Tuesday 22 October 2019

Focus On Carry Somers Co-Founder of Fashion Revolution

There are events that change our world and people who take those events and use them to awaken our conciousness further. Carry is one of those people who did that. After the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013 she could see what needed and could be done to remind us of those who died making our clothes and to champion and keep safe those who still do.
I first met Carry at the Fashion Revolution anniversary day on the 24th of April 2014. I had asked Dolly Jones the then online editor at Vogue (now Chief Content Officer at Eco Age) if I could go shoot a street style gallery around the day, she was in full agreement. I met both Carry and Orsola that week at various events. When I started photographing my Inspirational Women I knew I would love to photograph them and tell their stories. Time passes, quickly or slowly where ever you are in life or circumstances you find yourself in and suddenly it was 2019 before our paths crossed again. Perfect timing really in a way. During the convening years Carry with Fashion Revolution has built so much further on that first year. Fashion Revolution is now a global powerhouse. Championing the people globally who make our clothes or grow the materials that make them. Their continued quest for transparency within the fashion industry to come clean, in every sense, with their production practices. As with all my wonderful Inspirational Women Carry has had a very full and colourful career. Enjoy her story as much as I do bringing it to you.

D: I like to ask about the past before we come into the now and then ask about the future. As I am interested in the formative years, did you have an interest in fashion when you were young?

C: I wouldn’t say fashion per say I certainly never had any money to buy fashion, I loved going to jumble sales and living in Devon there were a lot of old people with nice clothes, so really enjoyed going to those. I once got an amazing Chanel suit that I somehow gave back to a jumble sale as I thought at the time, I was never going to wear it because it was brown and now of course I kick myself. So, lots of sort of jumble sale and vintage shops that’s where most of my clothes came from. I certainly had my own style, but I wouldn’t say I was particularly interested in fashion.
D: In school what did you study? Were you interested in art and that side of things?
C: I was but you could do either Art or Spanish and I wanted Spanish so I had to give up Art and actually hadn’t really picked up any drawing materials until a couple of years ago when I took up drawing still life’s which I have been loving. I always knew I had drawing and painting as both my grandparents were artists, so I always knew there was that creative side. It just hasn’t been through any sort of academic process. I was always good a languages but I never really knew what else to do. I always had a real interest in Latin America and the cultures of Latin America from a really early age. I remember asking for a book, a picture book about the Incas I was really quite young, so there was something from an early age that caught my fascination about Peru in particular.

D: Do you think fairness and fair trade was in your DNA as a child? What where your influences, Family, friends?

C: Definitely there was a real sense of fairness and justice and I am sure that came from my parents as well so I definitely think there was a real strong sense. I don’t think it’s what they did so much, my father was an accountant, my mother worked in a printers doing some of the graphic design and set up her own play group. They were very involved in the local church I don’t know I think it was just sort of the way of life and the culture. I was brought up learning about people from different parts of the world. Definitely a sense of what was right and wrong and justice. I think I have taken it a lot further than my parents. I remember being out on the streets in support of CND, the Nicaragua solidarity campaign, no grants no chance, this was when I was 15, 16, 17 and I think part of it was I was in a hippish crowd so we were all maybe a bit more inspired by the 60’s as that was quite a revolutionary time as well. Not politically active but a bit more socially engaged, maybe than a lot of people around that time who were  - you know late 70’s early 80’s stuff, quite a superficial culture, I definitely hung out with people who were more socially engaged.

D: Did you go to University?

C: Yes, I went to University and studied modern languages. I then went on to do a masters in Native American studies. Which if anyone had told me a school you could study anthropology, I absolutely would have studied anthropology, no careers guidance no ideas about anything like that existed at the time or that completely would have been the route I’d have taken. So that was why my masters was in Native American Studies and I loved that. I was going to do a PhD. I had full funding for the tutorial, accommodation, living expenses and then Pachacuti got in the way.
Carry is the founder of Pachacuti and is still a director in the company. Pachacuti is a gorgeous Fair Trade Panama Hat company. They have a totally transparent supply chain, they have GPS co-ordinates to each of theirweavers houses. They can also trace the straw their hats are made from to the communities in Ecuador who grow and harvest it for them. They do this “in order to guarantee the highest social and environmental conditions throughout its supply chain”.

