Technology and the Fashion Revolution

 

How tech can help make fashion more transparent

This Fashion Revolution week I’ve been reflecting on the role of technology in accelerating the Fashion Revolution and pushing transparency up the agenda.

Over the last few years concerns have rightly been raised over the current ‘fast fashion’ business model - a model that encourages over consumption and generates excessive waste. Moreover, on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse, we have a stark reminder of the human cost of the global fashion industry.

Rana Plaza housed five garment factories, all of them making clothes for big global brands that we all know, and many of us wear. The tragedy cost the lives of 1,138 people with another 2,500 injured, mostly young women. It was the fourth largest industrial disaster in history. The building’s collapse sparked worldwide outrage and was the catalyst of the global Fashion Revolution movement – which demanded greater transparency on the working conditions of the people that make our clothes.

At the time, like many others, I shared the hashtag and asked the question “who made my clothes?” every time I went shopping. It was mostly met with blank stares, or a referral to a website, and very rarely did I find any concrete answer – it seemed that most brands didn’t actually know the answer, in particular because many of them were sourcing clothes from offshore factories.

Given this response, one of the simple actions I took was to start buying clothing that was made locally – that, I had thought, would at least mean workers would have decent wages and fair working conditions. But how wrong I may have been! In February this year, the UK Parliament published an inquiry into the UK fashion industry and found worrying evidence regarding labour practices in factories supplying UK fast fashion and e-retailers, particularly in Leicester. At their first hearing, they were told that ‘the going rate’ for a garment worker in lots of places in Leicester is £3.50 - £4 an hour (well below the minimum wage), and there were ‘significant concerns’ with respect to working conditions in some factories. I was left wondering whether any garment factory could be trusted to care for their workers.

In addition to the human cost, the current fashion industry has a major environmental cost too.

The chemicals used to grow and dye our clothes have a terrible impact on the water quality surrounding factories, and producing clothes is extremely water intensive (10,000 litres for every pair of jeans!) Fashion is also energy intensive, contributing to 3% of global production of C02 emissions.

After all this human and environmental effort to make our clothes you’d think we’d cherish them forever? Hardly. In the UK, 300,000 tonnes of clothing end up in household bins every year. What a tragedy.

So, six years on from Rana you may still feel pretty hopeless about the potential for the fashion industry to build a better future. While the big picture is indeed bleak, there are a growing number of inspiring trends and brands that give me hope.

Not only do I believe that London is well-placed to embrace this more ethical fashion future due to a growing number of conscious consumers and some of the leading sustainable fashion brands in the world, but I also have faith in the role of tech in pushing the issue of transparency up the agenda of fashion brands.

I believe that tech companies, like CoGo, have a unique opportunity to help shift the power to consumers and make it easier for them to chose brands with a better understanding of their ethical and sustainable credentials.

We do this by taking away the need to be the researcher and the judge, as we find and accredit brands for our users, using a series of third party accreditation and verification standards to keep things simple and trustworthy. This means consumers don’t have to be experts in a myriad of accreditation standards and certifications to understand if their choices are positive for people and the planet.

Technology can also help consumers find brands that are doing great things. It might not sound that revolutionary, but when brands sacrifice some of their marketing budget to pay their garment workers fairly or use sustainable fabrics, it can be hard to compete with the big brands online! At CoGo we do the discovering. We seek out the most ethical and sustainable brands and offer them a platform to reach similarly minded consumers.

At CoGo, we also help to get people thinking more broadly about the sectors they buy from, so instead of just looking for the least-bad high-st option, we help to present some alternatives. For example:

  • If you are a fashion addict trying to minimise your impact you could try renting your wardrobe from a business like Wear The Walk.

  • If you hate waste but love individual and quirky style you should consider buying from a brand that uses waste products as an input into their accessories and garments like allSisters or Elvis & Kresse.

  • Or if you hate the idea of more clothes being produced only to eventually sit in a landfill site, why not try shopping vintage with Beyond Retro or Onimos?

We’ve still got a way to go, but I’m certain that apps like ours will help to make the fashion industry more transparent and therefore fairer for garment workers and the environment alike, so please, do get involved!

Ben

 
 

Start finding sustainable fashion brands today with the CoGo app.