UK-based non-profit Fashion Revolution is chronicling the plight of garment workers in Asia
When you buy your clothes, do you think of who made them? I certainly didn’t, for years and years. I started thinking of them when I began my sustainable fashion journey, and was shocked to discover that most fast fashion garments are made in sweatshops in low-wage countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia.
I started to wonder about these garment workers and what their lives must be like, which led me to research a project by UK-based non-profit Fashion Revolution and Microfinance Opportunities that chronicles the daily lives of garment workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia and India. I recently did an e-mail interview with Sarah Ditty, head of policy at Fashion Revolution about The Garment Worker Diaries and she gave me a detailed account of what they’re doing and future plans for the project.
Just in case you haven’t already read about it (more information here), The Garment Worker Diaries is a yearlong research project spearheaded by Microfinance Opportunities in collaboration with Fashion Revolution and supported by the C&A Foundation. Here’s a summary of my interview with Fashion Revolution on the project:
Fashionably Kind (FK): What inspired Fashion Revolution to collaborate with Microfinance Opportunities on The Garment Worker Diaries project?
Fashion Revolution (FR): We are excited to work on this project with MFO for many reasons. First of all, it’s really unique; we feel that almost no other research study on garment workers has been this in-depth and robust. We believe it will provide an unparalleled level of detail into the daily lives of garment workers in some of the world’s lowest wage regions. MFO’s on-the-ground research partners are meeting with nearly 600 garment workers on a weekly basis for an entire year. Fashion Revolution is excited to have access to such groundbreaking analysis. We feel that by working together with MFO we can help their unique insights reach more change-makers and have a better chance of making a positive difference.
FK: What are your key aims or hopes for this project?
FR: Our hope is that clothing companies, consumers, factory owners, and policy makers will be able to use the project insights to understand how the decisions they make affect garment workers’ conditions. Fashion Revolution is working to get the data in front of change-makers who can influence the global clothing supply chain, the regulatory environment, and the social protections available to garment workers. One of the most important agents of change is the consumer, the driver of trends and clothing orders.
FK: Is the project fully funded by C&A Foundation? If you still require funding, how much more do you need and how do you plan to raise more funds?
FR: The research is fully funded by C&A Foundation. We are working with MFO to distribute the results of the yearlong study. We are planning to share the data through several ways. First, initial analysis will be featured in the ‘Money Fashion Power’ fanzine, which will launch in January. Pre-orders for collectible printed copies will launch in the beginning of December. You can order them online, and the money will pay for printing and shipping costs and potentially help fund a couple other related projects – which brings me onto the second project.
We are hoping to produce a podcast which will explore some of the data in much deeper detail and follow the stories of a couple of garment workers involved in the study. For the podcast, we are now looking for sponsors or co-funders. And finally, we are looking at putting together an exhibition at the end of the research project, which will help some of the data come to life in a physical space and also include photos or video gathered throughout the project. An exhibition would require further co-funding or sponsors. We are now looking at possible co-funders and sponsors. If anyone is interested in collaborating on the podcast or the exhibition, please do get in touch.
FK: How much progress has been made with the project to date?
FR: Research is well under way, and we expect to see some very initial analysis by the end of the year. Data has been collected on a daily and weekly basis since late July/August.
FK: How satisfied are you with the progress made so far and why?
FR: We are still early on into the project but so far we’re seeing some interesting patterns emerge. Hopefully we will be able to share more later in the year. We’re excited to work on this project because it is so unique. No other research project has studied garment workers so intimately, day by day and week by week for an entire year. MFO’s tried and tested financial transaction methodology is also a great tool to help us much better understand that financial realities of garment workers in some of the world’s lowest wage cities.
FK: What will be done with the findings of the project?
FR: We will be sharing insights from the project on social media throughout the year. Every few months, the MFO team will write a blog on our website that will talk about how the project is going and share with our community any interesting data that is emerging. The fanzine will be the first publication that will share some initial analysis. Otherwise, MFO will be writing up a comprehensive report at the end of the yearlong study. We expect this to be publicly available sometime in autumn 2017.
FK: How will this project actually help improve the lives of garment workers participating in the project?
FR: Our hope is that clothing companies, consumers, factory owners, and policy makers will be able to use of the project insights to understand how the decisions they make affect garment workers’ conditions. At the end of the project, we should be able to better target particular change-makers in order to push for real changes that could help improve the lives of garment workers in the places where the study is taking place.
FK: Do you have any plans to replicate this project outside of Asia? Why or why not?
FR: MFO has done several studies using this methodology in a variety of countries and sectors. Fashion Revolution currently doesn’t have plans with MFO or others to replicate this project in future.
FK: What other sustainable fashion-related projects or initiatives can we look forward to involving Fashion Revolution?
FR: In 2017, we will be publishing the second edition of the Fashion Transparency Index, which will be looking at 100 of the biggest global brands and retailers and what information they are sharing publicly about their social and environmental policies, processes, practices and performance.
For more information about Fashion Revolution and their work, visit their website.