D: From 1992 until 2013 you created and grew Pachacuti. At what point after Fashion Revolution started did you know you had to hand it over to your husband to continue? Was it hard to give it up?

C: It wasn’t hard at all to give it up. I was really ready to give it up. It was definitely the December, December 2014 and we were just about to get some of our first grant funding. I funded Fashion Revolution for the 1st year, I gave it a £5,000 loan. That was all we had to do our 1st year, photo shoot with Trevor Leighton, everything that whole global activism was on £5,000. So I reckon it was December 2014 and I remember my husband asking “how many days a week can you give to Pachacuti next year?” and I was like, I think I said a day a month and its not even that.  The work I was doing on Fashion Revolution was completely full time and I was working really long weeks. I guess all the way through until Christmas when Stevie, who is the accountant, joined us, she really took a lot of pressure off me. It made a big difference.

D: Sienna is your only daughter and she is now working alongside you in Fashion revolution. Is she working in Pachacuti too?

C: Not in Pachacuti anymore. She used to model for Pachacuti, we used her in photoshoots a lot. She is now working in the policy side of Fashion Revolution with Sarah Ditty our head of policy. At the moment she is working on the research for our white paper which will be coming out at the beginning of December. She does the research for the Fashion Transparency Index every year, along with other researchers. One of the main projects that she is working on at the moment is Policy Dialogue Toolkits which are in conjunction with the British Council. So were working on the pilot phase, we choose two country co-ordinators every year. Last year we had India and the Philippines
 this year its Kenya and Rwanda and they can choose a topic either social or environmental whichever is really pertinent in their country. Its then bringing together different stakeholders from all different areas to actually work out what needs to be done, what needs to change and what are the policy recommendations. Some of the times these are people who have never spoken before. In the Philippines where they looked at second-hand clothing, second-hand clothing is actually illegal in the Philippines. But still people are importing and selling it. So the question is, do the laws need to be strengthened or do they need to be changed? Actually, bringing together people who are potentially in conflict, to work out what to do going forward. So really interesting and really impactful.

D: When you stared Fashion Revolution did you have a clear path of where you wanted to go with it or was it more learning as you went along?

C: It was kind of a mixture and I think, it would have been a clear path, when I had the idea it was almost fully formed, I had the name Fashion Revolution the idea of doing something on the anniversary (of the Rana Plaza disaster), knew it had to be about transparency. With Orsola we were both almost like mirror images we were both very similar in so many things, but also different in a lot of things. We are both risk takers, we are both visionary, we are creative visionary thinkers we knew very much where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do. But I think we also weren’t prepared for the huge momentum behind it, once we stared talking about what we were doing and people started to hear about it and said, well could we do Fashion Revolution in the USA, in Kenya, in Colombia and Australia and you know suddenly we were in 62 countries in the 1st year and then it’s almost like how do we then put those structures in place? That is something we are working hard on and that’s part of the reason I am trying not to travel much up until Christmas as we are really trying to put those structures in place globally to make sure we are protected, that we have the right legal structures, insurance, volunteering, safeguarding all of that, needs to happen. So, it is a challenge, we have a much bigger team now than we had a year ago so it is amazing.

D: Talking about transparency with the big labels I know is challenging how then do we get the private white label companies on board? How do you even reach them? So that the public are aware that they even exist. They are kind of not even there, hiding in plain sight, how do we make them accountable as well?

C: I know, it is interesting. It is an area we are, nobody is really looking at, they are huge, people like Li & Fung  they are massive, some of the biggest brands produce with them. So maybe we do need to think about incorporating them into our Fashion Transparency Index. Because we are look at brands and we are looking a retailers. They are below the radar and it is definitely something we probably need to be looking at. But then it is who do you include? Do you include big textile factories, and suppliers because some of them could potentially be turning over enough. It’s interesting it always really hard to know where to draw the line. I think the main thing is holding the brands accountable because they are having their clothing made there. A lot of them are then sourcing from Li & Fung especially in the States. A huge percentage of their clothing comes from some of those big private manufacturers, so that will have a knock-on effect as well. The Fashion Transparency Index has really proved itself as a way of pushing the brands harder and faster towards transparency. We know anecdotally from so many brands, ASOS say it’s like having a free consultation exercise every year when they receive the feedback from their questionnaires. Its positive and I think instilling that sense of competition really works between the brands. Whether that’s on a luxury level, on a sportswear level we really do see that working. 

