Fashion Revolution's Melinda Tually On Why We Should Give Gifts Mindfully

by: Rosie Dalton | 4 months ago | Features

Image: Melinda Tually. Image source.

Melinda Tually is the inspiring Fashion Revolution Australia/New Zealand coordinator and industry consultant that we’ve been trying to get on the phone all year. But Mel is one busy woman. Because, although the fashion industry has come a long way since the tragic Rana Plaza collapse of 2013 – which claimed the lives of more than 1000 garment workers in 2013 – we are still in need of a Fashion Revolution. 

Speaking to Mel, we realised just how urgent that revolution is right now – and why individual consumers are integral to making this change. In the midst to what she describes as impulse shopping season, Mel urges us all to be a little more mindful when it comes to buying gifts this year. And to resist the urge to buy joke presents or impulse purchases – because Christmas wastefulness is not a joke.

Image: via Fashion Revolution. Image source.

Rosie Dalton: For those that don’t know, can you tell us a bit about Fashion Revolution and what you guys do?
Melinda Tually: Fashion Revolution is the global movement advocating for a more responsible and transparent fashion industry. It is run by people power and we now have multiple volunteer teams in over 100 countries, as well as citizen consumers, who are passionate about seeing a more just fashion industry. We advocate on everything from worker rights, living wages and factory safety, to textile and fashion waste, microplastics and resource scarcity. So basically right across the gamut of people and planet. Where there is an issue, we try to raise awareness and encourage action to be taken.

Rosie: Amazing. And do you feel like things have improved over the last five years or so, in terms of consumer awareness?
Mel: Oh definitely. Not a day goes by now that there isn’t an article in the media about an industry issue, announcement or commitment. This is in mainstream media as well. In years gone by alt media and fringe media have pioneered this sort of reporting – and now you’re seeing it become mainstream industry news as well. I think it is much more in the everyday vernacular now and we have definitely seen a lot more brand engagement as a result.  

Image: via Fashion Revolution. Image source.

Rosie: That’s what I was going to ask next actually. Beyond the conversation and the dissemination of knowledge, what changes have we seen in terms of action?
Mel: We’re seeing brands consolidating supply chains so they have a lot more leverage and visibility, as well as initiatives engaging workers on their rights and empowerment. A lot of effort is being made towards sourcing fibres and packaging that’s circular and low impact so it’s an exciting time.

I think the industry is becoming much more introspective. The brands that are most sophisticated in this space are increasingly approaching their supplier relationships as a partnership. The power dynamic is still there, of course, but the exchange is becoming healthier. Brands recognise that you can’t change things overnight – and consumers need to recognise this as well. Systemic change needs a whole of industry response. Of course we want businesses to be better, supply chains to be cleaner and fairer. But we can’t rewrite an opaque industry overnight, so you have to give space to achieve those goals. Fortunately, brands are being a lot more honest with their storytelling now. If they do come up against issues like child labour, it’s no longer a hidden secret. We know these things can be the product of a globalised supply chain and if we don’t talk about it, we’re not going to be able to fix it fast enough.

Rosie: How would you describe the role of government in helping to fix some of these issues?
Mel: Governments play a really big role in these issues. People don’t tend to focus on the government’s responsibility, but they have a duty to protect their citizens and uphold their rights – which is often not done. Just as we have a voice with brands, I think we should also be extending that to governments. We need to hold them accountable for their commitments and we also need to hold them accountable on things like minimum wages. Some countries don’t have industrial relations mechanisms, including wage-setting mechanisms. It is very hard if you don’t have mandated minimum wages, to work out how to pay a living wage in a consistent and equitable manner. 

Fortunately Australia has just passed the Modern Slavery Act requiring entities of a certain size to report on slavery and forced labour risks in their supply chains. It is the most stringent in the world right now, because it also includes requirements for the government to report. There was a very successful two-year advocacy effort by all of civil society and big business, as well as MPs on both sides to achieve this. So that’s another way we can remind governments that they should be held to account, just as much as brands.

Image: via Fashion Revolution. Image source.

Rosie: It has been more than five years now since the tragic Rana Plaza collapse and I wanted to ask you opinion on the recent delay in the decision to let the Fire & Safety Accord office remain in Bangladesh?
Mel: The progress we have seen from the Accord has been really groundbreaking. We have never had a multi-stakeholder initiative like it in the fashion industry and what they’ve achieved to date in regards to factory safety is a strong signal that it’s possible to make a difference. There is still much work to be done though and it’s critical this continues in a transparent way with full due diligence. The transition will be complex whenever it takes place, we just need to ensure the focus on factory safety is not lost or weakened. The livelihoods of garment workers are dependent on it.

Rosie: We have come a long way, but do you believe that we are still in need of a revolution?
Mel: Absolutely. Revolution carries with it that sense of drastic change and we are in need of drastic change. We’ve not yet turned the tide as fast as we need to and often we’re seeing the same big brands and smaller independents doing all the hard work. I want to see the next tier of the industry take this on. Middle-tier brands need to realise their responsibility but also their opportunity. It’s huge.

Image: via Fashion Revolution. Image source.

Rosie: What are some steps that individual consumers can do to make a difference?
Mel: Remain conscious and resist the impulse buy. This is the season for Kris Kringle gifts, which can end up being so incredibly wasteful. Don’t give joke presents anymore. It’s not a joke when the planet is suffocating in waste. Give a meaningful Kris Kringle, like the Fashion Revolution zine. And watch your packaging – be creative with textiles or recycled items instead.

I heard a shocking statistic this morning: that Australians use more than 150,000 kilometres of wrapping paper at Christmas and receive over 20 million unwanted gifts. So if you don’t know what to get someone, get them an experience or a gift voucher instead. My friends built a platform called Prezzee for digital gift vouchers that are exchangeable. Clever! 

Gift giving can be a beautiful thing and there is a lot more opportunity now to buy responsibly. Through things like fair trade, you can actually help empower people and lift them out of poverty. So Christmas shopping can be done in a positive way. If you are going to gift-give this Christmas, do so consciously and responsibly. 

Take part in Fashion Revolution Week 22 – 28 April 2019 and look out for an exciting industry event this coming March.

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