Before you ditch your skinny jeans for a pair of wide leg jeans that you’ll be tossing for next year’s trend, consider the impact. The fast fashion industry thrives on consumers salivating over the latest looks that make it from runways to closets with lightning fast speed, only to languish in landfills when the trends inevitably change in a season. These clothes are more or less designed to be disposable — they’re made out of cheap materials and poorly constructed, and their environmental impact is huge. The clothing manufacturing industry uses trillions of liters of water each year. Cheap dyes in wastewater pollute our water, then consumers pollute it further by tossing their synthetic clothing into a washing machine, allowing tiny plastic fibers to find their way into waterways.
There’s also a human cost to fast fashion. In order to produce clothing quickly and inexpensively, factory workers often are overworked and underpaid, forced to work in unsafe conditions. In April 2013, Raza Plaza, a shoddily constructed eight-story building in Bangladesh that housed five garment factories, collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people and injuring more than 2,500. This tragedy was the impetus for Fashion Revolution Week, which takes place in April to honor the Raza Plaza victims.
Fashion Revolution Week is an international event that fights back against fast fashion by supporting a more ethically sourced and sustainable fashion industry. Cities around the world participate, and this year, Betha Wood is the city lead for Providence. I recently spoke with her about her passion for the project.
Emily Olson (Motif): How did contributing to a more sustainable fashion industry become a passion for you?
Betha Wood: I’m one of the founding members of Style Week, which is one of the local fashion weeks in Providence. I was the director of hair for 10-plus years, and through that experience, I got lots of work backstage at NY Fashion Week and London Fashion Week. I’ve been all over the world in fashion, and I’ve been abused by the top people in the industry. I learned a lot from those negative experiences because it showed me that I want to change the culture backstage. It’s interesting that this organization [Fashion Revolution] was founded because of the mistreatment of people in factories. but it really relates to every avenue in the industry — people in retail, the models, the agents. It’s culturally nasty a lot of the time and it doesn’t have to be. Maybe if we can make fashion kind we can make kindness fashionable.
EO: Clothing that is sustainably and ethically produced and made out of natural fibers can be prohibitively expensive. What would you suggest to someone who wants an ethical wardrobe, but can’t afford one?
BW: Focus on recycled clothing or build a relationship with a local designer to rework the things you’ve always had that you love. It might be expensive, but then you’re making your loved clothes last. And we need to educate ourselves. Most people don’t know the fashion industry is the most pollutive in the world.
EO: What is Fashion Revolution Providence doing to combat fast fashion?
BW: I created a map that highlights as many Providence-based vintage and resale shops, as well as tailors and cobblers, that I could find. I’m also making mini films that tell the stories of the people who are in the industry or impacted by it.
Rhode Island is the birthplace of the industrial revolution. We had the first cotton mill in the US. We have some of the oldest polluted waters in the country, and today, Pawtucket has some of the cleanest waters. Let’s celebrate our rich textile history, pat ourselves on the back for what we’ve accomplished, look at our next steps and share what we’ve learned with the communities behind us.
Fashion Revolution Week takes place April 19 – 25, with a film screening to take place on April 25. Find details on the film screening as they become available at fb.com/FashionRevolutionPVD or @FashionRevolution_PVD. Designers, tailors, makers and cobblers who want to participate next year should contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Motif partnered with Fashion Revolution to create its map and films.