In 2013, the fashion industry saw one of the worst tragedies in history – the Rana Plaza complex, a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed and took the lives of 1,134 garment workers and injured 2,500 more. The factories operating in this building made clothes for well-known international brands. This devastating incident accelerated the rise in a new movement — the fashion revolution which calls for greater transparency and shines light on the atrocities of the $3trn fast fashion industry.
Picture this. You’re out shopping and you spot a beautiful top for £10 and you say to yourself, “Hey, what’s £10?” Then you spot a pair of trousers on sale for £14.99 — what a bargain. Must. Be. Purchased. Same goes for item three. And item four. This was the story of my life just like millions others today. I never stopped to ask the true cost of my purchases.
What we don’t realise is that we’re actually perpetuating a throwaway culture the fast fashion industry wants us to buy into to increase their profits. The reason why fashion has become so affordable is because the people making our clothes are also, affordable i.e. they don’t get paid a basic living wage, they are exposed to inhumane conditions and are working in poorly constructed buildings like the Rana Plaza complex. Garment workers in Bangladesh get paid £44 a month on average. The lives of these workers are virtually meaningless to these brands and they are being used as pawns in a rat race to increase profits in a competitive industry.
Beyond the unethical standards of this industry, it’s also one of the most polluting industries after oil. As I mentioned here, the processing of raw materials requires large amounts of energy and 2,700 litres per single t-shirt, using petrochemicals, polyester and nylon which are all non-biodegradable – unsustainable by design. During manufacturing, nylon emits a large amount of nitrous oxide and the impact of one pound of nitrous oxide on global warming is almost 300 times that of the same amount of carbon dioxide.
“It’s easy to feel powerless when faced with these statistics. Fashion’s supply chains are incredibly complicated beasts that require hours of unravelling — from farm to factory to store, from zips to buttons to beading, it’s never clear under what conditions they came into being. Often brands don’t own factories outright — so garment production is subcontracted out, making it difficult to hold people to account. As Jenny Holdcroft, Assistant General Secretary at IndustriALL Global Union, told a panel at Fashion Question Time, held in the House of Commons on Monday: ‘Companies are getting the benefit of workers’ labour without shouldering the responsibility of being their employer.’” — Ellie Pithers.
As a Muslim woman, I am provided with all the guidance I need on how to live from the Holy Quran and Sunnah (sayings and actions of Prophet Muhammad pbuh). I believe Muslims have a moral responsibility to set the bar high for ethical business standards and support social enterprise. Exploiting people, using divisive techniques to save costs and to degrade workers is the complete opposite of what Islamic business represents and sadly that is what many of today’s industries entail.
The Muslim fashion industry is expected to reach $327 billion in profits by 2019. “Modest Fashion” has recently been embraced by major fashion brands, predominantly fast-fashion brands. H&M featured a hijabi Model, and others are reaching out to Muslim influencers to tap into this growing market.
“There is little value in using visibly Muslim models if you are going to be killing and exploiting –directly or indirectly — their families back home.” – Hoda Katebi
Before purchasing from the fashion companies that these influencers are championing, it’s imperative that we take extra measures to ensure the poor and our environment are not being exploited in the name of fashion. Often it’s our very own Muslim brothers and sisters suffering at the hands of these fashion corporations.
Beyond this, we should ensure we’re not fuelling excessive consumption. Unnecessary products, wastage and toxic chemicals are destroying our planet and Muslims have access to this knowledge, it’s important we’re the first ones to implement it and lead the way in building businesses that are just and ethical in totality as instructed in the Quran.
Giving X% of your money to charity a month is no longer sufficient, although it is a good start. Where are your donations going? Are businesses and charities that you support alleviating poverty or perpetuating it? What sustainable practices are the leaders that you look up to using to ensure individuals are helped to stand on their own two feet. Are we increasing employment and economic opportunities?
“Much of the global fashion industry is opaque, exploitative and environmentally damaging and desperately needs revolutionary change. We love fashion, but we don’t want our clothes to come at the cost of people or our planet. Transparency encourages scrutiny, vigilance and accountability. It’s like opening one’s front door and allowing others to look inside. And of course, the more doors are open, the more the picture becomes clearer, the better we can understand and ameliorate supply chain workers’ lives and the environment.” — Orsola de Castro, co-founder of Fashion Revolution.
Fashion revolution shines a light on all brands and encourages them to talk about their supply chain. It’s a great initiative pushing for transparency and asking them to answer important questions like who is making our clothes, how are they making our clothes, what materials do they use? How much water do they waste? Are the workers working in humane healthy conditions and being paid fairly? What chemicals are involved. It shines a light on the brands priorities and human rights and environmental standards.
Tackling poverty starts by vocalising our concerns and utilising our spending power wisely — if we want to solve this problem, we need to become more conscious about what brands we, as Muslims, endorse with our wallets. There are 60–75 million people being exploited right now by fashion companies. You can prevent this by: 1) Investing in transparent brands that prioritise ethical and environmentally positive conditions in addition to fair wages for their worker, 2) Asking the right questions, starting with “who made my clothes?” 3) Buy less frequently and invest in higher quality and durable products to minimise your environmental impact and 4) Upcycle used clothes.
Two of social enterprise in fashion we’re proud to have see funded through UpEffect include AmaElla and Thraedable — both introducing slow fashion and environmentally-friendly clothing options. We’re excited to be working with a number of ethical fashion brands using business as a force for good and hope to see many more build transparent supply chains.
I’m confident as the ethical fashion industry grows within social enterprise, which it will, many Muslim entrepreneurs will and should come forward to represent true Islamic business.