What we’re doing & why

Rana Plaza / the background

April 24, 2013 saw the deadliest garment factory accident in history, with 1,299 workers being crushed to death in an 8 story building in Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh. Benetton, Matalan, Bon Marche and Primark branded clothing were found in the rubble. Dozens of brands quickly signed a binding agreement to improve factory safety in Bangladesh, and a small number offered compensation to the victims and their families. Some fashion commentators see this factory collapse as an ethical turning-point in the fashion industry

This website has been set up for a University of Exeter Grand Challenge on Ethical Fashion in the wake of the Rana Plaza factory collapse. It aims to bring together accounts of what happened and why, what’s happened since, who is involved in what kind of change, and how this is being thought about. In the first week of June 2014, though, we’re expecting 65 students to join us to do some important work that will add a different perspective.

Talking fashion / the challenge

Over the past twelve months, the impact of the the Rana Plaza collapse has been discussed in considerable detail by journalists, politicians, labour unions, NGOs, ethical fashion businesses and those who support their work. We’ve tried to give a flavour of these discussions in the posts on this site. It’s clear from them that something significant is changing. But what concerns and questions do people outside these circles have about their clothes, and the connections that they make? How might people working in and visiting a shopping centre be involved in this turn towards a more ethical fashion business? [see also our press release]

Exeter Guildhall / the location

We will be working in the Guildhall Shopping Centre in Exeter’s city centre from 2-5 June 2014 from 11am to 4pm. We’ll be using art and social science approaches to appreciate the fashion choices and concerns of people who work and shop there. We’ll try to find answers to fashion questions that we’re asked, and share those answers in interesting ways.

From Monday to Thursday:

  • you can have what you’re wearing drawn for Catherine Cartwright’s art intervention ‘How clean are your clothes?’ in Market Square.
  • you can have a fashion selfie taken in Alfie the Black Cab Booth in Market Square.
  • check the live screen for our fashion challenge in the won do of the old Truprint Store.
  • visit our tina fashion cinema in Market Square, to see what we’ve found out so far and what we’re doing next.

On Monday:

  • you can ask our fashion detectives to answer your fashion questions: look our for us outside the old Camber & Batch Store!

On Tuesday:

  • bring along some clothes that you’d like to swap (laundered please) to our rails and stylists in Market Square, and leave with a new look.

On Wednesday:

On Thursday:

  • our students have been challenged to design a fashion show from our findings. Look out for parts of the show, somewhere in the Guildhall.

We’ll blog and talk to the media about what we’re doing and what we’ve found out. We’ll bring into our process some visiting experts in sustainable/ethical fashion, and garment manufacture and consumption. And we’ll leave something behind, showing what we learned from the people we talked to about the social lives of their clothes.

Expertise / the team

This Challenge’s lead academic is Ian Cook, Associate Professor of Geography, at the University of Exeter. He co-ordinated the trade justice shopping website followthethings.com and is an advisory board member for Fashion Revolution Day. Its educational advisor is Antony Aleksiev. Its advisory board members include Professor Louise Crewe (Nottingham University) and Dr Alex Hughes (Newcastle University). Its participating artist is Catherine Cartwright (find out more about her work here and here) and its creative producer is Carla Hayes. 

Its visiting fashion experts include:

  • Carry Somers (Founder of Fashion Revolution Day) on Monday and Tuesday;  
  • Martin Buttle (Senior Supply Chain Manager, Made-By) on Tuesday;
  • Jocelyn Whipple  (environmentalist and sustainable fashion expert) on Wednesday; 
  • Irene Griffin (sustainable textile designer & tutor at Falmouth University) Wednesday and Thursday;
  • Kate Fletcher (‘slow fashion’ consultant and Reader in Sustainable Fashion at the London College of Fashion) on Thursday.

Its postgraduate facilitators are Annie Blanchette (Management / Marketing), Antonios Basoukis (Sociology & Philosophy), Britni Wilcher (Health Economics / Health Services Research), Kate Berrisford (Political Theory / Arab & Islamic Studies), Paulina Luzecka (Human Geography), Becca Savory (Drama), Robert Kalibala (Biosciences) & Sue Hocknell (Human Geography). The students and the groups in which they’ll work are set out here.

Sharing findings / the blog 

This site will be updated regularly with news, information, and updates. Please check back, follow the blog (click the button on the right), follow us on facebook (here), tell your friends (you don’t have to be doing the Challenge to follow us), check the Fashion Revolution Day and Bangladesh Accord tweets (on the right!), join the conversation, add comments and questions to the pages, and get involved.

Acknowledgements / the community

Our Challenge preparations and activities have been supported by a number of people, offices and organisations within and beyond Exeter. We really appreciate their help and advice, and will update this list as our work progresses. First of all, we would like to thank the management of the Guildhall Shopping Centre in Exeter for allowing us to base our Challenge there. That’s the most important thanks we need to give at the moment.   


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