Nu. is a young Dublin based start-up providing consumers with an alternative to fast-fashion and the unethical modes of production that come with it. The start-up seeks to bring an ethical approach to fashion. One big question facing those with ethical concerns in the fashion industry is, who made my clothes? A question raised a number of years ago when 1135 garment workers died and 2500 workers were injured in the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster. The same question and concern is put forward by Lucy Bowen, the creative director of Nu. I met with Lucy at Central Hotel in the Old Library Bar, to determine how having an ethical fashion approach is bringing a new conscious to consumers, while simultaneously shaping the lives of garment workers far and wide within complex supply chains. The hedonistic treadmill of fast-fashion has left its unsavoury impact, both socially and environmentally, not least to mention the integrity of the fashion industry as a whole.
The motive behind fast-fashion is held within the name, fashion that is obscenely fast. Brands like Zara, Primark and H&M have the ability to produce new ‘on trend’ pieces at high volumes and low prices. Productions cycles are ‘optimised’ resulting in clothes being designed, produced and retailed within a two week period.
The crux of which is made possible by cheap labour, an unapologetic concern for workers rights and a blind-sided view for any environmental impact. Lucy, while pouring a cup of tea, outlines to me, one of the rare times the fast-fashion exploitation and devastating working conditions made it to the main stream news. In the process of manufacturing clothes for the likes of Primark, Benetton and Mango (along with others), large numbers of garment workers lost their lives when the building they were working in collapsed. Known as the Rana Plaza incident, this particular event is not isolated. 27 garment workers producing clothing for Tommy Hilfiger also located in Bangladesh, died when the building they were working in went on fire due to electrical faults. But it’s not only poor physical working conditions that all too common in within fast-fashion, but rather the nature of work itself.
I’m reminded that for many factories it’s an economic race to the bottom, where a lack of regulations leads to exploitation. Wages that do not meet the minimum standards, long relentless working hours focused only on the push for high productivity and conditions that are overcrowded and unsanitary are just some of the injustices faced by garment workers. Fast-fashion oftentimes holds little respect to integrity and has been know to be on the verge of intellectual property theft in respect to designer brands and artists, attempting to produce unauthentic facsimiles.
Being so heavily steeped in trend, fad, and excess Western consumption of fast-fashion is the perfect accompaniment when it comes to our socially mobile driven lives. The bombardment of images, from Instagram, Tumblr and Snapchat alongside seductive marketing from high street brands presents to us (the consumer) a world of opportunity, irresistible in decree. In such a well marketed industry, who has the upper hand, fast-fashion or consumer choice? A voiced consumer conscious is needed for a change from within brands. Lucy’s interpretation is simple and blunt, ‘to put a stick in the cogs’ is the necessary requirement. Why go out and buy yet more clothing that is going to be seldom worn and then dismissed?
Instead Nu suggests that a public wardrobe is a more fulfilling solution to fast-fashion, rooted within sharing, collaboration and providing a community, and this is exactly what Nu have done. Nu currently provides an online desktop platform for sharing and borrowing clothes and as of current a mobile version is being established and will be released in the near future. However ‘upcycling’ is another initiative enacted by Nu, a simple and effective means of repairing or alterating garments that might have been considered ready for landfill. For Nu the goal is remarkably elementary – let us become more sustainable. Buy less, use more, borrow, repair, and spread the word. Awareness is a key for change within fast-fashion.
The ‘Who Made My Clothes?’ campaign was brought about by the Fashion Revolution Organization. It is suggested by Lucy that photographing an article of clothing, and tweeting the hashtag #whomademyclothes should become a common practice, raising the potential for a mass consumer driven motive for change. Fashion is taking a turn. Over the past twenty years the hyper-demand for increased articles of clothing has taken its toll both socially and environmentally, nowhere more than in developing countries. Instead a new fashion ethos should be encouraged, focused away from ownership and more favourably rooted within breaking down individual possession, and introducing a more social side to fashion.
Photo Credit: Rachel Loughly
George Hannaford Deputy Editor