Doug Miller is emeritus professor in worker rights in fashion formerly of the Design School at the University of Northumbria, UK. Between 2000 and 2008 Doug he was director of research at the International Textile Garment and Leather Workers Federation and now part of industriALL, the global union for manufacturing. During this period he was responsible for research into supply chain developments, corporate social responsibility, and assisting the Global Union in its efforts to negotiate international frameworks agreements with leading multinationals in the sector. In his academic post Doug was responsible for developing a teaching and research strategy in the area of worker rights in fashion and his specialisms were mechanisms for delivering a living wage, worker compensation and social labelling. Doug is currently acting in an advisory capacity to the Dutch Fair Wear Foundation and the Action Collaboration Transformation Initiative.
Notes for the Panel on policy, activism and industry: Transforming fashion – creating responsible value?
Fast fashion encapsulates how trends move rapidly from the catwalk to the store. The demands placed on factory workers by quick turnaround times means many clothes are low quality. Whereas, the rapid consumption and subsequent disposal of cheap clothes means the sector is very unsustainable. Clothing production is spread between different locations. Brands like H&M and Levis are use inputs such as cotton are from around the world grown anywhere from Albania to Zimbabwe. A single garment like a T-shirt can contain cotton threads from different regions that have been woven together. Garment value chains are difficult to map, transparency is difficult to achieve and sustainable standards challenging to enforce.
Individual voluntary consumer action is not the real solution to the problems of fast fashion and sustainability. If we leave people to ‘choose’ to buy ethical goods this will only result in partial improvements. Many consumers will be guided by the market keep shopping for cheaper garments. Meaningful change can come about if fashion is slowed down and living wage paid. In the short term, we need to raise awareness, but ultimately a politics of radical social change is required, to revalue the relationship between labour, consumption and the environment.