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Transparency is the starting point for initiating change
One of the key organisations at the forefront of the Fashion Revolution movement in India is Fairtrade India. Chief executive Abhishek Jani in a conversation with Subir Ghosh.
It's been five years since the Fashion Revolution movement was launched. How do you look at the journey so far in the Indian context?
We started the Show Your Label Campaign to support the global fashion revolution movement in April 2015. We wanted to take the question of 'Who Made My Clothes' further to 'Who Grew My Clothes'. What started out just as an online awareness campaign has now expanded into a pan-India movement with Fashion Revolution India leading a wide coalition and Fairtrade India being a key partner along with other collaborators, ambassadors and sustainability initiatives. The online campaign has now become a successful ethical fashion movement in India with real commitments to Fair Fashion being made in the Fairtrade ecosystem. The movement has grown significantly and attracted the attention of the mainstream including several celebrities and key influencers who have reinforced the message of the movement like Kalki Koechelin, Tisca Chopra, Jaqueline Fernandez and Monica Dogra among others adding their support and voice to the movement. Over the last couple of years, there have been several offline activation events such as the slow fashion run organised by IKKIVI, Clothes Swap organised by GFX, candle vigil at Fairtrade certified factories and several film screenings, talks and discussions on the need for sustainability in the fashion industry, design institutes and several artisanal groups have also joined the movement. So, from a traction, awareness and engagement perspective the movement is becoming robust, strong and slowly but surely making its way into the mainstream.
The movement is also gaining traction with younger brands. Pioneers like No Nasties have successfully completed seven years of making Fair Fashion available to India consumers and have been joined by young and exciting brands like Hue Trap, Aizome and Tuuda. Milind Soman's brand Deivee has also launched its organic and Fairtrade fashion collection. We are also seeing adoption of sustainable apparel and textiles from newer areas such as school uniforms with Vidyashilp School making a commitment of sourcing Fairtrade uniforms and in the hospitality sector with the Novotel and ibis Techpark Bengaluru sourcing Fairtrade bath linen across the property.
However, we still have our job cut out to get larger mainstream fashion brands in India to make significant commitments towards sustainable and fair fashion and getting more consumers to demand for fair and sustainable fashion as a fundamental requirement that ensures that farmers and factory workers have access to better living conditions and that our environment is also protected.
Coming to the impact itself. How have you been tracking the impact of #FashRev in India? What are the metrics that you have been falling back on?
The international Fashion Revolution movement has been able to track impact with impressive results and it shows that the dial has been moving.
At Fairtrade India, we are also able to gauge the indirect impact of the campaign through the commitment of brands to Fair Fashion. The number of brands and the volume of Fairtrade certified garments sold in India has increased from four brands in 2015 to 10 brands in 2018 with many more in the pipeline. The volumes of Fairtrade cotton sales are expected to grow by the end of this year by over 12 times since 2015. We are also beginning to see the consumer movement pick up and a growing demand for Fair Fashion by the Indian consumers. More people are becoming aware of the implications of their choices on the people behind their fashion statements.
How much do you think the movement has been able to have an impact on the discourse about sustainable fashion itself? Or, say for instance, on the harmful effects of fast fashion (just as an example)?
The impact of the movement has definitely been noticeable as can be seen from the impact assessment done by Fashion Revolution: fashionrevolution.org
In the Indian context, not only are we seeing the impact in the context of the sustainability dialogue and emphasis by the global brands operating in India, but also an ecosystem of Indian sustainable brands also being developed that are giving people fairer alternatives.
A wide range of sustainable start-up and designer brands have started in the country over the last four to five years. This year with brands like Hue Trap, Soul Space, Deivee and Aizome joining the Fair Fashion movement we are beginning to break into the next tier of scale and commitment. We are also noticing the change in the conversation with the larger fashion brands in India who are now seriously evaluating making commitments towards sustainable and fair fashion.
As the consumer awareness and engagement through movements like Fashion Revolution has been growing, we are increasingly seeing brands embrace different aspects of sustainable fashion. Though most brands are starting off by choosing only some environmental aspects of the impact of their production, few are looking at their production impact holistically-at the social, environmental and economic impact. We can find more and more brands talk about environmental impact such as using sustainable raw materials, the water footprint, or carbon footprint, waste and chemical discharge or lifecycle analysis of their products. There are some which are also actively looking to improve the social impact of their product in terms of the working conditions of farmer and workers in their value chain, putting in practices and standards like Fairtrade which monitor and penalise discrimination or exploitation. Some brands also working on strategies for improving their economic impact such as ensuring living income for farmers and better wages for workers.
The sustainable fashion journey is not easy or straight forward; so, we welcome brands starting the process in whichever way they see suitable and possible. However, what we must guard against is- looking at only limited sustainability parameters and stopping at that, there is a need for continuous improvement and to cover the wider social and economic sustainability along with the environmental sustainability.
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