Why we need to change our relationship with clothes


Where were your clothes made? Sarah Ditty explores why we need to change our relationship with clothes.

Last week another major fire blazed through a garment factory in Bangladesh. Thankfully only four people were injured, as some 6,000 employees hadn’t yet arrived that day for work. There are myriad reasons why this fire happened. These span from very basic reasons – it was a tragic accident, to be more specific – it lacked proper safety and structural standards, to be political – the Bangladeshi government should better ensure workers’ safety, to systemic – the factory’s clients H&M and J.C. Penney should have caught these hazards in their factory checks. All of these are true.

However, there is also something cultural, psychological and behavioural we need to address: our relationship with what we wear.

With food we know that corn is farmed, bananas are picked and meat is slaughtered, ususally by human hands. Food nourishes us and fuels our bodies. Many of us take care to know where our food comes from, what’s in it and therefore what we’re putting inside ourselves. We don’t have the same relationship with clothing even though we wear it everyday. We wear it on our skin, our largest organ. Our skin holds our bodies together and shields us from the outside world. It fights diseases and rids us of harmful toxins. Yet most of us don’t think about where our clothing comes from, what it’s made of, how it was made and who makes the things we wear.

Almost everything we wear is handmade

Fashion is big business: some 80 billion items of clothing are delivered out of factories worldwide each year. While the fashion and textiles industry is hugely mechanised and technological, most things still require human hands. Look at your top. Notice its wavy seams, and where the loose ends of the threads have been cut off. These are all traces of the work done by the people who made your clothes. Millions and millions of people make the clothes we wear every day and we know virtually nothing about them.

The next time you purchase clothing stop for a moment and look at the label. It should tell you in which country your clothing was made – so you’ll know that the people who stitched it together live in Bangladesh, Cambodia or Romania, for example. The label will also tell you what materials have been used, such as cotton or polyester.

But your label won’t tell you where in the world the cotton was farmed, where the fibre was spun into a yarn, where the yarn was woven into a fabric, where it was dyed and printed. It won’t tell you where the thread, zips, buttons, beading or other features came from.

So ask yourself where did those materials come from? How were they made? Where were they made? What’s it like to work there? What kind of people are involved? What are their lives like? Being interested in the answers to these kinds of questions is the best first step towards changing our relationship with what we wear. It is the first step in changing the story of the people who make our clothes.

Join Fashion Revolution in asking #whomademyclothes on 24th April 2016. See more at: http://fashionrevolution.org/


Photo Credit: James Dean from Flickr.



  1. This is also heavily linked to where we chose to spend our money and which shops and brands we Boycott. Like Primark for instance, who have been linked to unethical employment practices and child labour. Zara, H&M and many others have also been involved in such stories. If we boycotted every brand we would almost have nowhere left to shop, but at the very least we should all be informed about what we are buying into.

    There is also the issue of price. Those with less money are less able to shop ethically due to the time taken to research, as they are also often time poor, and the price of the goods themselves. The less the people making the clothes are made the less they cost. There needs to be a serious overhaul on regulations in this industry as with many industries such as food and pharma.

    The best we can do is open peoples minds through spreading knowledge, and pressure for change at the top. There are of course great sites and companies out there for ethical clothing. I particularly like Rapanui clothing. Ethical Consumer also has some great tips. #bethechange

    Great article!

  2. Fashion activists have been looking to consumers to help drive change in the fashion industry–yet this approach is fruitless, except among a small group of niche “conscious” consumers that can ask the kinds of questions you put forward and who have the babdwidth and luxury to chose better. Give consumers a break and let them celebrate fashion with making them feel guilty, shameful or ugly because the brands they love choose to fuck over the planet and its people. Fashion activism is more about elitism and isolation then it it about inclusion–how do we communicate beauty, power, live through better design. That’s a greater challenge then pointing fingers.

    Let’s face it, consumers are doing what they do best–consume. Go consumers!!!!

    It is entirely the brands responsibility to a clean up their supply chain, and in doing so will require a reindustrialization of a $1.2 trillion dollar global network that will require massive investment into science, technology and process efficiencies and in some cases compliance through regulation. The demand for sustainable fashion will come as more brands and their suppliers realize that in order for them to continue operate and grow for decades into the future, they have to mitigate supply risk, create efficiencies, and integrate sustainability into their value chains, not because of consumers, because they won’t be able to exist without sustainability.

    Thankfully, 40% of the worlds fashion brands have begun the process and are committed and investing in their future. It’s happening folks and it will take 50 years to make the switch–we’ve been at it only 10.

    Learn more, hello@portlandapparellab.com