Who made your clothes?
A simple question but one that customers, retailers, and even the brands themselves have difficulty answering.
This very enquiry reveals a lot. It bares the story of a fashion supply chain that is broken because there is a lack of awareness of whom is the face picking the cotton, preparing the leather, dying the fabric, collecting the seeds.
It exposes an industry that is premised on serving the customer with cheap and evolving choice at the expense of the health, wellbeing and quality of life of its workers. A trade where we are more concerned about the dollar amount and the value for money than the human narrative behind the article.
This is at the heart of what 69b stands for; a local women’s fashion boutique on Broadway Markets in Hackney, East London, which prides itself on delivering directional, ethical and sustainable fashion.
Started by Merryn Leslie - stylist and fashion editor for big names such as Vogue, Missoni, US Harpers Bazaar, Michelle Lowe Holder and Sandy Dalal - she wanted to do something much bigger in the fashion industry. She wanted to make a difference so decided to launch 69b, which exclusively stocks designers engaging in sustainability.
I was fortunate to speak with Harley Ray Barron, 69b’s art director, and Christelle Blary, the store’s manager.
“Sustainability isn’t all hippy, hemp, brown and beige. It can be fashionable and creative, all the while protecting the environment and its people. We have more than 70 brands which showcase this now, including Partimi, Esencia, Marimekko, Studio Jux and Reet Aus, all of which either upcycle, use organic cotton, vegetable tanned leather or vegan products,” said Harley.
Harley recently completed a fashion degree at university where she learnt just how appalling the industry is behind the scenes.
“We really do know so little about the conditions of labour of the people making our clothes, including their level of safety, health regulations, how much they are being paid and the rights they are allowed.”
“And that’s just the start of it. Then there is the materials and where they are grown and produced, and whether people are exposed to chemicals and pesticides,” she shared.
Christelle has studied fashion since the age of 15 both in France’s countryside and in Paris where she then went on to become a freelance custom designer creating sustainable garments to measure for her customers. She says we are accustomed to a fast fashion model now with high street stores receiving new stock weekly, which is a ridiculous standard to cater for.
“Fast fashion is much like the fast food industry. You don’t want to eat junk and you don’t want to wear junk.”
A passionate spokesperson for sustainability, Christelle says she often gets frustrated with people’s complacency around the clothes and products they buy.
“I get into heated discussions about the meaning of sustainability and why we need to act now to create change. I am sick and tired of hearing the excuse that it’s too late. It’s never too late. We live in innovative times and have the available knowledge and intelligence to really turn the industry around but there is resistance."
Christelle comments that this resistance comes back to guilt.
“I think people know they are guilty of contributing to the problems we see today and decide to just switch off instead of taking personal responsibility,” Christelle states.
But the tides are slowly changing and this has definitely been the case at 69b.
“There is more engagement and interest in sustainable and ethical fashion. Big brands are starting to be more transparent about their products and customers are asking more questions,” says Harley.
Christelle adds: “At 69b, we encourage our customers to know their product, to research the brand, to know who made it, and to become familiar with sustainable brands in the market. This is the best part of my job. Knowing that I am having an impact on the people who shop here who will then share their new knowledge with the their friends and family, and the ripple begins.”
“People are starting to realize that sustainability is not just a word. That it’s a lifestyle. That it’s a way of thinking. It means simple design, practicality, reasonable money value, high quality and buying less.”
Today is a monumental day for 69b and for others in the fashion circle alike.
Collaborators and partners are calling for a revolution. An overhaul. A global movement.
It is Fashion Revolution Day; a day that calls on all people to declare that enough is enough following a landmark catastrophe, which took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh a year ago. A factory complex by the name of Rana Plaza collapsed killing 1133 people and injuring over 2500. This is one of many horrific social and environmental disasters, which occur every year because of the defunct fashion industry we currently support.
It’s a day to highlight the true cost of fashion and to understand that we aren’t just purchasing a garment or accessory, but a whole chain of value and relationships.
It’s an opportunity to re-write a positive narrative where people, the environment, creativity and profit are appreciated in equal measure.
69b is supporting Fashion Revolution Day by encouraging us all to be contentious customers and ask the question: who made your clothes?
Ask the retailer at the store, send a letter to the brand manufacturer, post a photo, tag a video.
Be more curious. Find out. Do something.
Wear your clothes inside out today and take a photo of the label. Share it across social media with the tags #insideout and @fash_rev
See how you can make a difference here.
In June, 69b will launch their new website – an online retail e-commerce hub - where people can buy sustainable from anywhere in the world. The emphasis will be transparency and traceability with each brand’s story profiled, and most importantly, who made their clothes exposed. Stay tuned!
Story by Leah Davies
She is deeply fuelled by a desire to create ideas and build visions to make this world a better place. A place where we can each equally follow our dreams - regardless of the place we were born, our religious affiliations, our sexual identity, our access to education. Everything in fact to do with the status quo. After studying the causes of conflict and division in society, Leah now uses storytelling to unite people, to create community and to open opportunities for collective action.