D: What do you think when people say that sustainability is the buzz word for our times?

C: I don’t think it is a trend. People said this about transparency a couple of years ago. It is the industry changing and it has to change. We can’t go on as we have been, you know people are beginning to realise how broken the industry is and we can’t have all of the activism that is going on now and the awareness of the climate crisis and what we are doing to our eco systems and the micro plastic pollution and just carry on consuming the way we have done. We simply can’t do that we’ve got to look for alternative ways and we are seeing that happen. We are seeing the resale market growing 21 time faster than the retail market in the last 3 years. You know this has really changed, this is really happening, this isn’t a trend they have estimated that the resale market will be bigger than fast fashion within the next decade. So I think, I don’t think this is a trend, and it can’t be a trend. People are aware that we really are in an age of climate breakdown that we do have to make changes. We might have to make sacrifices, or we might just have to learn to do things that are equally exciting and give us that same buzz by going to a clothes swap for example. The joy of finding something AMAZING, Sienna has the most incredible long, brand new Alice Temperley dress she got at a clothes swap. Or going to charity shops, I’ve got old Valentino trousers, the things you can find for under 10 quid in charity shops is astonishing.
D: That’s why clothes swaps will be important going forward as people will be encouraged to let go of pieces they are not using anymore.

D: London Fashion Week, do you feel they seriously took on board what Extinction Rebellion were saying?

C: I don’t really think you can take on board what Extinction Rebellion were saying because calling for the cancellation of London Fashion Week isn’t going to happen. It’s how do we work with London, Paris, Milan, New York to create a better industry model. I mean I was speaking at New York Fashion Week at the beginning and at one of the events I talked at was the Helsinki symposium they held one at different Fashion Weeks. I was asked about that, if you look at countries like South Africa, they had just announced the previous week that they were going to make their South African Fashion Week sustainable, as sustainable as possible by 2025. They are going to be working with Fashion Revolution. They are going to be working with local designers who are using local materials and tailoring. Really seeing this as their point of difference. Supporting that, and people who are trying to protect the local environment and the eco systems and we can see this happening. We need to see a change to a more regenerative model as the industry is incredibly wasteful. The amount of waste from these shows that are put on for half an hour. The props for photoshoots, the amount of clothes that people get in that can never be sold again. We need to look at better ways to do all aspects of fashion. The supply chain is really important but we also need to look at photoshoots and shows and find different ways. That is why the Fashion Revolution ‘Open Studio’ initiative is so valuable because it’s all about transparency. The designers don’t have to go anywhere and put on expensive shows, they are opening up their studios, they are inviting people in to see their processes, it makes them accountable. They are talking about their zero waste pattern cutting. They are talking about the repairs they do, they are talking about the whole design process and where circularity comes in and what their thinking is in terms of materials and sustainability and I think that’s really valuable as well both for the press and for their customers.

D: What next for Fashion Revolution? Where do you see yourself in the next 10, 20 years?

