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Day 3: Fashion Revolution

published on 3 May 2019

Explore day three of the Fashion Revolution Tumblr curation, a collection of articles, quotes, images and resources that tell a different story about the clothes we wear, and inspire change in the fashion industry.

Explore day three of the Fashion Revolution Tumblr curation, a collection of articles, quotes, images and resources that tell a different story about the clothes we wear, and inspire change in the fashion industry.


Words by Sarah Ditty, from Fashion’s Revolution Zine 004: FASHION CRAFT REVOLUTION

The Indian theatre director and playwright T.M. Abraham once wrote, “The world of art and craft is as valuable as the world of science, philosophy or ethics. Like art, crafts reflect the state of human society through the individual. Craft’s treasures like art’s give us a glimpse into the core and kernel of the collective mind and societies through the mirror of individual mind that created them.”

The art and trade of handicrafts has existed for centuries all over the world – as much a part of our collective human history as religion, food and war. Handicrafts are items made by hand, often with simple tools, and are artistic, traditional and situated in a particular culture and community. The skills and techniques are typically passed down through generations. These heritage crafts create a strong bond of community and reveal the histories of unique cultures across time. Handicrafts and artisanal goods have been an important source of commerce for hundreds of years. The Silk Road was an ancient network of trade routes that connected Eastern and Western civilisations built upon the lucrative export and import of silk (and other commodities) produced by some of the world’s finest artisans.

According to the Artisan Alliance at the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC, “today, the artisan sector is the second-largest employer in the developing world after agriculture, worth over $32 billion every year. Hundreds of thousands of people across the globe, particularly women, participate in the artisan sector. Artisan activity creates jobs, increases local incomes, and preserves ancient cultural traditions that in many places are at risk of being lost.” This is especially important in developing countries where, it reports, 65 per cent of artisan activity takes place.

However, the tradition and livelihoods of the world’s artisans have been put at peril over the past 30 years. Globalisation – the process by which the world is becoming increasingly interconnected as the result of expanding international trade and cultural exchange – has had an enormous and complex impact on the market for handicrafts and the artisan communities who make them.On one hand, the internet has opened up new markets for artisans to showcase and sell their goods. As consumers, we have much greater access to handicrafts from around the world than we did even a decade ago. On the other hand, this increasing commodification of artisanal goods has led to the demise of some ancient and traditional crafts that haven’t been easy to commercialise, thereby losing their precious, intangible cultural value and leaving rural, marginalised communities – particularly women – without a means to survive.

Craft materials that have been the bedrock of artisan production in the fashion industry, such as certain types of silk, linen, cashmere, wool, animal hides, shells and metals, have been industrialised and commoditised, becoming too expensive and with market prices too volatile for traditional artisans to purchase.

Traditional production processes too face the threat of extinction as a result of mass manufacturing and increasing automation. For example, The Heritage Crafts Association, a UK charity that supports and promotes traditional crafts, publishes an annual “red list” of the crafts most at risk of disappearing in the UK and warns that clog shoe making, hat block making, metal thread making and oak bark tanning are critically endangered while only a small handful of traditional denim producers are still working today. The ministry of textiles in India lists indigo dyeing in Assam, natural block printing from Manipur, gold and silver embroidery from Rajasthan and Kashmiri felted wool among the nation’s 35 most endangered traditional craft techniques.

Important ancient knowledge and traditional techniques are not being passed down the generations as they once were. This is because these artisan trades are no longer seen as a good career option. Instead younger generations are seeking employment elsewhere, often moving from their rural villages to urban centres in search of more financially lucrative earnings. Therefore, invaluable heritage crafts are becoming extinct by the simple fact that artisans are getting older, passing away and leaving no one behind to continue the tradition.

By letting these ancient and traditional crafts extinguish, we are losing pieces of our own personal histories, which is what makes preservation so vitally important. As classical music composer Gustav Mahler once said “tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”

Another huge problem facing artisans around the world is just how easily their techniques and processes are replicated, produced and sold cheaply by mass manufacturers. Their products are also frequently bought locally and re-sold globally online at a large profit without their knowledge or reward. In fact, legal action is being taken against Etsy sellers, spanning more than 64,000 products, that are infringing the copyrights and taking unfair advantage of thousands of rural Guatemalan artisans. This is a huge deal because taking legal action like this is expensive, requiring time, resources and sophisticated legal knowledge that rural, small-scale and often marginalised artisan communities do not have.

Over the past few years, thanks in large part to the hugely successful Instagram account Diet Prada, we are also seeing just how frequently big name fashion designers are “inspired” by artisan techniques and traditional crafts, often without any credit or financial reward and easily considered cultural appropriation and exploitation. For example, an indigenous community of Tlahuitoltepec in Oaxaca, Mexico accused French label Isabel Marant of plagiarising their traditional costume, which is an embroidered cotton-muslin blouse. Marant’s blouse from her spring-summer 2015 collection appeared to be identical to the ones made by the Mixe but it was manufactured in India.

