23 April, 2014

Following the thread: the start of a Fashion Revolution

by Orsola de Castro, Creative Director at fashion label From Somewhere

Orsola de Castro is creative director at fashion label From Somewhere, which makes clothes from recycled off cuts of luxury materials. She is also co-founder and co-curator of Estethica at London Fashion Week and a co-founder of Fashion Revolution Day. Here Orsola reflects on why following the thread in our clothes from beginning to end is vital and why we need a revolution in fashion.

factoryWhen Carry Somers and I started giving shape to the concept of Fashion Revolution Day, after her brilliant idea to get it started in the first place, not in a million years did I imagine that it would spread so quickly. 

I had no idea this concept of a thread, of following the path from the clothes we wear to the people who make them and the yarn they are made out of, this curiosity to retrace our garments back to their origins, would prove so globally compelling.

Of course, it always has been so for me as my entire career in fashion is about origins, memories, provenance and following threads – albeit through textile and fashion industry dustbins. So the fact that we seem to have hit a raw nerve and that Fashion Revolution Day has made so many people think the same is a huge relief to me, as it finally seems that this journey backwards through our own wardrobes will generate change and create connections that I thought were lost forever.

When I started my label From Somewhere in 1997, re-using existing materials was not an environmental issue for me, it was a creative need. 
The connections I personally made with the seamstresses from the factories where I was recuperating surplus, mostly in the north of Italy, were one of the best bits of my job - those blissful afternoons spent in conversation, whilst going through unwanted scraps and end of rolls, discussing the beauty of a hemline or the advantages of one type of finish over another.

It was only as I noticed how fast things were changing around me that my social and environmental awareness grew as a result of what I discovered along the way.  There was, and is, so much waste - the incredible practice of slashing almost perfectly good designer pieces for brand protection, that it’s easier to buy more fabric rather than recuperate obsolete materials,  the number of garments produced and then never sold and then the beautiful Italian manufacturers closing down, factory after factory. All that tradition of skills and expertise moved to China, India, Eastern Europe or anywhere cheaper.

Indian cottonI watched as a whole way of life changed right before my very eyes. I saw what I thought was the fashion industry, the ‘made in Italy’ I grew up with and the values I believed were attached (sewn just like labels) to clothes-making, change dramatically. I knew it had been happening for a long time, but I was there to witness the last inexorable years and the more I saw it happen, the more I knew that I wanted to be a part of a change.

Without a local industry we are not only losing the links with our past, we are also making it difficult for the next generation of designers to envisage a future. Without the smaller factories, the local seamstresses, the hand-spun textiles weavers, our high crafts and our long-held traditions, we are destroying something which has enormous value and which has accompanied us for millennia. And for what? For an industry which is faceless? For an industry which  respects neither people nor planet?

For me, Fashion Revolution Day is a culmination of years spent looking for solutions and supporting the important work that has already been done by existing organisations to ensure that we can really bring about change and become more vocal in demanding that the process of change should consolidate now and become unstoppable. 

Informing the public is key to this reform and to giving a voice and a face to the people who make our clothes. The public has a right to know the true social cost and true environmental impact of the clothes we buy. 

It is only through co-operation that we will enforce this change. By uniting organisations such as the Fairtrade Foundation – which works with marginalised farmers at the beginning of a garment’s journey, the small brands like From Somewhere and the individuals who care as much as Carry Somers does, we will be in a position to proudly say we belong to the generation that implemented the solutions that showed the industry a better future. 

After all, the Fairtrade Foundation and From Somewhere share the curiosity of where fashion originates from. Okay, so admittedly from two very different perspectives, but emotionally the message we convey is similar: we are all from somewhere, even our clothes. And though we may all look different and operate in individual ways, we all share an ultimate vision for a better world.

Follow @Fash_Rev #insideout online takeover on 24/4.

You can tweet @FairtradeUK your questions about Fairtrade cotton for Fairtrade Foundation Chief Executive Michael Gidney from 1pm BST 24 April

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