C: Oh gosh 10, 20 years is a long way ahead, I will be able to answer that question better after we have our workshop on the theory of change, we did one a few years ago and we felt it was time to do a new one. That will be a really good time to sit and take stock of our vision.
Transparency and the need for transparency, will not be solved quickly, we have seen change, we have seen a lot of progress especially in terms of publishing first tier fact fees. But there are still only 10 brands publishing the list of their raw materials suppliers out of 200. The processing facilities was 18% this year. The is a lot that’s needed in terms of traceability and that sort of helps with accountability and that means if someone gets sacked from one of those factories for being part of a union, it does mean you can go back and put pressure on those brands, or several brands, that are sourcing there. It has meant that people have beent reinstated. As opposed to factories who aren’t publishing their lists. So, we know from unions that that it does make a difference.
All the brands are talking, you mentioned sustainability being a buzz word. But how do you know the brands are sustainable unless they actually have goals, are transparent about what their goals are and their progress toward those goals? Only 15% of brands have any measurable long-term goals on reducing their use of virgin plastic. You know that’s 15%. For all of their talk about sustainability and sustainable raw materials. If you look at those who have a sustainable materials strategy that’s reasonably higher and is nearly a 1/3 of brands. But what are you doing about it? What are you doing in terms of sourcing raw materials more responsibility? We need to able to cut through this. They are very good at their visions and mission statements, but we need to know really what the impact is on the people in the supply chain. What the impact is on the environment, on the forests, on the Amazon deforestation, we need to know that information. So transparency is still going to be an issue in 10, even 20 year’s time. In terms of sustainability it has been estimated that we needed an 80% emissions cut by 2015, in fashion, to align with the 2 degree Celsius warning. Whereas actually the industries emissions are expected to increase by 60% by 2030. So, a 80% reduction is needed and a 60% increase happening. There are lots of brands talking about “oh yes we are cutting our emissions on this we are cutting our emissions by 50% but we’ve got plans to double our production.” We’ve got to innovate, brands have got to help their customers to buy less, to keep their clothes for longer, to offer repair facilities, which  at the moment are only for luxury items like handbags and shoes and that sort of thing.

D: I love your garment workers diary initiative. What a great way to highlight the cost of living and wages when there are no unions for them to speak up for them. You are their union. How do you expand this into other countries so that the garment workers do have a voice and a union?

C: Yes, the garment worker diaries was a really significant project. It was the biggest ever research done over a year with 540 garment workers, so that’s not something we can replicate easily without significant funding. But, through the ‘I made your clothes’ initiative that’s one of the ways to give the producers a voice to talk about their problems, their conditions. We need more people doing that. We are publishing our white paper so that will have a lot of insights into the state of the industry, as well. Being the platform that other unions can use as well, we have people like Industrial Global Union and Solidarity Centre who actually use our website to promote issues or to publish blogs. Both of them use our platform and social media channels and will link up with them on campaigns so its really important we align ourselves with the unions and as we are quite nimble it does mean that if anything happens we can react quite speedily and help to mobilise the everyday citizens who are engaged in activism.

D: How do we encourage the slow down of fast fashion? Which parts of society are consuming the most?

C: There is a lot of research that shows that people really can change their habits quite quickly, in the face of the right impetus. If the youth climate strike and the UN report that just came out aren’t impetus enough, I don’t know what is. But I think its also seeing influences change, friends change. I was really shocked watching the ITV on fast fashion that Orsola was on. They did their own research and I think there was something like 37% of people who had never bought or would never buy second-hand clothing. Which I still find astonishing. But I think a lot of it fundamentally is education. It is very easy to be in your sustainability bubble and microcosm in London. Going to a lot of events were people are thinking the same. Everyone knows about the issues, everyone’s so much further progressed. When I come up here and if I go into Stoke or Manchester the average people don’t know about these issues. Some are only catching up with the fact that turtles are getting caught in plastic bags, which was knowledge 10 years ago, it a long way, they are far off understanding anything to do micro plastics and the need to wash your clothing more responsibly or less. Or thinking about the fibres in the clothing your buying. So I think there is a huge amount of education that needs to be done. But that needs to be done in a really engaging way. We need that mixture of education and awareness raising but we also need legislation because some of those some of the brands are never going to change. Some consumers are never going to change. To get those brands who aren’t going to move we need legislation. The Modern Slavery Act and The California Transparency Supply Chains Act, have been really instrumental in getting brands to publish more information about what they are doing. To actually, find out about their supply chains, because a lot of them didn’t have that information, so that’s a really good first step. We need to see, The Modern Slavery act certainly strengthened, we need to see accountability we need to know which brands should be publishing and which brands haven’t published their statement and we need links and we need a database with links to all of their recent statements, so that is something we are campaigning for. 

D: Tell us all about your next big exciting project – sailing.

