The Fashion Revolution movement launched the #whomademyclothes in the wake of the 2013 Rana Plaza Tragedy in Bangladesh where an overcrowded, poorly built and maintained factory collapsed, killing 1,138 people, and injuring 2,500. The incident became symbolic of the behemoth that fast fashion has become and became a wake up call for people to invest in ethical clothing. The disaster showed in clear and distressing terms that human rights, dignity, and even human lives had been subsumed to corporate greed and an insatiable drive for profit. Since that day, ethical fashion has become a driving force in consumer choice and I am proud to say that sustainable and ethical clothing production has been our rule from the outset of Haruka.
It is a simple question. Who made my clothes? We have come a long way from the village.
Increasingly mechanised and global ways of working take us further from nature and from source. We have all heard untold examples of faceless corporations exploiting vulnerable third world workforces to produce a huge excess of ‘stuff’ that, more often than not, clutters the lives of the consumers in the so called ‘ developed’ world before ending up in the landfill.
“Capitalism’s grow-or-die imperative stands radically at odds with ecology’s imperative of interdependence and limit. The two imperatives can no longer coexist with each other; nor can any society founded on the myth that they can be reconciled, hope to survive.”Ursula K Le Guin
But this is not a blog on the environmental aspects of the fashion industry, but on the human aspects, although they are obviously and intrinsically intertwined. People are an essential part of our ecology.
We live in a society whose values are in ever increasing danger of becoming dehumanised as algorithms and corporate machinations manipulate us on levels that we are barely even aware of and, in many ways, tacitly accept as we internalise these values. We tell ourselves we don’t even have time to think. People just don’t understand the pressure we are under. We have bills to pay! And meanwhile, as production skills decrease in our country, we depend on the ‘ invisible elves’ (my friend’s phrase) to ‘ magically’ produce many of the goods we buy . As real soul nourishment diminishes, we turn to a junk food fix of fast fashion and commodities. Slow fashion is about sustainability and ethical clothing brands such as Haruka are
At this point, for the sake of balance, I would like to include a quick aside to the experience of my Nepali friend Poonam
Poonam and I first met back in 2007, she was running a small sampling and production unit in Kathmandu. In many ways, this was the birthplace of the Haruka label. We produced ethical clothing together in a range of sustainable fabrics. One of the highlights of this period was our adventures with hemp silk. However, that’s another story ….
More recently Poonam spent some time working free lance for a big company checking quality and compliance with health and safety standards and workers rights all over East Asia, India and Bangladesh. She pointed out to me from her extensive experience on the ground that it is a western fallacy to think that ALL big companies are bad. Although there are many horror stories, there are also instances where, although the wages look small by western standards they are good by local standards and big companies can provide regular income, a clean air conditioned working environment and good sanitation.
The tide is turning against mass, unfettered production. We are not robots. We love human stories and there is a growing demand for slow fashion, independent businesses and consuming less. It is human to desire beautiful things. But we want things with soul, things with stories , things with meaning, things that last, things that biodegrade, things that we know where they came from. We need to ask the question #whomademyclothes ?
In the spirit of transparency I would like to share who made your Haruka clothes. What better place to start than myself as, I am the person whose idea it was to make them!
My name is Amanda. I am forty three years old. I have been designing clothes for eighteen years now. Blink and you are forty! This is a subject very close to my heart as people and textiles are two of my greatest loves. People have always been at the heart of my business. For me that is actually the centre of my business. I love what I do.
People and beauty.
I am very far from a corporate buyer. I am sitting here on a stool next to Ghanshayam (my pattern cutter’s) table typing skeleton notes for this blog. I am wearing the jumpsuit sample we made yesterday that I can’t take off because I love it, plus, I am testing our tweaked pattern for this garment. I am feeling dusty and dirty because I have been charging around the small factory in Rajasthan where I work as is my habit. If I need something I have already made it my business to know who to ask.
This morning I went round the factory taking the #whomademyclothes photos. In the factory, I work with all men. That’s the gig in rural Rajasthan where I work! I decided to go to the fabrics room and start with Pankaj, my new friend. He has been working in the factory for a year and he is 18. I showed him the Fashion Revolution website and explained my mission. Next was the finishing room where I recruited Raju as my interpreter and assistant. Soon I was on a roll.
All parts of the factory are an integral part of the whole and I make it my business to know my way around. To know who does which job. To know who knows where to find what. To know who to speak to about particular issues. And if I don’t know, I ask Ghanshayam or Chimu, the boss. I wander around everywhere, Chimu often doesn’t know I am there until we meet each other when the lift door opens or something. Chimu is in his factory every day and although he has an office, more often than not he is to be found somewhere in the factory checking how the work is going and generally keeping an eye on everything.
