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Avoid blame and shame, says Rethink your Clothes
Fast Fashion

Avoid blame and shame, says Rethink your Clothes

1 by Sarita RAO 6 min. 30.04.2022
Bringing social and environmental change to the fast fashion industry
Caritas Luxembourg and Fairtrade Lëtzebuerg to enter the third phase of their Rethink your Clothes campaign
Caritas Luxembourg and Fairtrade Lëtzebuerg to enter the third phase of their Rethink your Clothes campaign
Photo credit: Chris Karaba

As Rethink your Clothes soon enters the third phase of its campaign to drive awareness of the social and environmental issues of the textile industry, boycotting or blaming and shaming is not the way forward, says Caritas.

Since 1993, textile production has increased by more than 50%, yet money spent on fashion has halved. Every minute, 95 t-shirts are thrown away and each person consumes on average more than 12kg of clothes every year. Less than 2% of the 7,500 tonnes of textile waste people produce is reused locally.

In 2013, the Rana Plaza disaster saw a building housing five garment production factories in Bangladesh collapse, killing more than 1,100 people and injuring a further 2,500. A number of documentaries followed, such as The True Cost (2015), which exposed the human cost of fast fashion, looking not only at the plight of garment workers, but also cotton farmers in developing countries.

When Rethink your Clothes was formed in 2018 by Caritas Luxembourg and NGO Fairtrade Lëtzebuerg, the waste produced from textiles was not even quantified. An awareness campaign was launched to inform and educate the public, and promote sustainable and fair purchase.

The campaign ran presentations and workshops in schools, Fair Fashion days, conferences and events, culminating in a Fair Fashion village at Springbreak in March 2022. “We raised awareness amongst young adults to make changes in a positive way, encouraging use of second-hand or vintage clothing, or swapping wardrobes. We found this generation very open to it,” said Ana-Luisa Teixeira, programme coordinator at Caritas Luxembourg.

Public perception changed since 2018

Jean-Louis Zeien from Fairtrade Lëtzebuerg highlights that “it’s a total illusion to think you can make revolutionary changes in a small time, but there have been small changes”. He explains that the campaign’s first survey in 2018 asked about responsibility in the textile industry, and most respondents felt that donating clothes to charity was doing just this. “But it starts at the beginning with the purchasing act and buying more responsibly,” he argues.

Encouraging people to read clothing labels and think about where items come from and how they are produced
Encouraging people to read clothing labels and think about where items come from and how they are produced
Photo: LW Archives

In a Rethink your Clothes  survey this year, 34% of respondents mentioned it was a challenge to buy textiles in a responsible fashion.

The fashion industry touches a huge number of sectors, starting with cotton production in the agricultural sector. Zeien believes that it badly needs corporate due diligence and an EU strategy following the Rana Plaza disaster.

“Europe clearly has a responsibility, and Fairtrade gives our own part of the solution," Zeien said. "The problem starts not in the factory but in the field. We certify and empower small-scale cotton producers in Asia and Africa and continue along the textile production.

“Through our recent survey, we know that even informed people will buy textiles from certain brands, so a boycott doesn’t provide the right solution. We need one where Rana Plaza is not possible.”

Teixeira believes in the power of the consumer. Her early research found that clothing consumption had doubled in just 15 years in Europe, with one UK study stating that 30% of the clothes in our wardrobes are never worn. 

“The Wellbeing Wardrobe study tells us we need to consume at least 50% less, and use what we already have,” she said.

“We also need to buy better and buy less, and look for fairness, transparency and accountability in brands. Less than 1% of the price of a t-shirt goes to a garment worker. If each worker earned just €1 more per t-shirt, they could earn a living wage in Bangladesh. Paying fair prices to ensure good working conditions isn’t really anything for most of us,” said Zeien.

Pop-up store in fashion hub

Rethink your Clothes started with a target audience of teens, public administration, companies, but also the general public.  It opened up a pop-up store in the heart of the fast fashion hub at Hamilius in Luxembourg's capital, to show that things can be done differently. The store runs regular workshops under the brand name Lëtz Refashion, offering ways to pimp or customise old clothes with sequins or embroidery. “Even retired people are helping with sewing, bringing grandmas and teens together,” Teixeira said.

Fairtrade offers t-shirt workshops for children, and fair fashion ones for teenagers in high school. “We developed an escape game for our fair fashion village at Spring Break, and it was fully booked for the entire weekend,” said Zeien, adding: “the concept of a fast fashion escape game was a worldwide first, designed to reach new target audiences.”

Millions of people live from producing cotton, which uses large amounts of water and hazardous chemicals. Cotton forms almost a quarter of fabric produced in the world, and employs about 100 million rural households in 75 developing countries. Some 26 tonnes of it is harvested annually, and it consumes about 11% of the worlds pesticides and 24% of its insecticides.

Small producers suffer pressure on prices. Often unable to cover production costs, they are forced to grow genetically modified seeds which are costly and require increased chemical treatment. In India, this has led to a high suicide rate among cotton producers who cannot repay the micro-credit loaned to them to buy GM seeds and expensive pesticides.

More than 70% of Fairtrade’s cotton is organic and consumes between 50-90% less water. “We have in our Fairtrade standards responsible water use, no GMOs or toxic substances in production, and better production conditions. This is better than abolishing cotton,” said Zeien, who also points out that alternative synthetic fabrics, like polyester, which drive the fast fashion industry, release plastics and pollution and use greater quantities of fossil fuels.

 FairFashion Lab sells clothes made from Fairtrade organic cotton with unique designs from local artsts
FairFashion Lab sells clothes made from Fairtrade organic cotton with unique designs from local artsts
Photo: Anouk Antony

Rethink your Clothes also supports designers, brands and companies who promote sustainable textile purchase. Audrey’s upcycle clothing brand (H)ermana launched in March 2020, using fabric recovered from clothes, curtains, and throws to create original and unique pieces. Clothes are assembled in social integration workshops and on sale in the pop-up store. Fairtrade launched its FairFashion Lab selling clothes and accessories made from Fairtrade organic cotton with unique illustrations from six local artists.

Elsewhere, the Melia hotel group kitted out staff at INNSiDE with sustainable fairtrade certified workwear, and Post Luxembourg is providing fairtrade uniforms to most of its staff.  

Combating ultra-fast fashion

The pandemic has had an effect on the fashion industry, with many people buying online, causing some brands to ditch their store fronts, Teixeira said. Online shopping coupled with social media trends has promoted an ultra-fast fashion, yet “we have enough fabric to clothe the next six generations”, she said.

Zeien and Teixeira invite consumers to consider where, how and by whom their clothes are made.

They say that labels don’t tell you the journey an item goes through before it reaches the store, or the working conditions in the industry. They ask people to consider how fashion purchases will impact the planet and other people’s lives. With momentum, this will send a collective message to fashion brands who market cheap fast fashion.

Here’s what you can do to make your wardrobe more sustainable:

  • Look at labels and where possible buy fairtrade clothing
  • Shop local and consider local sustainable designers
  • Rent clothes or swap amongst friends
  • Buy second hand
  • Repair, upcycle and customise your wardrobe
  • Donate unwanted clothes
  • STOP Impulse buying 

More information

You can find out more about Rethink your Clothes here, including details of events, fashion fairs, and speakers, as well as educational programmes. If you’re interested in pimping or customising your clothes you can visit the Caritas pop-up store, Lëtz Refashion to join a workshop, with more details here.

For where to find second-hand clothes, read our article here

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