The current pandemic is passing by and most of us are facing its consequences, however, not all of them are negative. I believe that the current situation is a big wake up call for all humanity.
Maybe we went in the wrong direction at some point? Maybe killing our planet for our short-lasting comfort is not that good idea?
I love being dramatic, do I? 🙂
Anyway, it shows that sustainability is getting more and more popular and today I have the honor to ask Lora Gene a few questions regarding that.
Let’s take a look.
What is your main occupation at the moment?
I work mainly in my own brand Lora Gene. I also help and support smaller brands with sustainable supply chain management.
What is the fashion revolution for you?
Shifting the values back to where they were in the Golden age of Fashion (the 40s, 50s). Longevity, quality, respecting the skilled workforce behind fashion throughout all operations and layers of the supply chain.
Why do you feel that we are failing at it?
First of all, we should mention the current economic system is failing and I don’t think fashion is to be excluded from that degradation in societal and economic climate.
Late Capitalism has proved itself useful for the very few, and I’m aware this is a very general statement but essentially it comes to that. According to the latest data in the past 40 years, 28% of all wealth increase went to 1% of the world richest (Jason Hickel). Fashion as a major industry is currently contributing around 1.7 trillion US dollars (2020) and has failed to respect anything but profits at the bottom line.
Furthermore, it is notoriously one of the most needlessly polluting industries in the world, it has proven its cruelty to any societal issues and unfortunately, not only humans have suffered from its operations, but animals’ welfare has long been a difficult discussion for brands, media and the general public.
In practice, the major issues we haven’t been able to deal with so far are quite a lot and are mainly concentrated in forced labor, women’s rights, safe working conditions, discrimination, child labor and decent wages throughout the supply chain.
Still today, the main value within the global fashion supply chain is spread as follows; The developed markets are highly paid for the design, concepts and intellectual work, whilst the whole workforce behind garments is being entirely outsourced and mostly very low paid, placed in the Global South. The issues we have failed to address are way too many and way too complex and most of them need urgent attention, but most of all frameworks and legislative policies.
How can we make it better?
Like I said the problems are way too complex to answer that question simply. Moreover, most of them do require legislation and policies to be changed because we’ve seen brands and managers failing commitments, even with the increased pressure of NGO’s, activists and communities.
However, I strongly believe we have a lot of power as a collective. There is a theory I really admire, it’s called the theory of Marginal Gains by Dave Brailsford and it’s, in essence, a theory about breaking down every operation or a process and increasing its productivity with just 1%, the result is significant increase/improvement in the activity whatever it is.
Now, imagine if everyone in the industry, from consumers to brands, garment makers, commit to improve their work with only 1%, especially the most problematic operations mentioned in the previous question. I feel the major issues can be solved only collectively and by making the equation fairer than it is currently.
When you posted your concerns in the Sustainable Fashion: Eco-fashion, slow fashion, recycle, upcycle -Facebook group there were about 60 likes and more than 100 comments. That means that there are a lot of people who actively want change, but when it comes to actions, the situation is not the same. Where are all those people and how we as consumers can step forward and do more?
Yes, unfortunately, social media has turned us into these creatures hungry for attention, because we lack genuine power in our daily lives, we feel our voice is never heard, so naturally, we need to exercise our right to say something somewhere, it makes us feel worthy.
However, when it comes to real actions and actually taking from your own time to commit to something, things look a bit different. But here is the reality – most people are quite busy surviving everyday life and it’s extremely difficult for them to commit time and effort to anything apart from that, and I don’t think anyone should be blamed, we have all been put on a timer to our worth, humans have been long commoditised.
Look at the world today, politicians have rushed to put a price on people’s life in accordance with economic growth and measuring productivity is the only tool that is used to increase people’s value. But having all that said, in the end, we should remember that the ‘’world can be changed by a very small thoughtful group of people, indeed it’s the only thing that ever has’’ Margaret Mead said that and I truly believe in it.
Why certificates are not the answer?
I don’t know if certificates are not the answer to some questions, but they are definitely not the solution to all problems, some of which I mentioned above. Because? Because currently certification is mainly conducted by organizations very much aware of the issues, from a one-sided point of view; i.e one of bigger companies and corporations.
Let me elaborate if, for instance, you look into the main bodies issuing certificates, they rarely include any policies for smaller manufactures (mills, etc), which by default make the volume in every industry. Moreover, most of those certificates are quite pricey starting anywhere from 1000 to tens of thousands of euros.
With that in mind, imagine a small sampling unit in Romania who has 4,5 people working, being paid an average of 5-7 euros per hour in the best-case scenario, since otherwise, they won’t be competitive to the developed market demands, right? Now, ask yourselves how with the given level of wages and turnover a unit with that size could possibly commit to a certificate that will cost as much as their monthly fixed costs? Furthermore, why would they?
To fulfill the increased demand of smaller brands and start-up companies to respond to the trend of being ‘’sustainable’’ but actually missing the main point of sustainability; Ethics embedded in the way you operate. In other words, paying your people more, making sure they work in decent conditions and have decent living wages paid for their labor, visiting them regularly, treating them as part of your business, not as outsourced labor that will cost you less.
But unfortunately, now sustainable certificates are trendy and it’s easy to request one rather than go visit your factory and spend time learning about their lives. It has been turned into a marketing tool rather than a real regulatory mechanism. I often say to people, stick to your workers, it’s not easy, but it’s right.
How can we make sure that our clothes were made in ethical conditions?
I believe I have responded above, treat your workers as a vital part of your business and leave the delusional and very dangerous notion that your skills are more valuable than theirs. Without them, you don’t have garments made, as simple as that. We really must change the narrative now otherwise I can see times where people won’t become seamstresses anymore and so far, innovation machinery has not come up with a solution in that direction.
In Bulgaria the demographic crisis is becoming deeper, it’s really difficult to find seamstresses below the age of 45. Bulgaria is one of the leading garment manufacturers in Europe, alongside Portugal and Romania. It has notoriously been leading in luxury and tailored garments.
Anything else you would like to add?
We urgently need to address the growing inequality within the industry. We need to address it with legislative frameworks and policies that protect our workers.
I thank Lora for such a thoughtful interview. I hope this information made it clear for more people what is wrong with the current fast fashion industry, but also gave us all hope. Together we can make the change happen.
Would you like to support Lora and me? Use the code Gene10 and get -10% off here.
All the photos in the post were kindly provided by Lora Gene.