In a time when climate change is real, happening and man-made, the production of our clothes is the second most polluting industry in the world. As we continue to consume as if we had three planets, rather than the one we actually have, it is those living in the most vulnerable conditions who are paying the price.
Each year, millions of people are involved in making the 80 billion garments on the UK high street. From growing and spinning the cotton, to cutting and sewing the fabric, woven into our clothes are the stories of some of the world’s most marginalised.
Over the last few years, I have travelled around the world visiting places like Bangladesh, Jordan and India to explore the impact of the garment industry.
My journey started when I was at college and I had my life flipped upside down in Tijuana, serving with Amor Ministries. Someone prayed over me that I would have a heart for caring for the poor. I was just about to start at London College of Fashion, so was confused about how caring for the poor would link to my career.
When I got to uni, God really stirred in me a passion to see justice and fairness worked out in fashion. I started an ethical fashion brand called Know The Origin. I always felt ill-equipped, but God uses all things for His glory. In fact, He delights in using our weaknesses for his glory. Just one year in, we were ranked Ethical Consumer’s top rated ethical fashion brand due to our commitment to transparency, Fairtrade and organic practices.
I always felt ill-equipped, but God uses all things for His glory. In fact, He delights in using our weaknesses for his glory.
We work with incredible producers that aim to eradicate poverty, such as Chetna, a 100% farmer owned co-operative. They provide training on food security, so farmers can grow food crops alongside their cotton and keep their farmland free from harmful chemicals. This means the farming families live in better health and aren’t trapped in a cycle of debt.
We also work with the Freeset factory that supports women that have chosen to leave trafficking or prostitution in India. Freeset have provided over 500 stable jobs, with fair pay, counselling and a place for the women to be safe and experience God.
In countries like Bangladesh, people can be killed for speaking truth to power, for fighting injustice. I have been so challenged by some of the people I have met, who are overcoming fear to speak truth to power. We have such freedom and our voices are loud, yet we are often some of the quietest when it comes to advocating for the poor.
We have such freedom and our voices are loud, yet we are often some of the quietest when it comes to advocating for the poor.
The moment I realised I would spend my life advocating for justice in fashion was when I was walking through the rubble of Rana Plaza factory. Garment workers were forced, with batons, into an unsafe factory and the building collapsed, killing 1,100 workers and injuring over 2,000. A preventable tragedy, built on the relentless drive of fast fashion by companies such as Primark, Mango, Benetton, Matalan and Zara. I remember seeing the buttons, zips and brand labels in the rubble and thinking that there is something seriously wrong when people are dying to make our clothes.
It is so easy for us to switch off when we hear about poverty and injustice in the world. This is not about guilt, but about understanding God’s love of His creation and our part in it.
The Bible is full of verses where God speaks of His love for what He has made – so much so that He sent His Son to die in our place. Our God is in the business of restoration and He longs to see His creation redeemed. The more that we allow God to deepen our understanding of His grace and mercy towards us, the more our daily lives and habits will be transformed when we learn of injustice in this world.
This is not about guilt, but about understanding God’s love of His creation and our part in it.
I really believe that our generation is called to value our global neighbours; our biggest blind spot. I believe that people will look back on this time and question how we let people die so that we could consume more stuff.
The thing is that caring for the poor is not something that’s just for the super keen ones, it’s a biblical truth that we have underestimated. It’s mentioned over 800 times throughout the Old Testament alone – once every 12 verses.
Jesus and justice can’t be separated. His mission was to serve, and that can’t be overstated. We are called to follow his lead and go where there is need. We can’t just long to fight injustice and help the poor, while allowing our daily decisions as consumers to have a negative impact on our global neighbours.
We are called to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
Sustainable living is just the start.
Small actions, with big consequences:
1. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31: 8-9) Challenge your universities and high street stores on where they source clothing and food. Resources: FashionRevolution.org.
2. Watch the True Cost movie on Netflix.
3. Cut out single use plastic or shop for ethical alternatives (links on Instagram @knowtheorigin).
4. Whatever you invest your resources into will grow. Connect with the poor by supporting charities or local food banks with your time and money.
Words by Charlotte Instone, Founder of Know The Origin @knowtheorigin