How to play Fashion Ethics Trump Card Game

by Ian Cook 3 years ago
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In the summer of 2011, we asked people visiting the Eden Project in Cornwall, England to write postcards. The architecture of its biodomes, the placement of plants within them, and the signs and activities explaining their cultivation and use are designed to educate visitors about the plants from which many everyday things are made. We stopped passers-by to ask if they had anything on them that was made from the plants they’d seen. Typically, people would mention their clothes or shoes. So we asked them to imagine someone whose job it had been to pick their cotton or tap their rubber. What they would say to that person if they had the chance? We asked them to write this down on a postcard. Almost everyone wrote ‘thank you’ notes. It’s surprising how many people say that they’ve never thought about this before. But, for some, writing a postcard can be a tipping point, the beginning of a process in which curiosity leads to research, which leads to action.


Fashion Revolution Day

This research process can begin by asking someone to turn an item of clothing inside out to look at the stitching. Stitching implies a sewing machine and a person whose job it is to stitch pieces of cloth together to assemble a garment. You can usually find a seam or two that are a little wavy. You can see where the loose ends of threads have been cut off. These are traces of the work done by the people who assembled that garment. You can then look at the label stitched into it. It will tell you in which country it was made. So, you know that the people who stitched it together work in Cambodia for example. The label will also tell you the materials that have been used to make it, for example cotton. But it won’t say where in the world people farmed it, turned it into cloth, dyed it, and so on. It also won’t mention the origins of its thread, dye, zips, buttons, beading or other features. Who makes these? From what materials? Where in the world? And what’s it like to work in these places? How much do people get paid for this work? What can they do with that money? How much of the price paid for that garment went to them? Who decides? How could things be different? How are things different?

One of the most pressing issues in Development Education is the need to avoid what Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls ‘the danger of a single story’. Learning about (un)ethical fashion should not reproduce the stereotypical ‘single story’ that all garment workers in the Global South work in dangerous and exploitative conditions, and live lives of hopeless poverty and misery. Placing learners as consumers who are, in part, responsible for these conditions can lead to senses of blame, shame and guilt that can depress, disempower and disincline them to action. ‘The problem with stereotypes’, Adichie says, ‘is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete’. So, it’s important to develop learning resources that enable the creation of multiple stories, that involve the excitement of finding things out, that surprise, take unpredictable twists and turns, that raise further questions, are underpinned by information from credible sources.

The most engaging resources are often those that latch on to ways in which students enjoy learning. Take, for example, Fashion Revolution Day’s Fashion Ethics Trump Card game. It’s a game that a group of students can be asked to make and play with their own clothes. It’s based on garment industry research by the American non-profit organization Not for Sale. Its online free2work database provides letter scores for 300 brands’ ethical trade policies, transparency, monitoring and worker rights. Here’s how it works. You start by printing out the blank cards and instructions from the Fashion Revolution Day website. Then, you ask a group of players to think about their favourite clothes, to draw pictures of them on separate cards, to look up the brands and scores on free2work, to add them to each card, to cut the finished cards out, to add them to the class’ pack, to choose four or five players, and for them to play a game.


Fashion Ethics Trump Card Game

One player takes the top card from their hand (e.g. from their Howies hoody), chooses a category that they think it will score well on (e.g. ‘policies’), calls out the score – ‘Quiksilver, policies, D+’ – and then sees which scores the other players have for their top card’s policies – ‘Howies A-’, ‘Wonderbra B-’, ‘Levi’s A’, ‘GAP A-‘. In this round, the player with the Levi’s card wins the hand, and then plays the next card. Here, for example, the referee could say that this is a ‘worker rights round’. So she could call out ‘Patagonia, worker rights C’, and the other players could respond ‘North Face D-‘, ‘Tommy Hilfiger D-‘, ‘Levi’s D+’ and ‘Adidas C’. Here there’s a draw between Patagonia and Adidas. This is when the cards’ tie-break fact would come into play. Has the brand signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh? Patagonia hasn’t. Adidas has. The Adidas card wins the ‘worker rights’ round. The game continues. It can stop at any time. The winner is the one with the most cards.

What’s fascinating about this game is the way that it challenges the single story of exploitative fashion brands. There isn’t one group that is equally ethical and another that is equally unethical. Fine-grained distinctions are made between brands in the game, and these differ depending on the category you choose to play. Almost without exception, a company’s worker rights score is noticeably lower than its policies score. If you want to find out why, free2work publishes brand scorecards that explain in detail how these scores were calculated. Levi’s gets a D+ for worker rights because, among other factors, it doesn’t pay a living wage, doesn’t guarantee suppliers a stable price regardless of world price fluctuations, and no suppliers are know to have independently elected trade unions. For those who want to find more than this a detailed research report is available online.

Making and playing a card game combining your own clothes with such detailed information can help to make it more meaningful, compelling, involving, and easier to remember. Anyone who has played a game of Top Trumps can recall their favourite pack, the card that beat the rest, and the one that always lost. This knowledge can stick outside the classroom, when players go shopping and think about the card they’d be able to make for their new purchase. But the kinds of actions that Fashion Revolution Day aims to encourage include, but are not limited to, ethical and sustainable shopping behaviours. We are all global citizens as well as consumers, and this is where our collective power resides. In April last year, on the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, tens of thousands of people did much more than blame their own poor shopping choices for what had happened to those garment factory workers. One of the most popular actions involved people turning their clothes inside out, taking selfies with the label showing, and tweeting them to the brands with the hashtags #insideout and #whomadeyourclothes. Some brands responded and some garment workers tweeted photos saying #wemadeyourclothes. Most stayed silent.

But actions took place in 62 countries, including an outdoor catwalk in Barcelona, Spain, a spoken word and poetry competition in Nairobi, Kenya, and a Critical Mass cycle ride in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The hashtag #insideout was the number one global trend on twitter. Teachers and their students were involved in these actions and will be again this year. This is why we have decided that Fashion Revolution Day will continue asking brands this simple question, but in 2015 it’s more personal ‘who made my clothes?’ This month we’re publishing our education packs for primary and secondary schools, further education colleges and universities, and a quiz. All of these will help teachers and students to Be Curious, Find Out, and Do Something.

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Ian Cook is an Associate Professor of Geography at the University of Exeter, and runs the spoof shopping website He is Fashion Revolution Day’s education lead.

Further reading
Abrams, F. & Astill, J. (2001) Story of the blues. The Guardian 29 May (,,497788,00.html last accessed 12 February 2015)
Crewe, L. (2008) Ugly beautiful? Counting the cost of the global fashion industry. Geography 93(1), 25-33
Martin, F. & Griffiths, H. (2014) Relating to the ‘other’: transformative, intercultural learning in post-colonial contexts. Compare: a journal of comparative and international education 44(6), 938-959
Smith, J. (2015) Geographies of interdependence. Geography 100(1), 12-19
Smith, J., Clark, N. & Yusoff, K. (2007) Interdependence. Geography compass 3(1), 340-359



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