Interview with Carry Somers, founder of Fashion Revolution and Pachacuti

By Lígia Carvalho Abreu (2015)

Carry Somers:Photo Red Magazine/Courtesy of Carry Somers  

Carry Somers is a pioneer in Fair Trade fashion and the founder of Fashion Revolution (the global coalition of designers, academics, writers, business leaders and parliamentarians calling for systemic reform of the fashion supply chain). Carry is also the founder of Pachacuti, a global Fair Trade brand, best known for Panama and felt hats, which aims "to preserve traditional artisanal skills in the Andes through combining high quality, environmentally-friendly materials with Fair Trade working practices". Pachacuti was the first company in the world to be Fair Trade certified by the WFTO in 2009. In 2013, Carry Somers won the Source Outstanding Contribution to Sustainable Fashion Award.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR):  Hi Carry. How did you come up with the idea of creating the Fashion Revolution project?

Carry Somers: In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza collapse, everywhere I looked, there were newspaper articles calling for a more ethical fashion industry. The Rana Plaza catastrophe was a metaphorical call to arms.
The idea for Fashion Revolution Day literally popped into my head in the bath a few days after the Rana Plaza disaster.  It seemed like a good enough idea to act on, so I got out of my bath and immediately emailed the most obvious person I could think of, Orsola de Castro, co-founder of Estethica at London Fashion Week and co-founder of From Somewhere.   The next morning, having received Orsola's enthusiastic response, Lucy Siegle, who writes the Ethical Living column for the Observer, phoned me and she was equally convinced that an annual Fashion Revolution Day was exactly what was needed to channel current concern into a longstanding campaign so that the victims of Rana Plaza and all the other tragedies that have occurred in the name of fashion will never be forgotten. So the Fashion Revolution was born.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): Which were the difficulties that you have faced in order to implement the project?

Carry Somers: A lot of people have thought that we were asking them to change their shopping habits and only buy from ethical brands. However, we're not asking people to boycott their favourite stores as we need to change the fashion industry from within.  By asking the brands and retailers where we like to shop Who Made My Clothes? We can put pressure on them to be more transparent about their supply chains.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): Which, so far, has been the most gratifying achievement or practical result since the creation of fashion revolution?

Carry Somers: Seeing tens of thousands of tweets and instagram photographs on 24 April, with fashion-lovers asking #who made my clothes and producers around the world holding up signs saying I Made Your Clothes has undoubtedly been my best moment to date. Some brands, such as Zara and Boden, have done a fantastic job of tracing customers' garments back to the factories where they were made.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): What do you hope to achieve with Fashion Revolution and with your Fair Trade hat brand Pachacuti?

Carry Somers: Our theme to date has been based around the need for transparency, and this was also a focus for my previous business, Fair Trade hat brand Pachacuti. Our work as a pilot on the EU Geo Fair Trade project, brought about an unprecedented level of traceability to the fashion supply chain.  We collected 60 social, economic and environmental indicators, tracking progress over three years, which enabled us to measure the impact of our Fair Trade work on 165 women weavers from our Panama hat association. We traced production back to the GPS co-ordinates of each weaver's house, not easy data to collect when only 45% of their houses are accessible by road and are high in the Andes. We also traced the straw back to the fields where it is grown on community owned plantations.

Photo: Pachacuti

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): What is the key to making these projects a success?  

Carry Somers: The key to making these projects a success has been finding ways to actively involve our producers in the assessments. The failings of the audit-focused model of social responsibility have become obvious in Bangladesh – we have to find ways to engage the workers as well as management in improving standards. When we ask “Who Made my Clothes” at Fashion Revolution, I know who makes our hats, and even who harvests the straw.


Photos: Pachacuti

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): Which, for you, are the biggest challenges in the fashion (textile) industry today?

Carry Somers: We don't know the true cost of the things we buy. The fashion industry supply chain is fractured and producers have become faceless. This is costing lives.  All over the world, people are suffering and our environment is at risk as a result of our fashion supply chain.  Fashion Revolution is aimed at making life better for everyone in the fashion industry: from cotton fields to cutting floors who work long hours for low pay, often in dangerous conditions. This year we want people to ask the question Who Made My Clothes? This should be a simple question, but a new Australian Fashion Report, published last month (17 April 2015), found that 48% of brands hadn't traced the factories where their garments were made and 91% didn't know where the raw materials came from. So much of the fashion industry is burying its head in the sand.  We need to re-establish the broken connections in the supply chain because greater transparency is a prerequisite to improving conditions.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): What do you recommend political powers do with regards to systemic reform within the fashion supply chain?

Carry Somers: Fashion Revolution will be rallying the public widely across Europe and the world to demand a a cleaner, safer, fairer, more transparent and accountable industry. Political powers should expect to be getting questions about this from their constituents.

 Fashion Revolution welcomes the EU Flagship initiative on responsible management of the supply chain in the garment sector. As part of this, the European Commission has set up the informal multi-stakeholder forum of which Fashion Revolution is involved. Through this initiative and more widely at European level, we want to see global supply chain transparency and responsibility in the garment sector in practice, not just principle. The scope of this should also be extended to cover the entire garment, textile and fashion product value chain, from farmers to artisans and workers right through to end consumers.

We recommend that the European Union explore the possibility of developing legal frameworks that require due diligence of companies the length of their supply chains in respect of internationally agreed standards relating to the environment, human rights and labour.  This would ensure companies are accountable for their operations outside of Europe, complementing the transparency efforts required by the recently adopted modern slavery bill in the UK.

Fashion Revolution welcomes the EU Non-Financial Reporting Directive which requires large European companies to disclose in their management report, information on policies, risks and outcomes on environmental, social and employee matters, respect for human rights, anticorruption and bribery issues. Fashion Revolution urges the EU to ensure that this information is made available to the public in a way which informs and educates citizens and builds up public trust. The EU should also design and implement an information system that links all the actors within the value chain of a single product. Similar systems already exist for food supply chains (eg. meat), and could be used as models for garments and textiles. Building on greater access to information about supply chains, Fashion Revolution believes the EU can do more to ensure the public has the information they want about the products we buy. Fashion Revolution is encouraging people to ask brands, retailers and governments "who made my clothes?" precisely because current clothing labels tell us so little about what's behind the products we buy.

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR): What do you recommend consumers do?

By taking a selfie showing your label, posting it on social media, and tagging the brand with the hashtag Who Made My Clothes? people around the world can show support for greater transparency throughout the fashion supply chain.  We also have education packs for all ages on the Resources page of our website

If you want to go further, how about making a #haulternative video?

Here is a #haulternative video which my daughter Sienna made

It's a great way to explore some fashion alternatives. I believe that consumer demand can revolutionise the way fashion works as an industry. If everyone started to question the way we consume, we'd see a radically different fashion paradigm.

Photo: Fashion Revolution

Lígia Carvalho Abreu (Fashion Law-WFMFR):  Thank you Carry for this interview.

Carry Somers: Thank you.