Somewhere over the rainbow…

By Iszi Jones.

On Saturday Malvern Green Space held their second annual sustainable fashion show, involving Malvern Youth Club and many others in a joyous burst of creativity and second hand clothes.

I was tasked to give a short talk to get the serious part of the message across.. it went down very well I’m glad to say, despite the fact that it involved me singing very badly. It’s important to get a laugh!

Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high
There’s a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby

A land where no-one slaves away
On starvation levels of daily pay
To make cheap clothes for the UK
To be worn once and then thrown away

Fast fashion brands continually force discounts on suppliers, forcing them to cut costs to the bone. Public pressure on the garment industry in the UK in recent years has caused manufacturers, who were previously getting away with excessively low pay and poor conditions, to close down their factories and move production to low-wage countries. For the last year, UK garment workers have seen factories close, jobs cut and hours slashed. They get called to work one week, and then hear nothing for a month. At the same time, rent and prices are relentlessly going up. We need our government to ensure a just transition for workers in unsustainable industries.

At the same time , as revealed in a recent report on the garment industry in Pakistan, factories there have been exploiting workers by employing them in less formal ways to reduce risks and cut costs. Wage violations were also rife. Findings show factories paying a third of workers surveyed less than the minimum wage, which equivalent to £68 a month.

An Oxfam 2019 report also found that 0% of Bangladeshi garment workers and 1% of Vietnamese garment workers earned a living wage. The lack of a living wage amplifies issues like denial of maternity leave, inadequate sanitation, and sexual harassment in the workplace. Then there’s the real and present threat of death, from poorly maintained building which collapse.

Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue….

Are the skies blue over the vast areas of South America and West Africa where our supposedly recycled clothing is dumped? One recent visitor to Kenya reported: Walking down from the Gikomba market to the Nairobi River, I was shocked to find I was literally walking on textile waste which was piling up along the river banks, falling into the water and flowing downstream. In the evening some people burnt shoes and textiles on open fires to try to deal with the problem, and my eyes started burning from the polluted air. This smoke adversely affects people’s health living in the area.

What dreams do those people dare to dream?
Are their dreams likely to come true?

Someday I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me…

The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of annual global carbon emissions, more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. At the current pace, the fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions will surge more than 50 % by 2030. That ‘killer’ outfit could be the cause of wildfires, floods and extreme weather events..

Our troubles do not melt like lemon drops
While we’re seduced by all those shops
And buying far too many tops
This mad consumption has to stop

Somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly
They don’t fly so much over the ocean where they choke on plastic waste
Or wade streams and rivers poisoned with fabric dye
They don’t fly at all in the lands devastated by excessive water consumption by the cotton industry

And it’s not just fast fashion that is the problem. A recent report by Forbes looked at the ways in which luxury brands, by shifting the focus onto cheaper brands, use them as sustainability scapegoats while themselves stalling any attempts to legislate for improvements. There’s been lots of information about how items that people send for recycling actually get dumped, and while we may believe we are buying sustainable items we are not encouraged to consider whether we needed to buy that item at all.

We’re told that we deserve a treat
Accessorize to make your dress look sweet
Buying things will make your life complete
Adverts are made to blind me

So, look, I can’t fly over the rainbow
But I can keep wearing last year’s winter coat
I can decide I don’t need to buy a new summer wardrobe
I can make a pledge for this fashion show

You can make a pledge to join the movement for real change. You might decide to commit to not buying new clothes for a year, or six months. You might already buy mostly second hand clothes but you could decide to join a campaign against the abuses of the fashion industry or pollution or climate change. You might decide to make more of an effort to mend things. Its really up to you.

And you can wish upon a star
For a new world where these clouds are far
Behind us We can dance down the catwalk of our lives
With joy at all the Earth’s delights

With happy bluebirds and blue skies
If you will make a pledge tonight
If you will help the bluebirds fly
Beyond the rainbow Why, oh why can’t I?

But I would ask everyone here to think about how they can be part of the change we need.

photos: Dave Provis

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