It's been one year since the collapse of Rana Plaza, a clothing factory in Bangladesh. The tragic event took more than 1,100 lives and maimed thousands of others.
But it also raised the public awareness of the harsh working conditions of the laborers abroad who make our clothes -- and one new group, Fashion Revolution, wants to keep that consciousness raised. That's why, on the one year anniversary of Rana Plaza, it's started Fashion Revolution Day, a social media movement aimed to raise awareness about where our clothes come from.
Fashion Revolution founder Carry Somers conceived of the group where all great ideas happen: in the bathtub. From there, she recruited a group of activists, friends and colleagues who were already working in the field to form Fashion Revolution. The group is less than a year old; so new, in fact, that it isn't officially a non-profit -- everyone who works for the company does so on a volunteer basis.
That includes Oceana Lott, Fashion Revolution's executive director. Lott has been writing about eco-friendly fashion on her blog, Oceana's Canvas, and Somers recruited her to be a part of Fashion Revolution early on.
Together, they hope that Fashion Revolution Day will be a day of global action, driven by conversations on social media. The idea is that everyone will wear one piece of clothing inside-out, revealing the tag, and post a photo to Instagram, Twitter, and so forth, with the hashtag #insideout. The question being asked: "Who made these clothes?"
"We really want to start this conversation about who makes these clothes," Lott explains. "We want people to be curious, we want them to do research, we want them to really find out and demand answers to this question from brands, especially major retailers."
Rana Plaza, Lott tells Fashionista, has become the "lightening rod" for this movement not only because of the sheer scope of that tragedy, but also because it was the third such event in a very short amount of time. The Tazreen Factory Fire happened in November of 2012; another factory fire followed in March of 2013, culminating in the Rana Plaza collapse that April. And, as Lott points out, with all three events the public was made aware of which brands were using those factories -- many of which, like Gap and Walmart, were using multiple, if not all three, of the unsafe factories.
Lott acknowledges that buying responsibly can mean spending more money or making a bigger effort, but, as she says, "Nobody wants to wear a $5 t-shirt that cost someone their life."
It's easy, she argues, to find a company's policies on everything from fair wages to ethical fiber sourcing. "Especially nowadays, Google, come on!" Lott says. "Google the brand and their ethics and you'll find out right away if they have an ethical strategy, and if you can't find one, that means they don't have one."
But #insideout isn't just about asking the hard questions of the companies who are doing things wrong; it's about calling out the brands that are doing things ethically right. Lott cites companies as diverse as Rag & Bone, Everlane Eileen Fischer and Jigsaw London as places that are great to shop for ethical options. It's as much about the positive as the negative. "Maybe someone has a story to tell like, 'This was made by someone paid fair wages in Peru and I love it,'" Lott says.
The end game for Fashion Revolution is to change the way that we shop for clothes in a way that's beneficial for both the consumer and the worker.
"I think it would be great to have all those categories -- eco-fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable fashion -- disappear, because all clothes are made fairly and justly," Lott explains.
Can the solution really be as easy as a day of social media activity? It's hard to believe that one hashtagged tweet could make a difference. But Lott, and the Fashion Revolution, believe that it's all about sparking the conversation.
"People will be so surprised how easy it can be to make a difference. Everybody says, 'I can't do it, I'm one person,'" Lott says. "But you have to remember, that's how the Civil Rights movement started! Rosa Parks was just one person. She just chose to sit -- she didn't know she was launching the Civil Rights movement in one act."