C: I have been following eXXpedition for a good few years. I always thought I would love Sienna to learn to sail and maybe she could do one of the trips and then when the round the world opportunity came up and I saw it and thought, ‘this one’s for me’. Especially when I saw that there was the Galapagos Islands, Easter Island, and I thought I am definitely applying, you know this is a once in a lifetime opportunity . I mean I love sailing, I love being at sea. I have been to Ecuador probably about 30 – 35 times and I have never been to the Galapagos islands because it has always been too expensive to make that little hop over to them and just never had the money. So it’s sort of felt like it’s an amazing opportunity to see The Galapagos and Easter Islands but it’s also the scientific research that’s going to be done on board is really ground-breaking its really necessary, its research, that academics from around the world, particularly in the US and the UK are working on. This will be used by them to see a much clearer picture of the state of pollution in our oceans, the toxics, the micro plastics. We know that 34.8% of the micro plastics in the ocean come from clothing and textiles. So it is the responsibility of the fashion industry and us as consumers. So we need to look at the scale of the problem  and then look at some solution based thinking to do something about it. The images from the trip will be powerful, I think the research will be powerful but we also need to come up with really compelling recommendations at policy level to brands and to consumers to encourage change as well.

D: Do you think you will find plastic in these remote areas when you go?

C: Undoubtedly, undoubtedly, we are sailing through the South Pacific Gyre which is one of the main sort of areas of accumulation of plastics in the pacific. But those are the plastics you can see. So it’s what happens at a deeper levels, with micro plastic on the surface but also I think they are looking in the sediment as well. There are so many different areas to look at. Going around the world with an all female crew is, really exciting. 10,000 people who have applied and so far they have selected about half of the 300 places and I am one of those 150 women, so I feel super privileged to be chosen for that and feel very determined to use my part in it to really help to raise awareness. To that social media and press presence which I can bring to actually get the message out there. Because our clothing, textiles, micro fibres is something we can all do something about as well as the amount of plastic we are flying in, in our food, packaging and drinks.

D: How long have you been sailing? Did you sail as a child? You were living in Devon.

C: Not as a child. I was looking for somewhere really cheap to live when I was a student. I heard there was a sewage barge on which you could get cabins for £15 per month. So I turned up to meet the guys who were currently living on the sewage barge and they were working on Velsheda  who was a J-Class yacht, tallest single mast in the world and the new mainsail had just been delivered. They were like, “can you come and help can you hold the torch for us”, it weighted a tonne and a half and there were about 3 or 4 of them trying to put this sail up, so I helped them pull a few ropes and was generally useful for the evening and it was all quite exciting. So they said come out sailing with us tomorrow to say thank you. I went out sailing with them, sort of helped in the crew because they took the boat out and chartered every day. I remember the next morning super early I had a phone call and they said “there’s been a fight and half the crews left, they have just walked out. Can you come out sailing again please” and that was it I had a job for the rest of the summer and carried on sailing Velsheda. Then moved across to Astrid who was a square rigger, tall ship, sail training ship and did the tall ships race. After my master’s I went and worked in the Caribbean for a year. I sailed across the Atlantic I worked on an old galleon replica and loved it. Since then I have not been sailing again until a few months ago. It’s nice to be back on the water again. Though we have had some pretty hairy moments on the lake (near where she lives), we have also had great fun as well. It’s not that wide, we have had some pretty windy weather I don’t know how deep it is, wouldn’t want to find out. It’s also not that wide so you are tacking and trying to avoid boats. It’s nice I sailed with someone was really calm.

Carry will be sailing leg 7 of the eXXpedition from Galapogs to Easter Island 15th of February to the 4th of March 2020. She is still looking for sponsors and donations towards this groundbreaking voyage. If you would like to, you can help here.

Carry is wearing - 

Shot 1-  Alexander McQueen dress from an INA designer resale shop in New York with    Prada shoes from a second-hand pop up store in Manchester.

Shot 2 & 5 - Rocinante Oaxaca dress with second-hand Bruno Magli shoes bought from Mary Portas Living and Giving shop.

Shot 3 - Eudon Choi dress.

Shot 4 - Vintage house coat with Prada shoes from a second-hand pop up store in Manchester.

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