Who made my poncho coat? Traceable reveals the artisans #whomademyclothes
Traceable is premiering in Canada on the second anniversary of the tragic Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Savar, Bangladesh, which took the lives of more than 1,100 people and injured more than 2,000 garment workers in one of the worst industrial accidents in history. I was asked to preview and share this film’s incredible story; I have not been compensated for this review, it is free of commercial interests and represents my honest opinion. Today, on April 24, thousands of people are joining the second annual Fashion Revolution Day as we ask #whomademyclothes? More specifically for me, who made my poncho coat? I own this gorgeous poncho coat, one of my favourite pieces, which I purchased in a Toronto sample sale of local designers. I also have a hand carved, geometric necklace purchased from H Project, Holt Renfrew, where I’m proud to work as an Ambassador, celebrating designers such as Toronto’s own emerging fashion designer Laura Siegel. Where do these items come from and whose hands have crafted these for me?
Written, produced and directed by Jennifer Sharpe, in her directorial debut, Traceable follows Siegel as she develops her F/W 2013 collection using ethical and transparent practices. Sharpe doesn’t seek to shock audiences with all that’s wrong in the industry, avoiding the exposé style of filmmaking, which gives the narrative a refreshing strength, saving the film from falling into tired documentarian stereotypes. Sharpe spends mere moments reminding audiences about Rana Plaza but that’s enough to bring the film into focus on this anniversary. She chose a select handful of industry insiders, including the articulate Leonardo Bonnani, Founder and CEO of Sourcemap, to give expert testimony on what needs to change, and how to enact change for transparency. The film takes audiences on Siegel’s journey from villages in India – where she employs artisans in centuries old craftsmanship, like block printing textiles and kutch, an exquisite, traditional embroidery practice – to the other side of the world where she shows her pieces on the competitive runways of New York and Toronto to impress media and secure buyers. Traceable is an invitation to discuss what fashion should be, and discover what it could be.
Unlike many other designers and brands, Traceable reveals Siegel has a uniquely close relationship with her suppliers and makers – she actually knows them. She’s works with them in their communities. She sees their talent first hand, incorporating it into her design process for the global fashion market. Siegel says, “When a customer owns one of these pieces I want them to feel a sense of history.” Her story proves it’s possible to be transparent when fashion is produced through meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships, carefully using craftsmanship at production levels that allow for attention to detail and fairness, and the conservation of skills and traditions. This slow fashion approach also promotes what Bonnani refers to as “cultural sustainability”. It reduces the real risk of global homogeneity and makes the world a richer, more diverse place to exist. “I think the reason it’s important to sustain a craft,” says Siegel, “…more than craft, it’s the culture.”
Traceable makes evident some of the conditions that allow a tragedy like Rana Plaza to take place. There’s an omnipresent opacity in supply chains, a persistent obfuscation of product origin and even an industry-wide unwillingness to accept that traceability is technically possible – from solar powered cell phones sending SMS messages from cotton fields to the breadth of information companies could share with the clothing hanging in our closets. As Bonnani states, “I realized that traceability is really the only way to rectify that inequity, that horrible gap between the poorest third of the people on earth and the richest third. Without traceability, people can take all sorts of advantage of the poorest third.” Slowly, through global actions and campaigns such as Fashion Revolution Day, innovative solutions such as Sourcemap, and a growing market from consumer demand for slow fashion, we are closing that gap, to “.. connect communities of producers with communities of consumers”.
When I first discovered the Laura Siegel collection at World Mastercard Fashion Week in 2013 I wrote, “Her commitment to ethical production supports the preservation of artisanal craftsmanship and culture, and you can see the hand-of-the-maker in so many of her designs.” I know, now, who made my poncho coat because I’ve seen the hand-of-the-maker, literally. That’s a remarkable feeling and a true privilege. Just before the film’s closing credits, Siegel stands in the street, bathed in the light of an orange sun, surrounded by artisans as they stare at her iPad screen. They smile as she zooms in on editorial pictures of their designs, broadcast today across Canada, and tomorrow, still totally Traceable.
Watch TRACEABLE: Traceable is an exclusive Canadian original documentary set to debut across Canada with a multi-channel premiere, Friday, April 24 at 8 p.m. ET on MTV, Bravo, M3, and E!.
Want to get involved in Fashion Revolution Day? Thank your favourite brand for making your clothes on social media with the hashtag, #whomademyclothes? Ask them if you can learn more. Be curious. Find out. Do something.
To learn more about Fashion Revolution Day and traceability, fairness and sustainability in fashion, please visit: http://fashionrevolution.org/