Like many people, when I learned about the disaster at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, where 1,129 people died making clothes for many of my favourite brands, I was horrified. I decided to be as informed about where I buy my clothes as possible, so I started looking up the websites of my favourite stores. After about an hour of finding almost nothing, I gave up, resigned to a life of sartorial ignorance.
Then about a year later, I was at a conference, listening to a panel about the fashion supply chain. I asked: where can I shop? No one had an answer. This time, I decided not to give up, but to create a solution myself. I roped in two friends, and we created Not My Style. We’re building an app that will tell you how much your favourite brands share about the women and men who make our clothes. We think it’s possible to have great style, and assurance that people are being treated fairly.
You probably have some degree of awareness about the cruelties that fast fashion has imposed on the people (don’t forget, they are people: mothers, fathers, daughters, husbands, wives, sons) who make up the global supply chain. Yet you probably also know that solving the challenges of the supply chain is not a matter of waving a magic wand.
Some fashion retailers have made progress over the past few years: but you wouldn’t know by looking. Information on who makes our clothes and their working conditions remains elusive, even for the savviest consumer. We are in a catch 22: Brands say that consumers don’t care enough to push them to disclose their data, but consumers can’t access the data easily, even when they try.
Not My Style aims to disrupt this vicious cycle. My co-founders and I know that people care and we know that they would change their shopping habits if they could access information easily. We know because we are those people – high street shoppers who are budget conscious but have a social conscience. So are our friends. So how can we create a consumer movement that will push fashion brands – HARD – to be more transparent?
We think the answer lies in where fashion, technology and social change intersect: simply, in an app that will help you figure out which stores are the most and least transparent. Let me paint you a picture:
A savvy shopper – let’s call her Chloe – downloads Not My Style. Next time she’s out on the high street, she pulls out her phone and opens the app. It tells her in simple terms – which stores around her are the most, and least, transparent. She can filter by her price range or her favourite shops. If she wants, she can identify truly ethical fashion shops nearby.
Then – she shops! She picks a place rated by us as having higher transparency with consumers.
She doesn’t stop there. With the swipe of a finger she’s posting a photo of what she bought on Instagram, with the Not My Style hashtag attached. She tweets the store where she bought the clothes to say how happy she is they told her a bit about who made them. And she tweets a store she decided not to shop at, and tells them she doesn’t want to shop there because they don’t share any information at all.
Little by little Chloe starts doing all her shopping at the most transparent stores, and she encourages her friends to do the same. With lots of shoppers engaging, brands and retailers start to pay attention – they start to disclose more data for consumers on their supply chain practices.
Here’s where it gets exciting: With better, more robust data flooding the field, the real rock stars – NGOs and activists lobbying for worker rights, living wage, right to organise, and the like – have more to work with. They can better assess brands’ labour practices, and do their jobs more effectively.
At the end of our chain: the men and women who make our clothes. Hopefully, their lives get a bit better.
I also spend all day advising companies on how to deal with the tricky issues around their communities and supply chains a bit better and more effectively (yes! I have a day job!). I know these issues are complex and complicated. And that they take a long time to solve. But I also know that when companies think their customers care – enough to change their spending habits– they’ll move quicker than you can ever imagine.
By now I hope you’re thinking “this is the app I’ve been waiting for my whole life!” We hope your next thought is, what can I do to help?
Inform yourself. If you don’t have hours to read sustainability reports, do yourself a favour and download the documentary The True Cost of Fashion. In less than 2 hours you’ll have a much better idea of what fast fashion is all about.
We know that small actions can create big movements. Won’t you join us to improve the lives of the women and men who make our clothes?