What we are reflecting on this Earth Day…

What we are reflecting on this Earth Day…

In 2014 Gaia Vince, a freelance British environmental journalist, broadcaster and non-fiction author released an incredible book – Adventures in the Anthropocene: A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made. We don’t think that there could be a more timely time to talk about it, and recommend you pick it up. Winner of the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books 2015, it is a fascinating tour of the human side of climate change, complete with its perils. It holds a mirror up to humanity’s epoch to reveal all we have destroyed, but may yet be able to save. It follows the inspired efforts of ordinary people to adapt and survive with grace, in the words of The Human Age author, Diane Ackerman. Today we need ordinary people to adapt and survive with grace once more.

We are in the midst of a global tragedy, but in our sustainable spaces, we are best equipped to emerge on the other side fighting for a new normal. Earth Day, an annual event celebrated today around the world to demonstrate support for environmental protection, was itself founded in reaction to a tragedy. In early 1969, a well drilled by Union Oil Platform A off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, blew up. More than three million gallons of oil spewed, killing more than 10,000 seabirds, dolphins, seals, and sea lions. As an eventual reaction to this disaster, Earth Day was born. This year we have been given an apt theme of ‘climate action’— and that second word carries significant provocation.

Action.

COVID-19 has shown us that the competitive fashion industry can act and be collaborative in a way that no one imagined. And, shockingly, it can be agile. We have seen record short response times, factories being redirected in purpose overnight, and the notorious red tape and barriers – often used as excuses as per why change could not happen quick enough – literally disappearing.

We have proudly seen our partners TESLA providing ventilators, or the LVMH group producing hand sanitizer and previous design collaborator Christian Siriano making masks for hospitals. The speed to respond and disrupt the market is what has always needed to happen. This is encouraging. It shows what we can do, when needs must. And right now, needs must. We are hopeful about a new era for our industry. One of collective accountability and of a renewed, and actual, commitment to collaboration. Are you?

With love,

RCGD

How Big Brands Can Help Vulnerable Garment Workers During the COVID-19 Crisis

Factories all over the world have had to put workers on furlough over decreased orders from big brands, plus a lack of materials coming in from China. This has meant uncertainty for millions of people who barely survive with their regular full wages.

Yet our problems did not start with COVID-19. The fashion industry has been highly compartmentalised for decades, to cheapen costs as much as possible: brands outsource factory work in developing nations, and in turn, these factories outsource workers. It’s a supply chain of contractors that translates into cheaper clothes with a dangerously high human cost. When orders are abruptly canceled, factories are often left without a cushion to pay their employees. In many cases, there aren’t even enough funds to pay for already completed work.

Photo credit: Made in Bangladesh

The chain is set up to avoid liability in any time of crisis, leaving a vast, vulnerable population to its own devices. And these are the same people, key workers who, in normal times and conditions, make up the foundation of production for big textile and fashion brands.

Low-paying garment workers in textile-producing countries across the developing world are some of the hardest-hit by the current coronavirus pandemic. In Southeast Asia, Central America, Eastern Europe, and other parts of the world, people are being left without jobs, wondering about their immediate or midterm futures. As it is, factories have traditionally only paid garment workers barely enough to support themselves and their families, leaving many without the kind of savings some are lucky to turn to during tougher times, let alone a worldwide crisis like the one we’re now facing. Many of the garment workers are not allowed to unionise, and receiving the protections of health insurance has always seemed like a distant dream, which just got farther away.

One of the most devastating things about the COVID-19 pandemic is how it is brutally exposing the vast inequalities that have become a norm in too many industries, fashion included. Millions of people expectantly await on the next cycle of news, wondering if this will be the day when they get some answers and a glimmer of hope for their families.

The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights recently published a report, revealing that major brands are falling back on the practices that allow supply chains to function the way they currently do. Too many companies are washing their hands of the factories and workers that provide crucial services for them overseas without due consideration. In fact 72.4% of Bangladesh’s garment suppliers – whose orders were canceled en masse as the pandemic gathered rapid momentum – cannot presently offer any payment to workers during leave, and 80.4% are unable to cover severance pay when having to dismiss employees due to the crisis.

