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