What are the conditions under which factory workers in China and Bangladesh make the clothing that we wear? During the Dutch Sustainable Fashion Week in Enschede, 24 volunteers will set out to work under similar conditions. Organiser of the event and former Saxion student Sofie van der Stelt argues: "It's about raising awareness and making people think about the choices they make when they buy clothes."
If you happen to be in Enschede on 4 October, you should definitely check out the pop-up sweat shop in the DCW building at Spoordijkstraat 132. At a stone's throw away from the Saxion city campus, 24 Saxion students and Sheltersuit employees will have themselves locked up voluntarily. They will be manufacturing clothes for twelve hours in a row. Non-stop. In order to show what factory workers in Bangladesh and China have to endure on a daily basis. Sofie van der Stelt will be organising the event for the Dutch Sustainable Fashion Week: “I hope that many people will attend. It will be intense, and it is supposed to make people aware."
Sofie completed the Saxion degree programme Fashion Textile Technologies in July this year and decided to jump in at the deep end. She applied for the position of Regional Manager for the Dutch Sustainable Fashion Week in Enschede. From 4 through 13 October, this foundation, incorporated in Amsterdam, will be organising an awareness-raising campaign about fashion and sustainability for the sixth consecutive year. More and more cities in the Netherlands are taking part in this initiative. Enschede too, with Sofie in charge of the event.
I have always been very interested in the story behind a product. Clothes end up hanging or lying in a store, but how were they made, who designed and manufactured them?
“For my minor in South Africa, I visited a clothing factory and got an impression of how people work there. I did my graduation research in the sustainability department of a number of major Dutch clothing brands that belong to the same holding. There, I learned more about the conflict between sustainability and the way fashion chains want to organise their business operations. There are designers, merchandisers, and buyers. They do not share the same vision and interests. It was very educational to examine the fashion industry from all those different angles. I have always been very interested in the story behind a product. Clothes end up hanging or lying in a store, but how were they made, who designed and manufactured them?
As a regional manager, I am responsible for all the activities taking place during the Dutch Sustainable Fashion Week in Enschede. With this campaign, we want to establish a link between sustainable fashion retailers and consumers. By means of a sustainable shopping route, clothing exchange, vintage sales, lectures and fashion shows, we want to make consumers more aware of how they can contribute to a better world. Do you regularly buy t-shirts for a few euro and just throw them away after one season? Or do you buy your clothes in a well-stocked second-hand store, exchange clothes, have them altered, purchase qualitatively better clothing, of wear them for much longer? It is all about making more informed choices. Research shows that we only wear 30% of our clothes on average. So the good thing is, you can start small by making better use of the clothes you already have.
Soon, 18 Saxion students and a couple of Sheltersuit employees will be working in our sweat shop in Enschede. It is going to be tough for them, so I greatly appreciate that they volunteered to participate in this special event.
On Friday 4 October, we will be setting up a sweat shop in the hall of new DCW building. The idea is to simulate the conditions prevailing in the clothing factories in Bangladesh and China. The audience can look in from the galleries through a large window. We put our volunteers ‘on display’ in the shop to make it clear to the audience that they are expected to work non-stop; so no regular breaks for eating and drinking and hardly any opportunity to go to the toilet. The factory workers have to endure this day in, day out, for paltry wages. We are all guilty of maintaining these conditions if we continue to buy and throw away clothes on the same scale. Soon, 18 Saxion students and a couple of Sheltersuit employees will be working in our sweat shop in Enschede. It is going to be tough for them, so I greatly appreciate that they volunteered to participate in this special event.
During my studies at Saxion, I took the honours programme Innovation and Business Creation. This programme focuses strongly on personal development and entrepreneurship, stimulating you to be
innovative and try new things with confidence. As an FT&T student, I learned how the clothing industry works and how important it is that we all make this transition to sustainability. Now that I have become regional manager of the Dutch Sustainable Fashion Week, I am in a position to connect all these elements. Textiles, sustainability and project management are the themes that I want to combine. Just by organising this Fashion Week, I was able to expand my network enormously. I sometimes hear graduate students say that they are not really sure what type of work they can do with the degree they earned. Be confident and go for it, is what I say. Gain new experiences, learn and don't be afraid of making mistakes. You can do so much more than you think. Speaking for myself, it makes it all much easier if you focus on something you really believe in. My passion is enhancing sustainability in the clothing industry. During my studies, I already became convinced this would be my thing. I fully support the concept of sustainability, there is no way around it. What I also like is bringing all kinds of separate initiatives and partners together, and then offering them a platform. I hope I will be able to inspire people. This is the first step.”