It takes 2,700 liters of water to grow the cotton for one “Nevertheless, She Persisted” or “We Should All be Feminists” T-shirt, often sewn by a worker making just a few dollars per day.
“Let’s take a look at where that T-shirt was made. Where are the rights of the woman at the other end?” asks Remake founder Ayesha Barenblat.
Barenblat began to understand the potential influence of brands over consumer habits when she ran a fashion group for the global consultancy Business for Social Responsibility (BSR). It was there that she realized business incentives would not “fix an industry that’s gone off the deep end.” In 2015, she founded Remake to build a conscious consumer movement that preserves the well-being and dignity of the people who make clothes.
Across the world there are 60 million people producing the garments keeping fast fashion’s mega supply chain running — 75 percent of them are women. What kind of worker does Barenblat think of when she sees a label that reads “Made in Pakistan”?
“Brave,” begins Barenblat. “She is likely dealing with complications of leaving the household. She might have four or five family members relying on her for income. She worries about her marriage prospects because she’s the first woman to work outside the home. It’s likely she is harassed on her way to the factory. She is taking not-so-safe transportation. She is a sister in the fight for conscious fashion.”
Members of the Remake team have traveled to Cambodia, China and India for their “Meet the Maker” series, which features stories about garment workers like Char Wong, Rubina and Anju, who’ve sewn hoodies and blouses for major labels and brands. These 18-24-year-old women workers often make less than $3 per day.
“I’m from Pakistan, a first generation immigrant, so when I look at the supply chain in fast fashion, I think, ‘That could be me,’” says Barenblat. “It’s hard not to think of your sisters in Pakistan, China, Turkey and Cambodia if you have family from one of these so-called ‘bottom-feeding’ countries.
“If you think of yourself as a feminist, your clothes should reflect that. If you’re buying cheap disposable clothes, you’re not wearing your values,” she adds.
Remake is currently curating a slow fashion collection for fall, scouting pieces with innovation at their core. Brands they endorse include Nisolo, Patagonia, People Tree and Reformation.
“Together we can create demand for sustainable products and spark a race to the top amongst brands,” Barenblat says.
Founded by Yael Aflalo in 2009, Reformation makes most of its casual dresses and chic tops at its Los Angeles factory, and the brand tells you exactly what impact each garment has on the environment. About 15 percent of their fabrics are vintage or deadstock, which give second life to textiles otherwise destined for the landfill. Many other Reformation garments are made from Tencel, the “Beyoncé of fabrics,” which is manufactured from eucalyptus trees and requires less land and water than cotton.
If you’re looking for the biggest culprit in dirty clothing manufacturing, it’s cotton. The “fabric of our lives” accounts for 35 percent of the world’s fiber and 17.5 percent of insecticide sales. Only about 1 percent of the cotton grown is organic and it requires 20-50 percent more land than its conventionally grown brethren.
Today, the fashion industry is in a phase of rapid evolution, with young designers distancing themselves from unsustainable practices and reaching for new fabrication methods and fibers, some of which don’t even exist yet.
“Sustainability is not something which restricts design, but quite the opposite,” says Livia Firth, the creative director of Eco-Age.
This year, Eco-Age launched the inaugural Green Carpet Talent Competition, an incubator where rising designers craft gowns using leather alternatives derived from fish skin or sequins made of Italian seashells and discarded CDs. Several of the designers will be competing in the Green Carpet Fashion Awards in Milan, Italy this September, including Slovenia’s Matea Benedetti, who designed a collection with Italian partner Pellebelle/Applewear that uses waste from the food-processing industry to create apple skin leather. The material is put to work in dresses, coats and tunics and is sometimes laser cut to mimic lace.
“A few years from now, we will be looking at a reformed industry,” Firth predicted at the Copenhagen Fashion Summit in May.
And eventually that may trickle down to your closet. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future that “We Should All be Feminists” T-shirt will be made from sustainable fabric and sewn in a factory that enforces ethical labor practices. Then the shirt and the message emblazoned on it will be one and the same.