April is Earth Month and the week around the 22. of April - Earth Day - also marks the annual Fashion Revolution week. A week commemorating the deadly building collapse of the Rana Plaza clothing factory in 2013 and a week full of actions and campaigns creating awareness about the issues surrounding fast fashion. People all over the world ask "Who made my clothes?" and this year also "What's in my clothes?". Fashion revolution, as the name says, is focused on fast fashion, but I challenge you to look a step further, into all textile products. Not only clothes, but a lot of the textiles that are used in and decorate your homes are produced under the same circumstances.
Bedsheets, tea towels, pillow cases, curtains, bath towels, carpets - the list of textile items we have in our home is long. Home textiles are not only functional items, but in many cases also decorative accents, that make our spaces softer and cozier. They are an important part of our day-to-day lives in the same way as the clothes we wear are. Many of us purchase home textiles here and there, based on texture, function, aesthetics and price. This week is a good time to stop and think " Where do these textiles come from? Who made them and in which conditions? What materials are they made of?" If you didn't buy your towels and pillow cases from a company that is commited to ethical (and sustainable) production, chances are, that those textiles were produced somewhere abroad, under questionable working conditions and with little regard to human rights and the environment. A glance at the tag will probably give you a good hint.
This is a label on one of my tea towels from the finnish textile brand Lapuan Kankurit. The label states the item was made in Finland, which already gives me an idea of the working conditions, worker's rights and general circumstances, since I live in Finland myself. With a little further research on their website, I can find out, that they use organic cotton, which is spun and dyed in Europe. The brand does not directly state where the cotton itself is grown, but assures that their supply chain can be traced. This label is really one of the best case scenarios. A few clicks and you get almost all the answers you are looking for.
But I also have other items with other labels, most of them so washed out that I can't read anything anymore. Many of my IKEA textiles state "Made in India" and in this case it is much harder to get to the source of where and how things are made. While you can find out about IKEA's general values concerning sustainability, ethics and production, there is not much detailed information about how specific items or collections were "made in India". Now the difference is of course that IKEA is a giant company in comparison to the finnish brand, but that should not excuse them from being just as transparent.
Also, as a side note about all these label things, the quality of the label usually also says a lot about the quality of a product and how much time, care and thought went into even the smallest details. Try to look out for these things in the future, try to do some research into different brands and their ethics before you buy anything new. When in doubt, go for secondhand, as the damage is already done and the best we can do to mitigate it, is to extend the lifetime of an item to reduce it's overall footprint.
Many of us, who enjoy various textile crafts and making our own clothes and homewares, are proud of our own skills and the fact that we can avoid some of these issues related to industrially produced textile items. But we also have to ask ourselves "Where does my yarn come from? Who made this piece of fabric?". Just because these are raw ingredients and supplies, it does not mean that they are exempt from questionable production processes or terrible working conditions.
A lot of cheap yarns and fabric are produced in the exact same circumstances as fast fashion and fast home textiles are. Instead of simply saying "I make my clothes" we have to strive to say " I make my clothes with ethical and sustainable materials". Now don't get me wrong, making things yourself is already so many steps ahead of buying into unsustainable and unethical textiles and of course there is nothing wrong with using what you can afford and what is available to you. (Same goes for fast fashion as well!). I just want to give you a little nudge to think textiles further than "just" fashion and critically examine what kind of materials you use in your craft practice.
A lot has happened since 2013 in the world of fast fashion. Consumers are becoming more aware and more and more companies are starting to look into more sustainable and ethical options, numerous new companies commited to a completely ethical and sustainable approach to fashion habe been formed. There is a lot of publicity, media attention, movements and campaigns - why do they not include ALL textile products? Fashion is just a bigger topic, it's sexier and arguably, people consume a lot more fashion than home textile products. Still, let's not overlook the thousands of towels, pillow cases and curtains that are purchased every year.
This is the point where we return to Wasteless Wonders. We produce all of our home textiles from waste materials - a lot of them from the (fast) fashion industry or those left over from consumerism, trend cycles and the general disposability of clothes. We take the ugly side of fashion, the mountains and mountains of textile waste and turn those into new, ethically and transparently made home goods. While fashion is a tool to express yourself, your style and your ethics, home textiles are in a similar way, a tool to express yourself, style and ethics, but also a way to create a space that feels liveable, comfortable and truly your home. And that's just as important.
Let's take this week of Fashion Revolution to celebrate all textile workers, makers and crafts(wo)men, whether they work in the fashion, home textile, industrial and high-tech textiles or any other related field. All of them deserve safe working conditions, fair pay, worker's rights and our appreciation for their work.