> It’s no secret that the fashion industry has made some serious shifts towards being the eco-friendly and people focused industry that we are fighting for it to become. The use of reclaimed fabrics, whether they are recycled or saved-from-landfill offcuts, is on the rise and although we love to encourage these changes, we find ourselves asking: should we really be celebrating this? And where are the voices behind the fabric?

Zero waste fashion, offcut fashion and recycled fashion all have the same message: stop wasting fabric! But fabrics are the product of huge amounts of water use, chemicals, technology and people’s labour, so viewing them as disposable is the start of a long line of issues.

Around 20% of fabric used to produce clothing ends up on the factory floor as offcuts; code for “destined for landfill”. Once there, the fabrics break down - although plastic derivatives like polyester will never breakdown entirely - and release greenhouse gases, while the chemicals and dyes leak into the surrounding environment and waterways.

We love the innovative ways brands are breaking this cycle of waste and the fantastic environmental impact it has. Just check out Zero Waste Daniel and Tonlé for inspiration. Even H&M has launched a scheme to encourage customers to return their unwanted clothes for recycling into new products.

It is amazing to see this sort of transformation and conversation, but does it distract us from the question: who made your fabric?

Unfortunately, huge amounts of abuse and trafficking occur in the production of fabric itself, even before it is cut or sewn into a garment.

Stop The Traffik’s research in Tamil Nadu, home of 65% of India’s spinning units and 60% of their knitting units, found that young girls from rural towns are trafficked into factories under the promise of stable wages, employment and a secure future.

This is called the Sumangali Scheme and the reality is that under 35% of these women ever see their promised pay. Instead they are forced to work and live within factories and so are subjected to abuse and terrible working conditions.

Even before arriving in these factories, exploitation is prevalent in the cotton fields, with widespread trafficking in Uzbekistan alone. Meanwhile, in India we are seeing the largest wave of farmer suicides recorded due to debt produced by corporately forced use of expensive seeds and chemicals.

Then we face the unprecedented environmental damage and severe health defects created in local communities due to the huge amount of chemicals used in growing cotton, treating fabrics and the dyeing process.

It’s not an easy topic to face, but by over-glamourising the use of recycled and reclaimed fabrics, we risk silencing the people involved in fabric production and their stories of abuse and exploitation.

As customers, producers and brands we should definitely celebrate positive change but we should also be striving for more from our wardrobe. There is always room for improvement.

What now?

  • Shop clothing that is sourced transparently - from seed to garment
  • Join the Fashion Revolution and continuing striving for more from your brands
  • Watch Machines, a documentary with a dizzying insight into the world of a fabric sweatshop in India that brings worker's voices to the forefront


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Molly Barr

Writer’s Bio: Molly is an Operations Officer at Public Law Project and a graduate in International Development.

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