In Conversation with… Sienna Somers of Fashion Revolution

Who made your clothes? That’s the question that Sienna Somers and the Fashion Revolution team want you to ask. We’re delighted to have had the opportunity to speak with Sienna for this interview, understanding her role as the Policy and Research Coordinator at Fashion Revolution, as well as the wider role that F.R. has had to play in creating a more sustainable approach to fashion from both a consumer and a brand’s point of view.

Now a global movement, with its own day to mark the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh in 2013, Sienna and the Fashion Revolution team as well as their numerous volunteers have truly struck a chord for hundreds of thousands of people. Find out more about the creation of the movement, and their attitude towards the upcoming Black Friday and the big holiday shopping season, below.

1. What sparked your passion to clean up the fashion industry?

Growing up, both of my parents ran (separate) Fair Trade clothing and accessories business so from a young age sustainable business ethics were ingrained into my belief system (and probably in my DNA). However, following the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, it was evident that the majority of fashion brands took no care for the people that made their clothes and certainly did not respect the environment that gave them their resources. The year after Rana Plaza was a seminal moment for me, as a young-women surrounded by fast-fashion loving friends, back when weekly ASOS deliveries were a norm in our shared university house, it was obvious that there was an immense cognitive dissonance between our impacts and the clothes we wear. After hosting a Fashion Revolution pop-up in my university library in 2014 and being roped into guest-lecturing the fashion marketing students (who were the same age as me), I began to realise how much #WhoMadeMyClothes resonated with people - most people had never thought about the people that sewed their clothes. It was the beginning of the Fashion Revolution!

2. How does Fashion Revolution work with consumers, brands, and regulators alike to create a fairer fashion industry?

Through social media, events and education outreach, we hope to educate people on the social and environmental impacts of their clothing and give them the tools to make changes in their own lives.

One of our core campaigns has been to encourage people to ask #WhoMadeMyClothes. With more citizens encouraging brands to answer this question, we have the power to push the industry to become more transparent. Lack of transparency costs lives. It is impossible for companies to make sure human rights are respected, working conditions are adequate and the environment is safeguarded without knowing where their products are made.

We also aim to connect citizens and policymakers, by encouraging them to write to their policymakers to demand action. In Fashion Revolution Week 2019, Fashion Revolution partnered with Traidcraft to launch a petition aimed at the Home Secretary and the Home Office calling for the UK government to strengthen the Modern Slavery Act.

We also work directly with policymakers to advocate for strengthened legislation and regulatory measures in the fashion industry. Through our Fashion Transparency Index, we work with the top global fashion brands to push them to disclose more information about their suppliers, supply chain policies, practices and social and environmental impacts. We have seen a 9% increase in the average score of the 98 brands reviewed in the Index since 2017!

3. How does policy contribute to fairer treatment of people and planet within fashion?

Policy and legislation will be instrumental in our efforts to create a fairer, safer and greener fashion industry. While some brands are making significant changes in their own operations and supply chains to be more sustainable, many brands are still lagging behind.

In our 2019 Fashion Transparency Index 10 brands (out of 200) scored 0%, meaning they disclose absolutely nothing about their supply chain and impacts. Legislation can be used to ensure all brands, even those laggard brands are held accountable for their actions.

However, we, as citizens, have the power to influence policy with every vote or letter to your representative. They are paid and elected (mostly) to represent us, if we make our voices heard that we want them to take action on the fashion industry, they will!

4. What are the biggest wins that Fashion Revolution has experienced since the start of your campaigning?

For me, I am always amazing at the increased levels of transparency in the industry since we first started asking #WhoMadeMyClothes and launching our Fashion Transparency Index. In the 2019 Fashion Transparency Index, we saw an increase in average scores in the Traceability section (which focused on whether brands are publishing their suppliers and the level of detail they are disclosing) by over 7% amongst the brands reviewed since 2017. This disclosure allows us to hold the industry accountable for its business practices and impacts which ultimately leads to change.

5. As Black Friday is coming up, what efforts can we all make to be more responsible with our fashion choices?

This Black Friday, we want to tackle the environmental and social damage of discount culture. We are asking citizens to take a stand against mindless overconsumption and asking you to simply think before you buy!

We are also asking brands to abstain from discounts. We have created some social media posts and stories which you can share to spread the message that we are against over-production and over-consumption.

6. What’s one thing we can all do to support a more socially sustainable and environmentally sustainable fashion industry?

Firstly, love and cherish what you currently own. The best way we can tackle the environmental impact of our clothes is through buying less stuff and caring for the pieces we already own so they last as long as possible! Don’t know how to darn your socks or fix a hole? We have you covered. In our zine, Loved Clothes Last, and our how-to videos, we have resources on how to best care for your clothes!

Secondly, vote with your money! Every purchase is a vote for what you believe in, use your money wisely, support local, small, ethical businesses and second-hand as a priority!

7. And finally, can you tell us who made your favourite pieces in your wardrobe?

I feel very honoured that I have met a few people who have made my clothes! One of my favourites would be my Pachacuti Panama hats made by women’s cooperatives in Ecuador. I have met these amazing ladies who weave the hats but also Pachacuti has GPS location of where their hats are made, down to the location of each weaver’s house and the community straw plantations! I also have a couple of cherished pieces with embroidery from artisans in Oaxaca, Mexico. I was astounded by the amount of time and skill that goes into every exquisite embroidery!

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