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Clothes encounters of the ethical kind

Dan Carrier talks to documentary-maker Jane Fellner, whose latest enterprise, Loopster, came about in an uncomfortable fashion

18 July, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

Jane Fellner

ARMED with a camera, Jane Fellner got herself into a factory in Bangladesh and recorded the conditions inside. What she found shocked her.

The Kentish Town-based documentary-maker discovered children as a young as 11 working feverishly for breadline wages – with the clothes destined to be sold by one of the UK’s biggest retailers on the high street.

Jane was making a film for Channel Four for her company, Evolve TV, to expose the use of child labour – and had found that a well-known British firm was selling clothing bought from factories that were exploiting young people in a way that was deeply immoral.

This experience triggered the film-maker of some 20 years to found a children’s clothing firm with a difference: Loopster.

Even more than a decade after making the film, Jane insists the firm involved is not mentioned as she faced a lengthy regulatory battle at the time.

She had travelled to Dhaka and went undercover – and what she found is still deeply upsetting as she recalls her trips to factories where child labour was used.

“I posed as a major fashion buyer and I had an undercover cameraman with me to capture it on film,” she recalls.

“Within three days of meeting with these suppliers of a massive UK firm, we saw children on the factory floor. We then met an auditor from the company – and we had enough evidence to put it on air.”

Jane then tracked down the homes and families where some of the children came from.

“We were able to create the bigger picture of some of their lives, as I wanted to prove that they were under age. We saw how they lived and it was horrendous – often 10 people to one room. The idea that British shoppers could be buying clothes that are made by children, whose living conditions are such, needed to be made public. We needed to highlight this.”

On her return, Jane began to investigate the clothing industry’s sustainability. When she became a mother, she realised how big a problem it was, particularly for children’s clothing, where youngsters would quickly grow out of items before they were past their useful life.

“I didn’t have the time with my work to do something like put my child’s clothes up for sale on eBay or take them to a jumble sale,” she says.

“The grain of an idea that became Loopster began to form.”

Jane set the firm up in November 2017 and is raising investment to back her project.

It works by both recycling children’s clothes to cut waste, and help people get a return on clothing they have bought.

“You order what we call a ‘Loopy Clear Out’ bag when you have clothes to sell on,” she explains. “You fill it up and drop it off at the post office in a pre-paid bag.

“It comes to us and we sort through it. We then pay the person per item and put it up for sale on Loopsters website.”

She says the project achieves three things: “It radically extends garments’ lives; allows parents to buy high quality, nearly-new clothes cheap; and gives other parents cash for clothes they no longer need,” she adds.

Pieces of clothing that are not suitable for the site are either returned or passed on to the charity Traid, who sell second-hand goods and use the proceeds to fund NGOs and charities.

“Fashion is one of the most polluting, environmentally unfriendly industries in the world,” she says.

“Buying nearly-new clothing and giving your child’s clothes a second life helps save the planet while saving you money. Last year nearly a quarter of all our clothes went into landfill.

“Extending the life of a child’s T-shirt by just nine months will significantly reduce its carbon and water footprints too: to make one kilo of cotton – the equivalent of a pair of jeans – manufacturers use 10,000-20,000 litres of water and produce 23.2 kilos of CO2e.

“This is not a sustainable way for us to use clothing – and Loopster is an answer to tackling it.”

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