Three weeks ago I enrolled on a free online course hosted by Future Learn with Fashion Revolution and Exeter University. The purpose of the course is to understand the issues within the fashion industry, how a fashion supply chain works, and to share a variety of simple techniques to find the answer to ‘Who Made My Clothes?‘. It also explains how to use the findings to press the fashion industry to value people, the environment, creativity and profit in equal measure.
During the course you are asked to write a story about an item of clothing. Here is mine…
“The first time I was worn was at an Austrian Rolling Stones gig (who turned out to actually be from Birmingham) in a village hall, Melbourne, Derbyshire. I danced to Little Red Rooster, Honky Tonk Woman and got my ‘Jagger On’ to Brown Sugar.
Before my first outing though I originally started as a combination of two materials. I’m made of 76% polyester and 24% metallised fibres which were produced in factories in China. The factories were hot, very hot, highs of 270°C are used in the manufacturing process. In the Chinese factories I didn’t see many people, mainly just machines. The first time I really heard conversations and felt a human touch was when I was being transported by ship to Turkey.
When I arrived in Turkey I found myself in another factory. This time there were loads of people, the majority seemed to be Turkish, around the age of 40 and male. However I did notice a small group of workers that seemed distant from the others. Whilst under a needle and thread on a tightly packed sewing machine I overheard them whispering about where they came from, Syria, and the horrid civil war that was taking place there. They had to whisper as the man who gave them their 90p an hour wage was always keeping an eye on them.
Before I was popped into a plastic bag my creases were ironed out by a young boy, I overheard him telling a fellow worker that he had worked 15 hours yesterday and that he would just love to go home and play football with his brothers.
From Turkey I was shipped to a distribution centre in Swindon. While I was there the union GMB for the distribution centre workers turned up and said the workers there were being treated like lumps of meat. I wondered what this meant, but it turns out the union were outraged as they had been given less than one week’s notice that workers currently employment by agency Tempay Ltd were to be transferred to another employer, 24-7 Recruitment Services without any consultation. It was not a happy place to be.
Finally on November 1st 2016 in Munich as a birthday present to herself, Anna woke up hungover after many German beers and bought me online from Marks and Spencer’s. I left Swindon by truck and was delivered to Anna’s flat in Leicestershire. Hurray!”
Writing the above story was so difficult. Please note that photos and facts used in the story are all related to news articles found on the Independent, BBC and GMB website. I am obviously not 100% certain that Syrian refugees were used in the specific factory that made my shirt. From M&S supply chain map you can see there are many factories in Turkey. This does however show how difficult it is to trace an item of clothing!
The Future Learn course has been great in guiding the research done to create my story. As a last ‘assignment’ the course asks you to make a pledge to do at least one thing to support the Fashion Revolution movement to help improve the lives of the people who make your clothes.
I have previously followed Fashion Revolution’s ‘Get Involved’ Guide; I asked Fred Perry ‘Who Made My Clothes?’, I wrote a love story on a wedding outfit and I hosted a Swap Shop.
My pledge is to continue with my blog and bring awareness to others, continue doing research on the clothes I buy and challenge brands to find out #whomademyclothes, continue to buy second hand, vintage or swap with my friends and continue to support Labour Behind the Label.
What do you pledge to do?