Is the social justice you call for just about educating people in developed countries to understand the need to pay more for their clothes (and perhaps throw fewer away) or are deeper processes needed?
I do not think individual voluntary action is the real solution to the problems of fast fashion and sustainability in the clothing sector. If we leave it to people to voluntarily ‘choose’ if they buy ethically produced goods or to recycle this will only result in partial improvements as many people will opt for cheaper or more convenient choices. I think more meaningful change may come about if the issue of living wage levels was addressed across the developing world. In the short term the most important thing to do is raise awareness of these issues, but ultimately a radical social change in politics is required. This would lead to a revaluing of our relationship with labour, consumption and the environment.
Should clothing carry recognised and regulated welfare standards similar to that found on food packaging labels in supermarkets?
This would be a step in the right direction, but I would support mandatory regulations and minimum welfare standards rather than voluntary mechanisms. It is also important that clothing collection charities and companies are also transparent about what happens to the donations they collect. Clothing banks should be labelled with this information clearly and leaflets produced to allow donators to make informed choices. I think most people are unaware of the hidden realities of the global second-hand clothing trade and many question the re-selling practices.
What can we, as consumers, do to reduce the human and environmental impacts of fashion retail?
To reduce the environmental impacts of fast fashion it is much better to slow the rate at which one consumes new clothes. This means buying fewer garments and ensuring those that are bought are of a higher quality. We can try to find clothes that are well made and will last, rather than low-quality things which will soon wear out. The human impacts are more challenging for individual consumers to address. The campaigning organisation ‘Labour Behind the Label’ (see link below) provides very good advice on how to change our shopping habits. They suggest supporting ethical products, buying from popular brands which are improving workers’ rights and shopping for second-hand clothes, but most importantly emphasise the benefit of taking direct action.
What was the thing you found that surprised you most as you undertook your research into fast fashion?
When I started this project I did not realise quite how important the clothing industry has been in the world’s economic history. Cotton was traded throughout the British Empire in the colonial era. Clothing factories launched the industrial revolution. American fashions and patterns of dress spread through the twentieth century. China’s recent development began with clothing industries. At the same time some areas of the world which have remained poor, such as sub-Saharan Africa, have not been able to successfully integrate themselves into clothing trade networks. The clothing sector alone cannot explain world economic inequality, but it offers an excellent vantage point from which to understand the process of uneven development across both time and space.
Follow the Thing: Papaya
Ask the Experts
Dr Ann Le Mare on Fair Trade
AQA A Level
Social, economic and environmental impacts of TNCs on their host countries, and their countries of origin.
Edexcel A Level
TNCs play a crucial role in the development and spread of global business and trade.
OCR A Level
The advantages and disadvantages to countries at either end of the development continuum of at least one TNC operation.
WJEC A Level
Global companies - TNCs/MNCs.
The patterns of global manufacturing shift.
Free trade and fair trade.
AQA A GCSE
The imbalance in the pattern of world trade and the attempts to reduce it.
The contributions of Fair Trade and Trading Groups.
AQA B GCSE
Explore changing patterns of trade, including the ideas of fair and unfair trade.
A case study of one TNC to show its organisational structure, geographical distribution and global links.
Reasons for the global shift in manufacturing industry
Edexcel B GCSE
Study one TNC in the secondary sector to show how it operates in different parts of the world, e.g. location of headquarters, outsourcing and the global shift in manufacturing
Factors affecting the changing location of manufacturing (TNCs, raw materials, labour, new technology, government policy).
WJEC A GCSE
How have patterns of trade hindered economic progress in the least economically developed countries?
WJEC B GCSE
Concept of Fair Trade.
The capability of a person or a group of people to change something about their lives.
An industry which by the nature of the raw material used and its labour, market and transport needs is not tied to a particular location.
Increasing interconnectedness between people and processes in different countries.
The process by which raw materials are made into goods which can be bought and sold
Companies that operate in more than country.
Standards of working conditions established to protect the needs and rights of workers.
Students can carry out an investigation into their own school uniform. Based on where it is made and the average wage for a factory worker in that country, the students can then calculate how many days they would have to work in order to be able to buy their school uniform. This can open up a discussion about who is responsible for this inequality.
A small survey amongst students can establish what the last item of clothing was they bought, how much it cost and where it was manufactured. Students can then decide whether they have participated in the ‘fast fashion’ complex and to what extent they have fuelled the phenomenon.
Students can investigate a clothing company of their choice and through their websites research their ethical trading policy. Students can then rank the companies based on how far they have gone to try to be as fair as possible to their workers.
Andrew’s Brooks’ Book: Clothing Poverty
A closer look at the clothing poverty associated with jeans
The Telegraph (Jun 2014) The Secret Life of your Charity Shop cast offs
CNN (2013) Is your old T shirt hurting African economies
Brooks, A. (2010) Spinning and Weaving Discontent , Journal of Southern African Studies, 36:1, p113-132
Brooks, A. (2013) Stretching global production networks: The international second-hand clothing trade, Geoforum, 44, p10-22
The Clean Clothes Campaign
The Guardian (Jan 2011) Clothes placed in charity recycling banks earned trader £10m in five years
Labour behind the label
BBC (Feb 2015) Where do your old clothes go?
Crewe, L. (2008) Ugly beautiful? Counting the cost of the global fashion industry, Geography, 93, p25-33
Ethical Fashion Forum
The geography of my stuff
Andrew was interviewed in February 2015
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