Revolution Blooms in a Stagnant Industry
On April 24th 2013 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, over one thousand people were killed and over two thousand people were injured in the tragic event of the Rana Plaza Complex collapsing. This garment manufacturing facility was obviously unsound, and it sparked the inception of the Fashion Revolution.
Looking down at a piece of clothing in my hand, I can tell you that I hold fashion close to my heart, so long as that heart is beating. My heart is broken to know that that day, hundreds and hundreds of hearts stopped beating and left our beautiful green earth- making clothes. This is not and cannot be acceptable to us, as consumers, to know that the cost of fashion is a person’s life, several lives.
To join this revolution, people all over the world have turned their tags out, snapped a picture, and asked fashion brands the burning question about the clothes hanging so elegantly on our backs- #WhoMadeMyClothes?
The Fashion Institute of Technology is the first institution in the United States to take the initiative and join the Fashion Revolution. I had the honor of sitting down with the Director of Sustainability and active member of the Student Association at FIT, Anatol Justin Tong, who has passionately contributed to making the Fashion Revolution at the school a reality.
Q: What does Fashion Revolution mean to you?
A: “The fashion industry is the last industry to have had any revolution; I believe the industry’s conditions are extremely archaic. There is still child labor, slave labor and other forms of unethical behavior that exist. Fair labor is hardly being enforced, even after the fair laws are made, they are not enforced. We’re a fashion school, one of the most prestigious universities in the industry, yet people don’t really seem to care much about the supply chain or the labor involved behind the scenes. Perhaps it should be taught more. I’ve been trying to spread awareness and doing my best to spread as much information about it that I have.”
Q: Can you tell me more about bringing Fashion Revolution (FR) to FIT?
A: “Professor Sass Brown brought FR to FIT, she is one of the board members of the US chapter of Fashion Revolution and manages their social media as well. I do see FIT as being a leader with this organization, as no other institutions in the country have taken this leadership responsibility or initiative- but the programs are extremely mature and developing in other countries. Prestigious universities in cities like London and Paris have much more presence with Fashion Revolution, but somehow in the US we have yet to catch up. This conversation needs to start, hopefully the school will realize the importance sooner rather than later. Sustainability is a big part of this revolution, we need to care more about it in this industry, not just talk about it. We have to apply it. Sustainability includes labor equality, gender equality, etc., it’s not limited solely to recycling.
Some of this education is simply not prevalent. People do need to be taught, you should recycle and do your part but at the same time you can’t over-recycle, there’s a system for each different thing you can recycle. There needs to be more education for the common consumer to access.
I talk to different facilities to make it more available and improve accessibility; there’s got to be more action and participation if you want to bring about change.
This is the first time FR is coming to FIT. We’ve been wearing inside out clothing items and exposing tags, but we’ve never had this full organized week and student association recognizing and endorsing prior to this year. Now it’s in the books and falls under committee responsibilities.
We have to look forward as future leaders, and assume responsibilities and the obligation to change this industry. Yes, Rana Plaza is in the past, but we must be the ones to advocate change.”
Q: Do you feel that students/faculty are as receptive to this revolution as you had hoped?
A: “Not at all, administration has not been as supportive. So many big companies in this industry, that are far from being sustainable and ethical, are living in their own bubble. It is very difficult to have any advocacy. Administration isn’t giving as much support and it’s very challenging, most people don’t believe we have the power to bring about actual change.
People have to be more vocal in general. Instead of complaining to peers, complain to administration, bring about that change.”
Q: What are some positive outcomes you hope for as Fashion Revolution week wraps up?
A: “I’m hoping there’s more awareness. We want people to see how corrupt and archaic the supply chain is, outside of this developed world. Have you seen True Cost and other similar documentaries? It’s real. I’m hoping students know an accident happened 3 years ago and while we have to move on, we can’t forget people actually died while making our clothes. Of course it’s difficult and understandably so, to shop sustainably. So maybe consume less, if you must go to fast fashion stores like Zara and H&M, perhaps go once a season- not once a month or week. Go consignment or vintage if you can, you can find high quality items there, too. Recycle clothing. Take small steps. Do not belittle what an individual can do. I’m not advocating to go completely “hippie” and abandon your lifestyle- no, take small steps. Recycle or donate or sell old clothes. Here in the city there are a lot of resources. You live in NY, there are so many resources you can do this with. There really shouldn’t be so much waste. It begins at individual level. That’s where change should exist.
Buy less, and wear over and over. Consignment is a great option especially if there’s not a lot of discretionary income to shop as a college kid. Used clothing doesn’t have to be bad or thought of so poorly. You can even exchange clothes with friends.
Just be more vocal and don’t be afraid of standing out. If you’re just complaining to yourself or peers, nothing is going to get done. Gain more education on these issues and all issues in general, find out about current affairs, etc. Become well rounded, more educated, and the know world outside of fashion.”
***For any F.IT. Students there is a Town Hall Meeting with Joyce Brown in Katie Murphy Amphitheatre at FIT on May 3rd from 1-2pm. Come and bring about change. Even if you don’t have concerns or contributions, come to show administration that you truly do care.***
-Written by Doha Khan