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Updated: Dec 9, 2020


To say that the COVID-19 crisis shook the fashion industry is an understatement. The emergency paralysed the industry, sending shocks through the supply chains, and has resulted in job losses, reduced sales and investments, and cancelled orders. The last component in particular has fundamentally impacted the supply chain and those who make our clothes.





Fashion industry cracking



In many ways, the latest crisis amplified the already existing weaknesses of the industry. It made clear the dependence on global exchange, unfair policies, and exploitation. When the first lock-down measures took place, big fashion brands realised that they would have to close their physical shops for an unknown period of time. This meant that they would not be able to make enough sales and their profits would stagnate. In March 2020, they responded to this by cancelling the orders from the manufacturers, leaving them with finished garments and no pay. In Bangladesh alone, the cancelled orders are estimated to be worth about £2.4bn. This is devastating for the manufacturers and their workers. The workers did not receive the payment for the work they already did, leaving them financially paralysed and with no access to any social security, in the middle of the global pandemic.


This financial instability and leverage imbalance occurred at a time where the fashion industry is seeing a growing backlash. The movements that have been promoting and making fashion more sustainable and ethical are culminating in the past years. Now, when the crisis of a global scale cracked the industry, many people from these activism movements stood up and demanded that the brands take responsibility for their actions. And the changes are happening.



What is #PayUp


Perhaps one of the strongest movements is the one launched on March 30th, by the advocacy non-profit organization Remake. Their #PayUp campaign exposes the brands that cancelled their orders and never paid for them and called for them to give what they owed. They initiated a campaign and collected over 250 000 signatures (to date). But what makes this movement so strong and effective is their social media campaign. Many supporters, activists, bloggers, influencers, celebrities, and models have embraced their hashtag, #PayUp and it quickly went global with over 74K posts (and trending) on Instagram.


The campaign lists out the brands that have not paid, along with those who have, so that everybody can see clearly who took the responsibility and who refuses to do so. For many consumers, this alone has been a major eye-opener. At the moment, 17 brands have not yet paid for their orders, including giants like C&A, Primark, Fashion Nova, Forever 21, JCPenney, and Urban.



On the Remake.org website, they explain that to be removed from the list, brands need to promise to pay the suppliers for all the cancelled and in-production orders in full (not asking for discounts) and in a timely manner.


Moving forwards


While the full effect of the pandemic on the lives of the garment workers is still unfolding, important and long due steps are made. The pressure of the campaign as well as the garment workers organising protests resulted in 19 big brands pledging to pay for the cancelled orders. Some of them include H&M, Inditex (Zara), Levi’s, Marks & Spencer, and Nike. You can follow the brand tracker here. This is incredibly important and proves that the combined efforts of activists, workers, and consumers do make a difference.



The true power of this hashtag is that the brands are being held accountable for their business decisions no longer only by the justice-fighters, but by their customers. The workers are being paid, which is absolutely crucial. But beyond that, people saw how the large corporations responded to the crisis and this alone will have a lasting impact.


Continuing the industry as usual is not likely or even possible. The pre-COVID way of working lied on a dysfunctional model that was financially, ecologically, and socially failing everyone. More than ever, thanks to campaigns like #PayUp the consumers are seeing this. Even the high-level policy-makers, academia and experts are reacting to this. The key now is to navigate this change in the direction we want.


Finally, we invite you to sign the #PayUp petition and follow JIF as we join forces to create a positive change in the fashion industry.


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It can be intimidating and it can certainly be overwhelming. But we all have to start somewhere. So we invite you to start with us, on the journey to bring justice in fashion.



On behalf of the whole Justice in Fashion (JIF) team, we are happy to welcome you to the first article in our blog.


The intention of this blog is to offer a reliable resource you can turn to at every stage of our common journey. Orsola de Castro, a co-founder of Fashion Revolution says: the fashion industry affects 100% of the population. Thus, our journey has to involve everyone, from fashion brands, governments to consumers. To remain truly open, our blog is imagined as a space to tell stories and bring a critical view of current events and changes in the fashion industry.


As the world goes through constant change, accelerated by Covid-19, our responsibilities change with it. It is imperative that we all move forward together. In times of crisis and uncertainty, we can forget to look after one another and instead seek to exploit those who are in the worse position than us, whether knowingly or not. One sector that has grown massively in terms of exploitation is the fashion industry.

The lack of transparency and available information is what makes the exploitation possible. A great open-source article by LeBaron, Kyritsis, Thibos, and Howard reminds us that a ‘typical computer’ has multiple pieces sourced from all around the globe. The majority of the pieces are sourced from low-wage countries such as the ‘memory chip from Malaysia, battery from Indonesia... and a hard drive made from Thailand’. The same global trade also occurs in the fashion industry, with the materials for fabrics sourced in one place, garments often produced across several factories, and transported to the warehouses and shops on the other side of the world.


What is hidden in this global trade is the reality of the workers in the industry. The workers behind globally sourced pieces (whether it is in tech, fashion, or something else) work long tiresome hours for less than a living wage. How do we expect them to pay for those same daily necessities with that?


The pandemic opened a space for us to reflect on our current situations in the world. We started thinking about how we treat one another, what we consume globally, and what our top priorities should be. During the lockdown, many (we included) have been doing just this. We started researching and educating ourselves on how female garment workers across the globe are being treated. We started to question the morality of investments and organizations. And we started to understand that the workers are the key actors in the fashion industry.


A need to do better became very clear in the past months. Organisations and individuals started questioning the industry and urging the investors and brands to reflect on their decisions. It became clear that the decisions of those in power matter to all of us and they should reflect the society we all want to live in.


This is where JIF was born. We want to acknowledge this disproportionality and work towards aligning the current imbalances. Standing together with them, we help deliver justice for all workers (primarily women) who are not paid the wages they deserve. For most of us, a piece of clothing helps complete a look, make a statement, or is just something to keep us clothed. However, for the women making the item, it is their way of life. It is their only income to support their families. The big brands are denying them this by not paying them the appropriate wage. And we have been subconsciously allowing this to happen, but not anymore! JIF aims to give women a safe platform to speak up, we are endeavouring to give voices to the voiceless.


With a simple thought “look after your workers and they will look after you” in our minds, we are opening this space for dialogue and exchange.


Join us!


Bela & Tena (in the name of the JIF team)


#justice in fashion #fashion industry #garment workers #workers in fashion #living wage #fashion journey

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