I was invited by Aleysha Barenblat the founder of Re/make to see an exclusive premiere of their latest documentary Made in Mexico at Soho House in London on Tuesday 14 May 2019. Aleysha and I have communicated across the pond, but never actually met, so I was delighted to be able to meet her in person.
Ayesha founded the non-profit Remake because she truly believes in the good that comes from human connections and that everyone benefits when fashion is fair.
The Made in Mexico documentary focused on the lives of the women who make our clothes. The film follows fashion activist Amanda Hearst and students from Parsons School of Fashion, California College of the Arts and Duke University as they get to know Reina, Oliva and other fierce women from Mexico who are working behind the scenes for popular fast fashion labels.
The screening was followed by a panel and some thoughtful conversation around fashion and women’s empowerment.
Why should we care about who makes our clothes?
It is estimated that between 80 and 100 billion pieces of clothing are produced each year, yet there are only 7.7 billion of us on the planet. In the UK alone 300,000 tonnes [according to WRAP] is sent to landfill every year. That’s a lot of clothes that we don’t need! People and the planet are suffering as a result – the figures may be gloomy, but there’s plenty we can do. The first step is learning more about who made our clothes and how our clothes are made. It is estimated that 80% of garment workers are women. So when we talk about female empowerment we cannot ignore what is happening in fashion.
Where do our clothes come from?
The demand for affordable fashion has seen production outsourced to poorer countries, where labour is cheap. What many consumers don’t know is that cheap clothing is designed to fall apart, yet still made by real human hands and not robots.
We hear so much about China and India, but what about Mexico? According to the International Trade administration, textile and apparel production is the fourth largest industry in Mexico and accounts for 6 percent of the country’s GDP, yet Mexican garment workers are paid even less than those in Asian countries.
We are so disconnected from the way our clothes are made, and how they are made, or who makes them. It’s easy to fall into the ‘out of sight out of mind’ mentality and believe that the brands we buy from are putting their workers welfare seriously.
Made in Mexico Documentary Highlights
Despite many factories in Mexico having certificates and saying they meet the conditions required – none of them allowed the re/make film crew to enter the premises and record. The women featured in the short documentary had all volunteered to be filmed, for some it was their very first time on a plane. These women were prepared to step outside of their comfort zone, they’ve wanted share, but until now they’d not been given the opportunity to tell their story to the world.
Sadly, what we fear is happening in these factories is true. The women said they’d seen children as young as 5 have working. Many of the women experience violence, rape, and long term health issues related to prolonged periods of work. Yet, the hard working women in Mexico, contrary to what we may think – do not see themselves as victims. Instead they are fighting for a better life the only way they know. These women had nobody to talk to, until the re/make documentary crew arrived and gave them a microphone. They are learning about their rights, starting to understand that when their voice is heard and they are given a platform, they can be part of the change.
The panel discussion that followed the screening
After the incredibly moving documentary a short panel discussion took place featuring: Amanda Hearst, sustainable fashion activist, Founder of Maison de Mode, Ayesha Barenblat, sustainable fashion expert, Founder of Remake, Daisy Knatchbull, founder of The Deck, luxury tailoring to empower women. The panel was expertly moderated by Vanessa Arelle: angel investor, contributor for Vogue Latin America and Mexico.
Garment-related global supply chains do provide critical jobs and help women workers to provide for their families, but not enough focus is given on how vulnerable they are, hidden out of sight in global supply chains.
Whilst brands move their shift towards sustainability, it seems the ethics and human welfare piece lags behind in comparison. But if we discourage fast fashion what does this mean for the women who depend on work which also exploits them?
Aleysha Barenblat answered the question by simply saying that it’s a complex situation and right now there’s not one simple solution. What we can do is our bit to support fashion brands that look after workers, we can support grass roots organizations that are doing what they can on the ground. Websites like Re-Make and Ethical Brand Directory are making it easier for consumers to shop their values and support the brand that care.
One of my favourite quotes of the evening was by Ayesha, she said “If we are really going to make fashion sustainable we need to have difficult conversations”. Sometimes those conversations have start close to home.
Attending this event just reinforced my belief that we need to ask ourselves as consumers what we can do:
- Can we buy less?
- Can we buy better quality, longer lasting garments?
- Who should we be buying from?
- Can I support more of the brands that care?
Cocktails & Conversation
The evening finished with a cocktail reception Baar and Bass over on 336 Kings Road, where we continued the conversation around female empowerment. I enjoyed catching up with some familiar faces and making lots of new ethical fashion focused contacts.
Part of my role as Founder of Ethical Brand Directory is to find ethical, sustainable and responsible fashion brands for you. Next up on my list to review is Belles of London and meet all these lovely ladies shown below:
They are a new womenswear brand who have a factory here in London. I will be going behind the scenes and doing a factory tour, chatting to the people who make their clothes, as well as exploring the Belles of London bespoke tailoring service. I have my heart set on a bespoke red double breasted jacket trouser suit, with a red midi-skirt for variety. Keep an eye on the blog for a special feature and update – I will be filming the whole experience, this should be a goodie!
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