in the current industry? Yes, good factories do exist. Start-up brands like Mud Jeans invested heavily in the entire supply chain as well as using 40% recycled materials in their products. However, even companies like Fair Phone have to admit they cannot guarantee a full 100% fair and sustainable source for all the parts used. But it is possible to use your business as a force of good. CSR is a benefit, not a burden.
The National Action Plan, a fairly recent Dutch agreement, saw seventy Dutch participating companies pledge to improve their supply chains. It’s a start. But is the law really the place to look for change? Signing the covenant is done so freely, change out of choice, not out of any legal obligation.
Faith seems to still be inspired first and foremost by the conscious consumer, who is willing to use and trust their common sense. Consumers who shop at places like Charlie + Marie, or Studio Jux and more, who consult Rank a Brand to find out what to buy. Consumers who are not afraid to ask questions. #WhoMadeMyClothes? Because they do want to know.
Table 4: New Area
Marina Toeters: By-Wire
Hanneke op den Brouw: ECAP.eu Project leader
Cecile Scheele: Goodbrandz, Dutch sustainable Fashion Week
Consumers sometimes become retailers, borne out of their frustration in finding fairly made, sustainable clothes. Some retailers, like Cecile Scheele do not stop at that, and broaden the scope by offering a platform to others, with the Sustainable Fashion Week. This event will be held again in October 2017 for the 4th time, adding to other great initiatives like the Fashion Revolution and Clean Clothes Campaign.
Vice versa, retailers and designers are also consumers in their own right. Even though sourcing and producing sustainably and demanding fair wages and safe work environments are luckily part of the fashion curriculum these days, there are still some discrepancies. Teaching fashion students to steer clear from the fast fashion industry pitfalls, Gwenn Cunningham has noticed fashion students are often keen to play their part as a creator, while lapsing when in the role of consumer. The temptation for a quick and dirty purchase is still often to strong, when on a small budget, like most students are.
The story behind products is again emphasised as being essential for conveying the message. Brands need their consumers to really connect with their purchases in order to have a lasting impact. The return of small scale ateliers and the value of craftsmanship do help customers to understand the real value of clothes, that have been well made in every sense of the word. These are tiny steps in a world inhabited by giants. Sustainable fashion may not have enough of a mainstream image yet, and is possibly still too often seen as a guilt free gimmick for the “woolly sock wearers”.
The role of governments remains up for debate. Yes, the green vote has grown substantially in the recent election in The Netherlands, but what power do they really hold? A liberal cabinet will not be keen to impose measures that will curb the free market. On a European level ECAP, the European Clothing Action Plan, has been formed to, as they state ‘bring environmental and economic benefit to the clothing sector.’
Focus on the consumer is still key. The demand determines change and your money is your vote. So the real challenge lies in how we reach more consumers – and convince everyone to be more involved.
Tell everyone! Educate yourself. There is no excuse left in the current climate of digital technology and social media. You are better connected than ever before. Dare to be different and dare to be disruptive. One small step anyone can take, starts with a simple question: Who made my clothes?
New beginnings; The evening started with TV Host Milouska Meulens who told us to wear her Vintage wedding dress. The evening ended up with a Fairtrade cotton weddingdress specially made for the Fairtradeweek 2010 by Ecological Republic.
Host: Roosmarie Ruigrok – Clean & Unique
Presented by: TV host Milouska Meulens