In the run-up to International Women’s Day and throughout March I am featuring women in retail and women who have influenced the fashion industry, which is a large chunk of all retail activity. 

Orsola de Castro is the subject of my first profile. She has just written a book, Loved Clothes Last, the joy of repairing, rewearing and caring for your clothes. Italian by birth, she grew up in Rome and her mother runs a traditional printmaking school in Venice. She moved to London aged 16 where she did her A levels.

As co-founder of Fashion Revolution, de Castro has spent her whole career in the fashion industry initially looking at upcycling as a creative rather than environmentally driven process. In 1997 de Castro and Filippo Ricci founded the brand From Somewhere which salvaged knitwear, repairing and remaking it into unique pieces. From Somewhere produced ethical collections for Jigsaw and Tesco. At the time ethical fashion was on the margins of mainstream fashion and her label was the first to raise questions about our over-consumption habits. Celebrity endorsements followed and then the realisation dawned that she was not just designing but there was a moral purpose to her work. 

In 2006 de Castro co-founded Esthetica, a British Fashion Council initiative at London Fashion Week. Reclaim to Wear, another collaboration with Filipo Ricci, used waste clothing as a resource. It brought all the players in the fashion world together to produce capsule collections for brands such as Top Shop and Speedo.

Orsola de Castra is a busy woman. Along with her work with Fashion Revolution she is Associate Lecturer at UAL and a Central Saint Martins Visiting Fellow, and is also in demand as an international speaker on sustainable fashion.

The founding of Fashion Revolution

On 24th April 2013 the Rana Plaza tragedy happened in Bangladesh, causing 1,134 deaths and injuring more than 2,500 people. The Rana Plaza building housed several garment factories employing about 5,000 people. Consumers began to question the true cost of their clothes. De Castro reacted by taking action and co-founded Fashion Revolution with Carry Somers. Fashion Revolution is a global movement calling for a fairer, safer, cleaner, more transparent fashion industry. 

Fashion Revolution Week takes place every year on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse. This event encourages millions of people to come together to campaign for systemic change in the fashion industry. This year marks the 8th anniversary of the tragedy and takes place on 19th – 25th April. The theme this year is Rights, Relationships and Revolution focussing on the interconnectedness of human rights and the rights of nature.

Fashion Revolution is active in nearly 100 counties across the world, including Ireland where it is led by Carrie Ann Moran and Veronika Kisela. They are planning workshops, clothes swaps, competitions and panel discussions. Check out their social media for updates and more information, links at the end of this blog. 

The repair movement is gaining ground to counter our throw away culture with the European Right to Repair Campaign. The Community Resources Network Ireland (CRNI) also promotes repair as a core value. With sewing classes and YouTube tutorials there is a renaissance in making and mending. BBC’s The Repair Shop also shows the value in repairing once-loved older items.

The true cost of fast fashion

The pandemic has again brought to light the precarious livelihood of many garment workers. With the closure of non-essential retail last year many of the lowest paid went hungry when big fashion labels cancelled their orders. Closer to home, garment workers in Leicester were discovered to have been paid £5 per hour, working in unsanitary conditions with no COVID precautions in place. As we approach International Women’s Day, it’s worth noting that the majority of garment workers are women. 

I leave the last word to Orsola de Castro, speaking about the pandemic in a recent Guardian article:

It has highlighted the horrendousness, so I think there is a chance for many of the real issues around sustainability to be tackled. We’ve got a moment in time in which to operate before, unfortunately, we will forget about it again. 

Loved Clothes Last by Orsola de Castro is published by Penguin Life and is on my reading list!

If you’d like to suggest a woman in retail (including yourself!) as a profile subject get in touch.

Links to articles mentioned above

Review of Loved Clothes Last The Guardian 24/02/2021

Transparency – what does it mean for your business and your life? Retail Renewal 24/01/2010

Fashion Revolution Ireland


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