Meanwhile, some artisan communities have successfully managed to make globalisation work to their advantage. Take for example Soko, an online retail platform that uses smartphone technology to connect independent and marginalised artisans to consumers all over the world. Because of this digital model, artisans are able to retain 25-35 per cent of the revenue whereas the industry standard is typically only 2-3 per cent. Soko has sold over 250,000 products made by over 2,500 artisans, giving them a much higher income than they might have gained selling through traditional channels.

As globalisation increasingly changes the world of work through automation and artificial intelligence, it will be interesting to see if this – as some experts and trend forecasters predict – results in a resurgence of handicraft and knowledge-based artisan trades. Only time will tell…

In the meantime, by supporting the work of genuine heritage crafts and the people who make them, consumers can help to reduce poverty, empower women and families and even reduce climate change. This is because many handicraft goods are created with low-energy tools and processes and natural, renewable materials. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals set out a blueprint for achieving a better and more sustainable, prosperous and peaceful future for all – what better way to work towards achieving these goals than by celebrating and supporting the amazing work of craftspeople in your community and across the globe.

Sarah Ditty is Policy Director at Fashion Revolution


The Clothes Keeper
It is often said that fast fashion pieces are badly made and won’t last, but that’s not necessarily true.
Sure, inferior quality materials and poorly paid manufacturing are not an ideal combination to make a piece of clothing that will be treated with respect. It comes cheap and it’s not unique (in fact, everyone from Milan to Mumbai will have access to it) and in 3 weeks time it will be drowned by another ‘drop’ in store.
These prêt-a-jeter (ready-to-throw away) pieces don’t stand the test of time, but it’s not so much because of their inferior quality - it’s because they don’t stand the test of love, because we make no emotional investment when we buy them. Essentially, we don’t give a shit, apart from that nano second when we see them, buy them without even trying them on for size or fit, until we get home and realise, well, no, sorry, not my type. 
It won’t suit your jeans as you thought it might: wrong length, wrong texture.
It’s quite simple really: fast fashion is like a one night stand. You go in for the quicky without thinking about it too much and the next morning you wake up and realise your bedfellow isn’t that interesting, or his smell doesn’t suit you. 
Not your type. He won’t suit your genes as you thought he might: wrong height, bad skin.
On the other hand, when you fall in love with a garment, when it really is destiny that it should live on your body, it’s like a deep and meaningful relationship, the same as when you meet your boyfriend/girlfriend, the one that will last. The minute you put it on, you feel it describes you, and you know you are in the presence of your future best friend: that one thing that will solve all your wardrobe problems, that will travel with you, make you feel wonderful regardless of PMT or heartbreak. It will help you be better than you feel you are, and you will never part. You will wash it carefully, mend that broken zip, take up that dropped hemline. You will style it smart or paired down, with heels or trainers and wear it to death.
Quality has nothing to do with it: what matters is the extent of work and commitment you are willing to put into that relationship, because you are prepared to make it last.  I mean, we don’t all fall in love with prince perfect. In fact, sometimes, it’s the imperfections we are prepared to accept that tell us how involved we really are. 
I am a total clothes lover and, as a result, a clothes keeper. A true consumer, from the Latin word consumere meaning ‘to destroy or expend by use’. 
I own, not joking, hundreds of clothes: some are bought, most are inherited, some I made myself. 
I do a review/clean up every 2 or 3 years, when I pass my treasures to my daughters, their friends, my friends, or give them to charity (but I am known for having bought back my own donated pieces in a fit of nostalgia the very next day on several occasions).
Amongst my favourite items are fast fashion pieces that I have owned for a very long time like my Primark nightie which is 16 years old or my Topshop Reclaim To Wear top from 2011 which I wear day and night every summer - it literally takes me from the beach to glam party with a change of shoes, and then I fall asleep in it. I also own some vintage pieces from the 60s and 70s which were badly made at the time from some dreadfully cheap materials and I now consider them works of art. It is my love, my care, my affection and my respect that keeps these pieces relevant. It’s how I wear them, how I have let them become a part of me.
Life is long and all great things mature - wine, experience, friendships - which is why a fast fashion date won’t last because you will be preoccupied with how to get rid of it even before you have given it a chance to fit you.
Buying to throw, the prêt-a-jeter attitude that characterises fashion right now (an industry that produces 80 billion items of clothing a year) is a cultural deficiency. This trend cannot be put right by encouraging sustainable disposal, but by communicating authenticity, by falling in love with the clothes we buy and treating them as special. Because loved clothes last.
Partners with pimples or fast fashion frocks: if you love them, they aren’t disposable, they are yours.


