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Wednesday, Oct 16, 2019

The Fashion Edit: How Carry Somers is spearheading the revolution against fast fashion, one hashtag at a time

The designer who popularised the hashtag #WhoMadeMyClothes and turned the spotlight on the real heroes of fashion, now talks about #Haulternative, promotes upcycling and swaps

brunch Updated: Jun 30, 2019 12:20 IST
Drishti Vij
Drishti Vij
Hindustan Times
Designer-turned-campaigner, Carry Somers,  brought a semblance of equality in the world of fashion with the popular hashtag #WhoMadeMyClothes
Designer-turned-campaigner, Carry Somers, brought a semblance of equality in the world of fashion with the popular hashtag #WhoMadeMyClothes
         

Fashion has long been an industry where nothing wielded more power than beauty – at a cost much bigger than what met the eye. But, even as we moved from micro-minis to celebrating modesty, from the extravagance of the ’80s to the minimalism in the ’90s, from ostentatious to finding extraordinary in the ordinary, there has never been a time where fashion, has aspired to be transparent.

For UK-based fashion designer Carry Somers, founder of Pachacuti (which means world upside-down in Quechua) – world’s first company to label all its products ‘Certified Fair Trade and Sustainable’ – the quest for transparency started after Rana Plaza in Dhaka, the building that housed a number of garment factories and shops, collapsed due to structural failure in 2013 and led to the death of 1,138 people. This incident ignited the birth of her community, Fashion Revolution. With this global movement, Somers took it upon herself to initiate a systemic change that democratises the industry in the truest sense of the word, making it fairer, safer, cleaner and most of all, transparent.

Becoming fashion conscious

“In the days following the Rana Plaza collapse, everywhere I looked, there were newspaper articles calling for a more ethical fashion industry. Meanwhile, campaigners had to search through the rubble for clothing labels to prove which brands were actually producing there. That’s when I realised that the workers were invisible, and the lack of transparency and responsibility in the fashion supply chain was costing lives. I knew we needed to find a way to channel this concern into a long-standing campaign so that the victims of Rana Plaza, and all the other tragedies that have occurred in the name of fashion, would never be forgotten. That’s when Fashion Revolution Day was born,” reveals 53-year-old Somers.

Hindustantimes

By their first anniversary in 2014, Fashion Revolution had coordinators in 62 countries around the world, including India. That’s when Fashion Revolution Day, on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, turned into Fashion Revolution Week.

“I realised that the workers [in the fashion industry] were invisible.We needed to find a way to convert this into a campaign so that the tragedies that have occurred in the name of fashion would never be forgotten”

In the last five years, the fashion week has highlighted the people working in supply chains. “Hundreds of thousands of people use our hashtag #WhoMadeMyClothes to demand greater transparency from the fashion industry. Thousands of fashion brands have shared details about the facilities and people who make their clothes. Garment workers, artisans, farmers and producers have told stories about working in the supply chain, using the hashtag #IMadeYourClothes,” she adds.

It all started when Somers took up a research project as part of her masters. “I travelled to Ecuador to study traditional textile and dyeing skills. Seeing the weighing scales being loaded with wool on one side and then seeing the producers being charged a price, which bore no resemblance to the stated cost per kilo, I felt outrage at the discrimination,” she recalls.

“Quechua speakers with rudimentary knowledge of Spanish and low levels of numeracy were at the mercy of the middlemen for buying the wool and selling their finished garments. I met two groups of workers who’d organised themselves into cooperatives, but both had experienced arson attacks due to the threat they posed to the intermediaries’ monopoly,” she says.

The next summer, she returned to Ecuador and gave the cooperatives the financial resources to buy raw materials in bulk and, with no background in design, they produced a series of knitwear patterns, which became so popular that they sold out in six weeks! She then gave up her PhD and concentrated on improving the lives of these people.

Call for action

This year, Somers’ call for revolution struck a chord with 3.25 million people who participated in 1,000 events worldwide, from catwalks and clothes swaps, to film screenings, panel discussions and workshops. Nevertheless, there are brands that often call themselves ‘sustainable’ without understanding the meaning.

Carry Somers (centre) with a group of embroiderers in Peru
Carry Somers (centre) with a group of embroiderers in Peru

“We can’t put a stop to brands claiming to be sustainable without any substance behind it, but we can increase scrutiny to ensure there is a firm basis for these claims,” she says.

“We’ve chosen to focus on transparency, which isn’t the only way to change the fashion industry, but it’s a powerful starting point,” she says.

This is also why she created the hashtag #haulternative – an initiative that explores other ways of buying and experiencing clothes like upcycling to swaps to finding gems in charity shops.

Somers wants people to fall back in love with the clothes they own, care for them for longer, and take a stand against fast fashion that ends up in landfill. She, however, is optimistic and believes that both the fashion industry and the culture around clothing can change, given the right incentives and impetus.

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From HT Brunch, June 30, 2019

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First Published: Jun 30, 2019 01:46 IST

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