In fashion and beyond, human rights and respect for nature are always connected

Published April 17, 2021, 2:58 PM

by John Legaspi

‘The most sustainable garment is the one already in your wardrobe.’

SoFA Design School students joining Fashion Revolution (Photo from Theresa Arigo)

We all heard the story of a cinder girl who, with the help of her animal friends and some force of nature embodied by a fairy, has turned her life around by first donning a blue ball gown. It was magical. And up to this day, we still experience that spark from dressing up, whether in the form of a new dress, a lift given by stilettos, or an impeccably tailored suit. 

But as time goes by, we soon find out that in reality many things are put on the table in order to bring out that magic. There were no creatures to help sew or fairies to give you materials with just a wave of a wand. Instead there were underpaid people working non-stop with machines and natural resources being drained out of life. This reality was given to the world through an fortunate incident that happened in Rana Plaza in Bangladesh on April 24, 2013, where 1,138 workers of the garment industry died in an eight-story building as they work tirelessly for different clothing giants around the world. That was just the start of the horror the garment industry is hiding in its closet.

Through that unfaithful day, a new breed of activists were born with the help of the Fashion Revolution community in the UK. Led by Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro, the organization aims to transform the industry, to put fairness in its seams. But don’t take them as anti-fashion. In fact they call themselves as “pro-fashion protesters,” people who “love fashion and want to see it become a force for good.”

Soon enough, the Fashion Revolution appeared in different parts of the world—Brazil, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Switzerland. In 2015, the Philippines joined the battle in harnessing the power of fashion for change. Yearly, the organization held its Fashion Revolution Week (FRW), a global campaign calling for a fashion industry that values people and the planet over growth and profit. This year FRW will run from April 19 to April 25, 2021 with the theme “Rights, Relationships and Revolution,” aiming to give focus on how human rights and the rights of nature are interconnected and interdependent.

In a conversation with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, Fashion Revolution Philippines’ newest country coordinator Theresa Arigo talks more about the ongoing initiative, how the country is doing in the sustainability game, and how us as consumers can help in making fashion a tool to celebrate human rights and respect for nature.

Theresa Arigo (Photo from Facebook)

What is the story behind this year’s theme? And how do human and nature rights connect in the field of fashion? 

The past year has shown us more vividly than ever before that the health of our world is the health of its people. The COVID-19 pandemic is a direct consequence of human impact on the natural world. 

With garment production predicted to grow by 81 percent by 2030, there is an ever-growing demand for agricultural land to produce cotton, viscose, wool, rubber, leather hides, and other natural fibers. 150 million trees are logged every year to be turned into cellulosic fabrics, such as viscose, and cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation in the Amazon. Cutting down forests leads to habitat loss and makes the risk of disease transmission from wildlife to humans more likely, increasing the risk of future pandemics.

New research is also helping us understand how chemicals and microfibers present in our clothing are now prevalent in every part of the earth, the oceans, and within our human bodies. This makes fashion and textiles the largest source of microplastic pollution.

Some of the most severe and exploitative working conditions and worst environmental damage happens deep within the fashion supply chains. It is where materials are grown and fabrics are made, as evidenced by recent revelations of forced labor of Uighurs in the Xinjiang region of China. The time has come to demand a deeper level of transparency from the fashion industry.

Since the Fashion Revolution came to the Philippines in 2015, what are the significant changes that you have observed in the local fashion industry. Are we moving forward or not?

Since 2015, the interest in sustainable fashion in our country has been continually growing. Some of the significant changes that we’ve observed are the growing acceptance of wearing and buying second-hand, which was not as accepted before. Local designers have been slowly incorporating sustainability practices into their designs and work. Government bodies such as DTI and DOST-PTRI have been working on various projects and initiatives related to sustainable fashion in our country. We do see the growth and development in terms of sustainable fashion and we do believe that as the interest continues to grow, we are definitely moving forward.

PH team with Fashion Revolution’s Sienna Somers and Sarah Ditty (Photo from Theresa Arigo)

It is going to be the second time FRW to take place during a pandemic. How has COVID-19 affected the annual event and what can people look forward to this year’s FRW?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the second year where Fashion Revolution Week’s events will be done virtually. All our events from the past years have been in-person and in different venues across Metro Manila. Still, since last year, we have adapted to conduct our campaigns and events virtually. Fashion Revolution originally started as almost an entirely digital campaign, so it has felt very natural for us to return to this space. It actually helped us grow our community and reach a wider audience.

This year, we have many partnered events focusing on sustainable fashion through workshops, discussions, and online campaigns. Fashion Revolution Philippines is also organizing the first Fashion Question Time (FQT) event in our country. FQT is an annual event originally started by the Fashion Revolution UK Global Team in 2014. The goal of this annual panel discussion is to engage thought leaders in conversation around a topic related to sustainability in the fashion industry. This year’s discussion will expand on the policy dialogue and report what Fashion Revolution Philippines published in 2020, which explores the impact of the importation of second-hand clothing (ukay-ukay) in the Philippines.

What do you think many Filipinos do not understand about having a sustainable closet? What are the hindrances that kept us from adapting it?

One of the key things that we think Filipinos misunderstand when it comes to creating a sustainable closet is that you need to buy from sustainable brands for your closet to become sustainable. When in fact, the key to sustainability is actually not buying anything and using what you already have in your closet and taking care of them. Another misconception is sustainable fashion is expensive and you have to buy your way into being sustainable. This inevitably keeps Filipinos from starting their sustainable fashion journey. To sum it up from the words of our founder Orsola de Castro: “The most sustainable garment is the one already in your wardrobe.” 

Do you think FRW is only for fashion-loving Filipinos?

Just as clothing is for everyone, we believe that the Fashion Revolution movement is for everyone. FRW is about bringing people together from across our community and working together to explore interconnected solutions to the pressing issues of the fashion industry. Our ultimate aim is to contribute to a future global fashion industry that conserves and restores the environment and values people and planet over growth and profit. 

Fashion affects everyone because every piece of clothing we own has had an impact on our planet one way or another. Being citizens and not just consumers, we believe we need a radical shift in our relationships—our relationships with each other, with our clothes, within fashion supply chains, and with the natural world. 

Now is the time for a fashion revolution.

For more information about FRW, visit Fashion Revolution Philippines’ website and Instagram page.