March Challenge – Not Completed

A confession to start with, the reason there was no March challenge post during March – I didn’t manage to achieve any of my challenges. I did send a Tweet to Joules Clothing for Fashion Revolution asking who had made my wax jacket that I have had for four years, as yet no response. I will ask them again this week as they should be able to tell me that information. I chose Joules as it is a company that brands itself as quintessentially British and specifically British countryside but none of the clothing I have from them is British. I stopped buying from them a few years back as I just don’t like juxtaposition of the advertising and the fact that the clothes are made in the same locations as most other high street brands.

March I think passed for most people in a bit of a blur (alongside February) and now it is into April and in Scotland the days are lighter for longer and there is a definite warming in the air. I would love it if the rain could stop for a couple of days for me to get a few good cycles in after work but it has been lovely on the evenings I have been able to go a litte further even if it has been so windy I have nearly been blown back up a hill.

What’s on the cards for April I hear you cry. Well on Saturday I went to a great talk/workshop held by War on Want about their campaign Love Fashion Hate Sweatshops hosted by the Scottish Fairtrade Forum in Edinburgh (fantastic vegan sausage rolls supplied along with great coffee and tea – fair trade of course). The speaker, Nadia Idle, was engaging and entertaining, passionate about garment workers rights and their campaign Love Fashion, Hate Sweatshops. War on Want was born out of the Trade Union movement in the UK and has its roots firmly in collective action, arguing that the habits of the individual are very much that – the individual and change cannot happen through that means alone. Instead we must put pressure of our governments, elected representatives and brands to make them make the legislative changes required to bring about a fundamental shift in the garment industry. The stories she spoke of and the pictures she showed were not pleasant to hear but they are the realities.

Now I have essentially been on a boycott of many high street stores in all but name for the last few years, I tend to shun the high street entirely now and most of my clothing is bought either from online shops or small local designers but I have always wondered why people say boycotting wouldn’t work with the high street. I was provided with the answer by Nadia who discussed how a boycott works when the problem is specific to one company however the disregard for garment workers’ rights is endemic throughout the shops on the high street. While our individual shopping habits are of course our choice it is unlikely to make a larger dent or enough publicity to affect real change throughout the industry. When it was put like that it made me realise that I would also like to use my voice as a citizen rather than to just focus on myself as a consumer – a label I am beginning to get slightly annoyed by as I would prefer to stop being the type of consumer I am. 🙂

It was also nice that a few members of the audience and Helen from the Scottish Fair Trade Forum did point out that buying fair trade is worthwhile as it will help increase the market share of ethical clothing and fair trade garments – so not a boycott but spending on items produced in a manner you agree with.

One of the areas where War on Want has been particularly visible is the aftermath of the Rana Plaza tragedy last year. On behalf of their partners in Bangladesh (the National Garment Workers Federation) they launched an online petition to get brands to sign up to the Bangladesh Safety Accord. This is a legal agreement not a voluntary one that puts the safety of the garment workers at the centre in a deal bringing together brands and trade unions. Many, many, many people sign and most of the brands signed up – there are those that have not and they are being targeted in demonstrations planned for the anniversary of Rana Plaza on the 24th of April. They have also been active in demanding the compensation that was promised by the brands actually gets paid, and paid to the correct people by using their local partners. Read more and take action on compensation at http://www.waronwant.org/campaigns/love-fashion-hate-sweatshops/extra/extra/action/17951-demand-compensation-for-the-victims-of-the-bangladesh-building-collapse

It is a pretty sober talk to be listening to and although I felt that the people attending the talk were already onside it was an engaging talk and I would put that down to the speaker – she was very good.

A couple of interesting things were mentioned during the talk, there was craftivism – activism that use craft, it looked great although given how handless I am at most “craft” projects (I once sat on a tiara I was making as a present) maybe I would need to rethink getting involved there. I would like to learn more though and the group Craftivist Collective were spoken about so I will have to read up on them – looks very London based so I might have to see if there is anyone else closer to home.

Clicktivism (“the use of social media and other online methods to promote a cause.” – Oxford English Dictionary) was also discussed and was a real disincentive for them to put the Bangladesh Safety Accord petition online as they were not sure how much engagement they would get with the petition. It is true that I am much more likely to sign petitions online at the moment but not get involved much deeper in the cause, there are certain issues that I am vocal on and I discuss/promote and do what I can on. I always read the petitions that drop into my inbox or crop up on my social media and I never sign anything unless I agree with it 100%. I am torn on clicktivism though as I think it is a great way to engage people who may never have found the cause/issue through other means – yes, there are people who will not be engaged deeply and feel that by signing the petition they have made a change (who are we to argue when these petitions do work in some cases) but there are also others who find an issue/cause that they become more deeply involved with through an online petition. I would suggest that there would need to be research undertaken to fully understand the issues surrounding clicktivism but I can understand War on Want’s reticence to be another voice shouting online.

So how did I feel at the end of the talk? I felt ready to do more. It is as simple as that. The phrase “a citizen not a consumer” has really stuck with me and I want to become more involved in the War on Want campaign. The only real downside to this talk for me was the lack of any discussion on sustainability within the garment industry, that would have been an interesting addition to the talk. Maybe next time?

I have a couple of posts planned for April alongside my usual horse-y ramblings, a book review, an interview with the woman behind Smalls for All and hopefully a review of the year so far both in terms of sustainable/ethical fashion and those goals I made during January. Wow January is a long time ago now!

Any questions/comments about the talk I am happy to answer them.

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