I work hard when I am there. Always thinking about the next design, how I can get something on the pattern cutting table. Standing persistently by Ghanshayam’s table asking ‘ is it time for the next one now ? can I give you this ?’ It has naturally occurred, with the flow of my life and with the work flow of the factory that the best time for me to come is after Holi ( the festival of colours https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holi ) The factory is quieter then and it is very HOT. It is now approaching 40 degrees. I am used to it now, and I kind of love it in a crazy and extreme kind of way, although I am often to be seen red faced and slightly grubby as I squirrel around the factory hoarding things I need. Somehow over the years I have even managed to manifest my own small fabrics room in the factory. I am building up quite a collection.
A few years ago, approaching my forties, I had a ‘ moment’ that lasted perhaps a couple of years. I somehow convinced myself that to present myself as more professional, to progress in this economic reality/ culture, to be a ‘success’, I should look try and look more like a big company. That somehow, to present myself like that would make what I do look slicker, look more trusted, look better quality, look more acceptable. … Thankfully, I was unsuccessful! Now I am SO over that fleeting idea, sustainable fashion is at the heart of my process and campaigns like #whomademyclothes have shown me that I am not alone in my beliefs and I trust that lovers of ethical clothing and slow fashion will find there way too me if I stick by my principles.
I am proud of my life and my work and of the high quality, limited edition ethical clothes I produce. I have always worked from my instinct and my heart, although I do have to throw a hefty dose of logic and logistics at it all too. I am proud that I know who makes my clothes from the design stage to the fabrics room,to the cutting room, to the stitching room, to the finishing room. Sometimes I weave my own fabrics so I can trace the raw material back to there. It is only a handful of times that I have been able to trace my fabrics back to the raw materials but I am working on this.
In the factory I know everyone well. I feel comfortable, most mornings or afternoon I sit on floor by the stairs and drink chai with everyone on the cutting/sampling room floor. I love the playful culture of India. In terms of the prices I give for my pieces, I never bargain any price down in the factories I work with.
In terms of the working day and conditions, there are no children working there. The day starts at 9am. Chai is at 10.30. Lunch is at 12.30 till 2pm. Chai is at 3.30 and finish for the day, when the electricity goes off ( do not be in the lift!) is at 6pm. There is no piece work, the workers are paid a salary. I notice that the same people and faces have been there since I have. There is not a quick staff turnover, people like their jobs here.
The patterns and understanding how fabrics fall are an integral part of my work. I make sure I work closely with Ghanshayam, my friend and pattern cutter. It is important to understand how a design will fit different body shapes or how the fabric will fall. I discuss things like this with Ghanshayam all the time, picking his brain for his skills and experience. sometimes he tells me something will not work. Occasionally I accept what he says. Many times, I disagree and insist we try it anyway and sometimes I am right and something new is born.
My Business is named after my son, Haruka. He used to come with me on every production trip. I would home educate him whilst I was working abroad. Many of my producers have watched him grow up
Over the years, I have learnt more and more about this business of making clothes. From my own trial and error and also gathering wisdom from those around me with more experience. Things like, what shapes fit which bodies, which fabrics I can stitch together and which I can’t, which grading is necessary for which designs, what quantities of fabric I need for mill dying or printing. There are endless things to think about.
Producers & Collaborations
I have a new producer in Rajasthan. Sikander. Last year when we started working together we met at his farm house in the courtyard. This year he has opened one small shop on the outskirts of town. We sat there, drinking chai and discussing the new couple of very limited edition designs I am planning to produce with him this year and the concept of memento mori’s, which was, in this case actually relevant to the design we were discussing. Watch this space to see how it develops. My friend who also produces clothes and has worked with this tailor for many years gave me this contact.
I am part of a network, a tribe, a family of independent designers and we support each other.We ask each others advice and we sell each others clothes.
I am excited that I have just started to work with Rachel, a knitwear producer based in England who has set up her own production unit with the aim of specifically working with independent producers and designers and ,where possible, British yarns. We are currently at the sampling stage and I am very excited to share more about this as we progress, watch this space, I am very excited to be able to offer knitwear made and produced in the UK will share more about this in a separate post.
And finally, thank you for reading to the end of this epic post!
So, as you have seen work is integral part of my life and so are the people who produce my clothes. So are the incredible team of women who work with me in the Haruka shop in Glastonbury. Thanks, as ever, to Sarah, Wendy, Sophie H, Sophie J and Ambika for all their help and support
Thanks and Praises,