Who Made My Clothes? Making sense of the world through creativity

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Fashion Revolution follows the mantra: be curious, find out and do something.

As I write this, we are at the end of the second week of the free, three week, online course Who Made My Clothes? written by myself and Prof. Ian Cook (Exeter University).

In week one we encouraged learners to begin to be curious about their clothes; delve into their own wardrobe and begin to think about the journey their clothing had made. In week two we have been ‘finding out’. This has required our global class of (so far) 7500+ learners to become clothes detectives and research those journeys in greater detail. Using resources such as Fashion Revolution’s Transparency Index as a starting point, we have uncovered the hidden, lost and forgotten stories that we carry round in our clothing every day. Learners have shared their findings, and often their disquiet over what they have found.

Over the week the team of mentors work in a virtual classroom; assisting learners on the discussion boards and signposting further areas of interest. But, each Thursday we gather in Exeter to film a Q&A session, inviting an expert panel to answer some of the pressing questions the learners have raised. This week one of our panellists was Heather Knight (Head of Branding, Design and Communications for Fashion Revolution).

Heather drew on her years of expertise to help learners with their concerns regarding how to make sense out of their research. How could they develop their own creative response whether it be through writing, vlogging, infographics etc.? This is a central activity to week 2 – making sense of the ‘finding out’ – and one many learners find challenging.

As members of the team we not only provide support for those taking the course, but we also recognise ourselves as learners. After all, every piece of clothing tells another story, uncovers a different thread of understanding in the global supply chain narrative. This means that, along with the 7500+ participants, I too have been finding out about an item of clothing from my own wardrobe and thinking about what kind of creative response I could make.

So, this week I have drawn my research together; the story of my Finnisterre jumper which I lovingly darned with yellow mending thread when the elbows became worn.  It has taken me on a journey that has left me uneasy as I discovered how great swathes of woollen textiles are born from animal cruelty through the act of mulesing (slicing skin from around the backside/ tail area) – as well as how these animals end up in countries with no interest in animal welfare at the end of their ‘useful’ lives. With relief I found my jumper was not part of this system. However, the thread I mended it with told an altogether different story; one of war, refugees and child labour.

Bringing these worlds together in order to create a response is a challenge and I have been reminded of the inspiring and eclectic mix of writing from last year’s course; reports, narratives, heartfelt letters to loved ones and poetry being just some of the genre chosen.

As an Educator, I encourage learners to write, whether in the primary classroom, or the university seminar. If they are stuck for ideas I advise them to look around them for inspiration, to read widely and read often as it is frequently through the innovation of other’s words that we can develop our own voice.

For my own work, I have turned to Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris’ inspirational book The Lost Words. A collection of inspiring poems based on words no longer found in the Oxford Children’s Dictionary. Words from the natural world such as heather, conker, newt and wren. It was this idea of words becoming lost, unheard and invisible that struck a chord: The voices of garment workers have become just as muted.

And so I have written my response which you can read:  poetry based on finisterre jumper

I have written poems. I have unpacked the skills, thought carefully about the structure of both what I am reading and what I am then writing, unpacked the themes and rhythms and made critical decisions on the journey.  This process has brought a clarity of thought to the final product. And, as a result, further clarity to my own practice and how I will support writers in the future.

We are all writers, but sometimes forget the power of the process. Where it can take you and how you use it is the theme of week 3 when we consider how we can all ‘do something’.

It’s not too late to join the course and see what journey your clothes will take you on.


Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in Global and Sustainable Education

Twitter: @VerityJones_edu 

Is it time you joined the Revolution?

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The death toll from Bangladesh’s worst industrial accident has passed 1,000 as recovery teams continue to find more bodies in the wreckage.

 …. so read the BBC’s news in May 2013. The collapse of the Rana Plasa garment factory in Bangladesh shook the world with images of the disaster broadcast around the globe. A spot light was focused, not on the high street or cat walk, but on the working conditions of the people who actually make our clothes. Those usually not considered -invisible to the consumer – were brought into focus through the mass media.

In response, Fashion Revolution was born; a global movement calling for greater transparency, sustainability and ethics in the fashion industry. The movement looks to encourage changes to the way our clothes are sourced, produced and purchased, so that we can be confident that what we wear has been made in a safe, clean and fair way.

Five years on from the Rana Plaza disaster and things are changing. The Bangladesh Accord has seen over 200 brands in 20  countries sign up to this legally binding agreement between brands, retailers and trade unions – designed to build a safe and healthy environment for garment workers. Films such as The True Cost have been broadcast to raise awareness and inform consumers of the working conditions many garment workers suffer. Consumers are making more informed decisions about what they buy.

However we have a long way to go.

The Garment Worker Diaries highlight just some of the stories from around the 75 million garment workers worldwide – a majority of these people makes clothes for the global market and are still living in poverty, unable to afford life’s basic necessities. Many are subject to exploitation; verbal and physical abuse, working in unsafe and dirty conditions, with very little pay.

Each year 150 billion items of clothing are delivered out of factories yet Americans alone throw away over 36 kg of clothing each year per person – a vast majority of this going to either a landfill or an incinerator. At the same time, traditional craft industries are being eroded, due in large part to mass manufacturing. Ancient techniques that have been handed down from generation to generation are being lost.

If that wasn’t bad enough, don’t forget that every piece of clothing also has a wider environmental impact. The chemicals used to grow, dye, launder and treat our clothes end up polluting land, rivers and oceans. A huge amount of water is used to produce garments through growing cotton, dyeing and laundering.  In fact, it’s estimated that we need 1,800 gallons of water to make just one pair of jeans.

With such demands, the global necessity for continued work towards change in the fashion industry is brought into focus through the Sustainable Development Goals. Just as the very fibers of our clothing are woven together, so too are the issues; from the female dominated workforce denied an education and fair pay, to garment factories working towards closed loop systems with zero waste, to those working in partnerships with artisans who deliver goods that are kind to both land and sea. Responsible consumption and production are needed.

With this in mind, last year I worked with Prof. Ian Cook (Exeter University) to further raise awareness of the issues Fashion Revolution work towards bringing into focus. We developed a free online course that we hoped would allow people to think through the journeys the clothes in their own wardrobes had made.

We were blown away when over 8,000 people signed up for our three week MOOC (mass online open course) which was supported by the FutureLearn platform. Working as a global learning community we supported participants to become clothes detectives and  unearth the secret stories the fabrics from their wardrobes hold.  As June 25th 2018 approaches we once again ready ourselves for the course to launch its second year.

As an educator, it is so exciting to work with a truly global class about real issues that have a real impact and can be taught at primary, secondary, further and higher education level. We hope you can join us on this year’s course.

Please sign up here or contact me if would like further information.

What people said about the 2017 course:

I have loved every second of this course! It was vastly different from most courses I have taken, both online and offline, because it was interactive on an emotional and intellectual level, instead of being a purely mental task and as a result I enjoyed it far more. I will recommend this course to absolutely anyone, it is incredibly supportive, thought-provoking and provides a fantastic atmosphere for learning.


I thoroughly enjoyed this course and want to thank everyone involved for presenting such an important subject in an engaging way. You left us with a lot to think about and I have planned how to take my pledge forward at work so it will go on having an impact past the course end date.
Thank you again, and good luck with the #class of 2018 when you repeat this programme.

Dr Verity Jones, Senior Lecturer in Global and Sustainable Education

Twitter: @VerityJones_edu 

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