On Fashion Revolution Day this year social media was covered in selfies of people turning their clothes inside out and putting their labels on display. One question was being asked, namely, “Who made my clothes?” Remembering the 1133 workers who died in the collapse of the Rana Plaza clothing factory in Bangladesh on that day two years ago, this question was directed at today’s suppliers, calling for a greater transparency within the clothing industry. The aim is to turn the production factories inside out so that the people who make our clothes can be recognised. Responses to the Rana Plaza disaster have been varied. I talked to Andy Showell-Rogers, founder of ethical clothing company Visible Clothing, about his reaction to the tragedy.
Andy said that the Rana Plaza disaster could have been prevented. He explained that despite the emergence of cracks in the over-loaded building the day before the collapse in April 2013, workers were threatened with a pay cut if they didn’t return to work. Having no other way of supporting themselves and their families, they returned, but many never made it home again. This careless loss of lives made him and his university friend, Andy Lower, rethink their attitude to the clothing industry. At the end of the year they gave away all their clothes and started from scratch, only buying garments which they knew were made by someone who was treated fairly as an individual in their own right, seen as someone with potential and paid sufficiently for the work they have done. 2014 began with an empty wardrobe and a will to discover what it meant to help make the clothing industry more transparent.
despite the emergence of cracks in the over-loaded building the day before the collapse in April 2013, workers were threatened with a pay cut if they didn’t return to work.
Extending further than just their own personal wardrobes, this new beginning was also the start of their business Visible, a clothing line within which everyone is treated fairly whilst producing garments which “look good, are affordable, and are of good quality.” Visible clothes are sourced from the developing world with the goal of supporting workers sustainably, offering individuals a way out of extreme poverty. The initial search for transparent and fair suppliers revealed that the options were very limited and mostly expensive.
Seeking appropriate business partners in the months leading up to the launch of Visible, Andy Showell-Rogers spent a week in India in order to get to know the faces of the factories himself. This led him to Anjali, the managing director of the Mandala factory. With a vision to use the factory as a force for good in order to bring about social improvement, Andy has recognised in Anjali that “what gets her out of bed every morning is people and not the products.” Her aim is not just to see her workers in an environment where they are free of exploitation but where they are being cared for. The expert employers of Mandala are producers of top quality clothes in a professional setting, attracted to this factory in particular because of the values it embodies. Visible chose Mandala to produce their T-Shirts because both organisations are absolutely about the product but also absolutely about the people. When choosing sources for the production of Visible clothes, Andy searches for organisations with this DNA of fairness.
“what gets her out of bed every morning is people and not the products.”
Visible chose to be partners with Fashion4Freedom, an organization based in Vietnam which provides training for tailors, because they possess the values that desire to see fairness become reality. On their website Visible invites us to meet the makers behind their shirts and ties produced by Fashion4Freedom. Photos, names, and mini biographies introduce us to the tailors. The supply chain of the clothing industry is being made transparent.
Andy would be the first to admit that ensuring fairness throughout the chain is hard. Visible T-Shirts are manufactured fairly, but what about further down the production line? Sourcing small amounts of traceable fabric, for example, is a lot more complicated. Striving for total fairness throughout, Visible have recently put polls on their website asking readers to define what fairness means for them. Andy and Andy are still in the process of gathering the responses and further research. They are determined to not to have to compromise fairness. Even amid continuous questions, the supply chains of Visible products remain transparent. Their honest production stories can be read online, where the clothes can also be purchased.
When I spoke to Andy Showell-Rogers, he acknowledged that clothing often plays a significant role in expressing our identity; clearly changing the range of clothes we buy is more complicated than changing the kind of bananas we purchase. But when he stood surrounded by the rubble of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh, his excuses just crumbled away. He explained to me that morally the situation became so clear, so black and white; “those people died so that we could buy cheap clothes.” Today he misses his grey winter coat most of all the items in his old wardrobe, often resenting his anorak replacement, but this is about more than what we wear.
when he stood surrounded by the rubble of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh, his excuses just crumbled away.
Andy does not pretend to have all the answers, but he is asking questions. If you’re interested in working out who made your clothes, go and ask your High Street shops about their supply chains and keep asking your own questions. Visit Visible’s website and discover more of their story, their ever-growing range of quality clothes, and more about how you can support them. Keep digging amongst the rubble and turn your clothes inside out. Greater and greater transparency is what’s needed, and new up-and-coming brands like Visible prove that it is possible, after all.
Author: Claire Ewbank