The current supply chains of fast fashion makes it too easy for big brands to dump any liabilities and flee, leaving people who were already tethering on the poverty line, to fall deeper within it. Yet this could be the time when brands make a change and step up to the responsibilities that come with employing overseas labour. There are actions fashion companies can take to improve the current situation and make way for a more humane industry going forward. Flexibility is vital during these challenging times!

What Brands Can Do Now

Honour Current Commitments
Honouring current commitments is the bare minimum brands can do. Brands with budget should pay for completed and in-production work, even if future orders are now on hold. It’s also important to be flexible with deadlines, as current health restraints and lack of materials will make it difficult to maintain the same delivery timelines.

Ensure Wages
The most significant issue workers are currently facing is not knowing when the next paycheck is coming. Big brands can and should continue to cover the wages of all the staff employed at the onset of the pandemic across departments, whether they’re in charge of directly making garments or in logistics. This should come regardless of technical employment status, whether contractors or full-time employees. It is also crucial that workers maintain their legal benefits, including severance payments and health insurance.

Create Emergency Relief Funds
Whilst the responsibility does not fall entirely on brands and retailers to provide relief, where possible there should be some contribution alongside that of financial institutions (both local and global) and governments. As the world experiences the economic consequences of the pandemic, we have started to see initiatives from government entities appearing to support the most vulnerable. This must occur on a macro level as well, particularly from the global brands who have expanded their factory presence overseas. Time is of the essence in this scenario, and brands must make sure that funds reach their vulnerable workers in the speediest way possible.

Avoid Dismissals
Times are undoubtedly tough, and the easiest path would seem to cut ties with factories and workers until the situation returns to some form of normalcy. However, in our industry, nobody is having it tougher than factory workers in developing nations and we all know it. For them, keeping some income can quite literally make a difference between living and dying – virus aside. Dismissed workers in garment-making countries will have to face a practically nonexistent job market as factories everywhere will be undergoing the same processes. While the best-case scenario is keeping workers on furlough receiving their full salaries, even a pay cut is better than leaving them to earn no income during this tough time.

Maintain Proper Health Conditions
Some factories will continue to operate, whether they are creating high-street apparel or war-like provisions – like face masks. In those cases, brands must commit to keeping employees and contractors safe. Factories must follow indications from national and global authorities regarding social distance, use of masks and so on, providing the applicable supplies for workers.

Prioritise Labour Rights
The health emergency cannot become an excuse to belittle workers’ rights. Brands with a strong presence in garment-making countries have all the power to ensure that proper labour conditions are followed. Often, countries whose GDP is greatly bolstered by the ready made garment industry will have strong labour laws that are not enforced, and this is not the time for lax measures. The right to freely associate must be protected at all costs and also, most importantly, the right to refuse work if conditions are not suitable. If factories are not taking every possible measure to keep workers healthy, employees must be able to choose to stay home without that posing a risk for their employment and income.

What Brands Can Do When the COVID-19 Emergency Passes
The fast fashion industry has been in dire need of an overhaul for quite some time, and the effects of this pandemic should be the highest wake-up call received. Supply chains around the world must improve and shift towards a more human-centric approach. Building more resilient supply chains needs to become the priority when this is all over, and there must be a focus on better lives for workers, from living wages to social benefits.

Fast fashion needs to change after this pandemic and become more conscious of the people who depend on it. Prices should be adjusted, and supply chains must strive towards a safer industry for all who work in it. It is the job of brands to step up towards a more mindful industry, yes, but it is also our job as consumers and activists to demand more from them as we go forward. It’s important to remember which brands step up during this crisis and which ones leave their workers stranded, and act accordingly in the days post COVID-19. We can come out of this stronger by putting our part in growing from this, becoming more conscious as companies and consumers.

A Thought For The Labour Behind The Label

We are living in strange and uncertain times. It was impossible to know a few months ago that our world would be turned on its head by the massive global that emergency Covid-19 has proven to be. For the first time in a century, our planet faces the threat of a pandemic, one that has steadily made its way into some of the most populated countries across the globe. We are stepping into uncharted territory. Our thoughts and prayers are with the people infected and those who have lost someone along the way. During this time of uncertainty, we must also think of our colleagues, the garment workers in the fashion industry.  