4. Fashion respects culture and heritage. It fosters, celebrates and rewards skills and craftsmanship. It recognises creativity as its strongest asset. Fashion never appropriates without giving due credit or steals without permission. Fashion honours the artisan.


Why did you start your brand?

I work closely with weavers and artisans from around India. Weaving is my biggest skill. I spend a major part of my time developing a collection in creating the textiles. Sustainability is core to our ethos as a brand – whether it is the economic sustainability of hand-loom weaving, the commercial sustainability of a small batch production unit or ecological sustainability of the way we work.

Our last collection was entirely hand block printed in Jodhpur using mud and it is 100 per cent natural dyed. Our business plan includes the people who make our garments, our dyers, our weavers, our tailors and more.The growth of our craftsmen and artisans is our one ambition. When our fourth generation dyer trains a fifth generation dyer and our weavers’ community of 15 increases to 50 trained weavers, only then are we close to our true aims.

What is the most revolutionary thing you have done in your practice?

I would say its our commitment to work with the artisans for each and every collection and how we showcase it to the rest of the world. Most of the artisans we work with were doing only traditional saris and veshtis (wrapped skirts for men found in South India) for their local market. I can proudly say that we connect two far ends of the world and their culture through our designs. All the fabrics in our last collection were woven in a small weavers village in South India and sold in Brighton, Florence, Cannes and Paris.

Learn more in Fashion Revolution’s zine 004: FASHION CRAFT REVOLUTION


Why did you start your brand?

The desire to somehow, through design, speak about the inspirational women in my life, our eclectic heritage and tell the stories and share the memories. Most importantly, my passion for the creative world and wanting/needing to send a message out to the industry to slow down.

Having worked in the fast fashion industry for almost 15 years I have learnt a lot but also seen the negative effects that the fashion industry has, not only on the environment but also on the people involved. It creates a relentless demand for factory workers and employees to produce new, innovative designs at breakneck speed, and it stirs up an unhealthy hysteria to pressure consumers into constantly purchasing the latest trend. I wanted to start a brand that promotes and offers an antidote to this, with confident, versatile, high quality pieces that are responsibly made and not trend driven.

What craft techniques do you use?

We are based in London with all sample development and production in Karachi, Pakistan where my aunt Maheen Khan has a small scale workshop with hand-embroiderers and craftspeople who have been working with her for more than 30 years.

I founded Indoi, working in close collaboration with Maheen. A master of her craft in embroidery and pattern cutting, Maheen, alongside my mother, has always been one of my biggest inspirations. Each of our garments has been carefully considered from start to finish: from the initial design, to the sourcing, sampling and production of every item. We try to honour and preserve traditional techniques such as hand-embroidery and hand-weaving, while supporting local craftsmen, communities and businesses, particularly in Pakistan. Indoi is an expression of local artisans, their traditional craft and a rich cultural heritage that we celebrate in each of our designs. We’ve created a maker’s mark for each maker who will stamp it on the label of each piece they make.

Learn more in Fashion Revolution’s zine 004: FASHION CRAFT REVOLUTION


Why did you start your brand?

I wanted to find my own methods of production and design that were different to the contemporary millinery market. Having worked in the industry for four years, I was seeing the problematic aspects in the production chain and in keeping millinery relevant for the consumer. I was challenged to find a formula that I could relate to and that would allow me to inject life into an industry that is waning. I also didn’t want to feel any guilt about my production of creative output if I was exploring and using new technology for a greener approach.

What craft techniques do you use?

I like to develop processes using new materials, but I am also drawing on techniques embedded into the traditions of hat-making, such as, carving, blocking, wiring, sewing and trimming. I wanted to know the rules before breaking them, so with these techniques at the core, I look to explore and edit each method and combine the old and the new. For example, a hat block is traditionally a wooden block carved into the shape of a hat, used to form the hat’s structure. I use this material method alongside using Oculus Rift virtual reality designing and 3-D printing in plant-based materials. This allows me to test forms, stability and a bespoke fit sculpted around a 3-D scan of the client before even touching a raw material. This helps turn up the heat on a traditional, slow-fashion business in a fast fashion world.

What is revolutionary about your practice?

To engage with digital sculpting and designing in virtual reality. This can often be where the process ends, but then printing the object is another step to work with. I am still working with my hands and often using traditional techniques. I’m collaborating with my 3-D printer and growing hats.

Learn more in Fashion Revolution’s zine 004: FASHION CRAFT REVOLUTION


Why did you start your brand?

I taught myself how to knit on YouTube. I needed something to love. It grew very organically and became my job, without me even realising it. 

