Fashion’s role in changing the world
Let's start a revolution: A feature by Outland Denim for Fashion Revolution Week.
In talking to one of our first staff members about three years into her working with us we asked, 'How is this helping you, this kind of employment and opportunity?'.
We had built our business model around providing stable employment, a living wage, holistic support, and a safe workplace for women who had experienced human trafficking, exploitation, or abuse - but we were interested to know, was this actually making an impact?
She went on to say that because of this opportunity, she'd been able to build a home for her family who previously lived under a plastic sheet. Then she told us that she was also able to buy her sister back off a man who owned her.
This is why we chose to become a B Corp, and this is why this week, Fashion Revolution Week, holds such a special place in our calendar.
Fashion Revolution Week is when people around the world unite to ask ‘Who made my clothes?’ in solidarity with and in memory of the 1134 garment workers who perished in the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in 2013. Among the rubble was clothing being made for brands that we wear every day. With these horrific images played out on news feeds around the world, the dirty side of the fashion industry was no longer out of sight and out of mind.
This year, we are reflecting on the ongoing effect of COVID-19 on workers across the full fashion supply chain. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted people who are already vulnerable, like garment workers, and between March and May 2020, the world’s 50 million garment workers lost wages totalling USD$5.79 billion.1
But we can’t forget about the rest of the supply chain. Who wove the fabric? Who dyed it? Who picked the cotton?
In a recent report by Baptist World Aid, it was estimated that a garment purchased in Australia or New Zealand has passed through 100 pairs of hands before it even reaches you, the wearer. And so although the numbers are overwhelming, there is hope. After all, this means that for every garment you buy, you have the opportunity to have a positive impact on the lives of 100 people.
In 2021, we’re proud to share that Outland Denim knows the complete journey of our denim from Tier 1 (production) to Tier 5 (the cottonseed). This is an encouraging milestone. Typically it is extremely difficult for brands to get insight into the deepest parts of their supply chains; where the raw materials begin.
The Fashion Revolution Week campaign has been instrumental in educating and rallying consumers, encouraging them to put pressure on brands. But by no means should the onus be on consumers to clean up a mess that the fashion industry has made. Consumers shouldn’t have to know what GOTS, OEKO-TEX, or ZDHC mean to simply go out and buy a pair of jeans - who has the time for that?!
We need to empower our Impact and CSR teams with the tools that they need to make true change. We need to invest and support research and advocate for that research to influence legislation that will regulate and bring accountability to our reporting and advertising.
But, most importantly, we need to establish an internal culture, driven from leadership, that prioritises people and the planet with the same weights as profits. Beyond this, we have to put competition aside and collaborate on solutions to the challenges that we face. We don’t exist in a vacuum, so no one is going to win this ‘sustainability race’.
Not too long ago, one of our very first team members was living with her family under a plastic sheet; and her sister a victim of modern slavery. Today, she has the tools to provide for her family. She is thriving, free, and the author of her future. This is the power of fashion, this is the power of better business. Let’s strive to change the fundamental wrongs of a system that was built to exploit “human capital” at a terrible cost.