Image courtesy of Labour Behind The Label

Fashion is one of the most wide-reaching industries in the world, and a crisis of this magnitude is bound to have direct consequences on those who depend on it for their livelihood. Over 300 million people work in different levels of the fashion supply chain around the world, with Fashion United placing the labour force number at approximately 161.0 million. At its core this means there are hundreds of millions of families that depend on clothes making to make a humble living. From textile producers, seamstresses, designers, and everyone in between, every clothing item each of us has ever worn is the result of the labour of many. And so many of these people, nearly invisible but totally essential parts of the puzzle, are struggling during the times of Covid-19. The pandemic has meant a loss of jobs for millions across the globe, and the fashion industry is one of the hardest hit. Last week, Sourcing Journal reported on a huge hit to the industry: with brands cancelling over $100 million worth of orders in Bangladesh alone. Current estimates say that as many as 80% of local clothing factories won’t be able to pay workers for more than a month if this situation continues. Read more

Why we need more eco-textiles in the world…

Dear Community,

You might have heard that we recently launched an eco-textile line with TENCEL Luxe (which will be on sale later this year) but did you know why we decided to pursue this new area of business? One word, impact. With its huge environmental impact through waste, water consumption, chemical use, greenhouse gas emissions, soil degradation and rainforest destruction, the fashion industry remains a top polluter. It produces 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions due to its long supply chains and energy intensive production. Clothing represents more than 60% of the total textiles used globally and in the last 15 years, clothing production has approximately doubled. Specifically, textiles matter and we want to be part of making a positive difference in this area.

It is hard to imagine living in a world without them. Nearly everyone, everywhere comes into contact with textiles all the time, and they create a huge environmental impact in the world. Fibers form the basis of the fashion industry – without fibers we have no textiles, and without textiles we have no fashion industry. The global eco fiber market size is growing, with natural eco fibers the second largest segment – accounting for 22.6% of the global market. We tried to make sense of this and created the following infographic to help people find out more about how significant the textile industry is. Take a look and let us know your thoughts…

Samata

Dear Sustainable Fashion Community

Dear Sustainable Fashion Community,

First and foremost, we hope that you, your friends and family are all keeping safe. At Red Carpet Green Dress, we are well aware of how unsettling these times are for the entire world. This pandemic affects us all – personally, emotionally, spiritually, financially – as a global community. It is hard to stay positive even under the best of circumstances. That is why we are sharing this message and reaching out to let you know how we’re working, what we’re working on, and what you can expect over the coming weeks.

We hope, and need, for sustainability as a thought process and a lifestyle choice to become the norm. Fast fashion and pushing consumerism has no place in our modern, evolved times. All around us, we have found friends and family asking themselves, ‘What do I really need to live a purposeful life? What makes me content? Do we need to buy a new thing?’.

Now more than ever the conversation about sustainability is even more relevant. As each day of this pandemic progresses dare we say that we are discovering that the only things we need are safety (ours and that of our loved ones), quality time and the ‘essentials’ for our existence. Everything else is a beautiful bonus, to be enjoyed but not in devastating excess. Small, local and slow is beautiful. We need to appreciate the time we have – to make less, live more and respect the earth.

In the fashion industry, the impact of coronavirus COVID-19 is causing far-reaching change. Things will never be the same again. This is not only a tragedy for those who have lost their lives, but a wake up call for all of us who are fortunate enough to remain on the planet. The pandemic is impacting our industry, and many others, most devastatingly. From the front line fields to the most luxury of fashion brands. We have created a resource here on our website to help as much as we can, in the way we know how. In addition we are working on launching a few initiatives which we hope will enable us to do our bit to support those struggling to stay afloat, but also the creatives around the world with neither hope nor inspiration.

Here, in our little hub, you will find useful articles, helpful lists, light hearted pointers for those seeking a little creative inspiration and more. As an organisation we have plans to help our much beloved industry during this challenging time which we will be announcing shortly – sign up here to stay in our green loop.

We remain hopeful that now and going forwards we can pull together and pull each other through.

Suzy & Samata