What craft techniques do you use? 

We use centuries old methods to create fun and happy knits. We knit each garment by hand. Knitting dates back to the 16th century, some sources even mention the 13th century. It’s basically making knots on sticks. And growing and shaping something wearable from that. Receiving a hand-knit is so special, someone has spent hours making something with their own two hands. Just for you.

What is the most revolutionary thing you have done in your practice? 

The most revolutionary thing for the Knitter was moving the majority of production from New Zealand to Peru. I spent just over three months in Peru with my beautiful hand-knitters at the end of 2018. Being welcomed into their homes, seeing how they live and work and chat and laugh and knit together in communities. How employing them and working together brings them so much empowerment. It revolutionised how I see money and profit. That every knit being made allows these magical women financial freedom as well as independence. They have a purpose. Knitting is their life and part of their identity. 

Seeing first hand where our money is going and who is making each knit is so important to me. The fact that I get to be this immersed in production is really a no brainer. In general, we as consumers and designers have become so far removed from this process. “Protected” from the reality of how our clothes are really being made. We need to be closer to our sources, develop relationships with our makers and treat them as equals, as they rightly are.

Learn more in Fashion Revolution’s zine 004: FASHION CRAFT REVOLUTION


Why did you start your brand?

My work started as a natural response to my curiosity and creativity. Since I came across art and fashion as a boy, I enjoyed spending my time creating pieces that could tell stories about my connection to people, culture and nature. As I grew older, the messages I wanted to convey seemed stronger and clearer. That is when, in 2014, my long-term project “Fashion for All” was born.

What craft techniques do you use?

I love to experiment with unusual materials that people would not expect to find in fashion pieces. In addition, I choose to use weaving as one of the techniques in my designs, as that connects my work to Rwandan culture. It is a very important part of my work to collaborate together with rural women for the formulation of the pieces, and it is a central message in the storytelling of my collections. 

What is the most revolutionary thing you have done in your practice?

To bring rural women to walk as models on one of the fashion runways I participated in was definitely something revolutionary. These women were part of my “Fashion for All” project and were absolutely central to the story and the collection, which was developed specifically for them. I wanted to challenge the audience and their perceptions about fashion and the rural life. I believe fashion and art should never be limited to a certain age, size, social or economic status.

Learn more in Fashion Revolution’s zine 004: FASHION CRAFT REVOLUTION


Words by Carry Somers:

In transit from Bangladesh to Manchester, I walked past the luxury stores in Dubai airport, all of which have leather bags displayed in their windows. The spotlights in the store windows shine down on an array of beautiful bags, but I want to shine a spotlight on a darker story which needs to be revealed. The previous day I had visited the tanneries in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where the leather used for many of the world’s designer bags and shoes originates.

Until recently, the district of Hazaribagh housed the majority of Bangladesh’s tanneries. Not only did severe labour abuse, including child labour, take place but decades of untreated chemical waste has poured into the local Buriganga river, affecting local communities and habitat. In particular, chromium from the tanneries has affected fish populations on which the red-listed endangered Ganges river dolphins prey. Concentrations of chromium are up to 100 times the level prescribed by the World Health Organisation for drinking water.

In an attempt to improve conditions for workers and prevent further environmental pollution in the growing leather sector, the government of Bangladesh decided to relocate the tanneries from Hazaribagh to Savar. The move has been beset by delays: initially scheduled for 2005 completion, an article in Bangladesh’s Daily Star newspaper on 8 November reported that the project has been delayed yet again and they are now aiming for completion in June 2019.

Meanwhile, 92 of the 155 tanneries have already been relocated to Savar, most of which have double the land and therefore at least double the production capacity of their previous facilities. However, the infrastructure and utilities for the tanneries are from adequate, whilst facilities for relocated tannery workers do not even meet their basic necessities of housing, health, education and transportation.

I was visiting unannounced, hoping to talk to workers and managers about the environmental and social problems created by the move. I followed a truck piled high with hides into the Savar Tannery Estate. The smell was a good indication we were approaching the tanneries – a powerful odour which intensified on approach.

The roads were not only potholed, but were covered in surface effluent. The Central Effluent Treatment Plant for the new Savar Tannery Estate is not yet fully functional, drainage systems are not in place and tannery effluent is flowing into local drainage ditches and into the Dhaleswari river. According to the Rapid Assessment of Hazaribagh Tanneries report recently published by SANEM, analysis of data and samples collected at discharge points from the treatment plant, as well as from the Dhaleshwari river, have produced alarming results. Everywhere I looked, drainage ditches were visibly flowing with chemical effluent, with one drain running behind a row of food stalls serving meals to the tannery workers.  The government shifted the tanneries due to pollution of the river but ultimately the same thing is happening in Savar.

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