The Case for Fair Fashion


On the GIZ podcast ‘From the Field to the Shelf’, Marie Nasemann calls for new attempts to promote fair fashion. An evening about burnt returns, filterless washing machines and a lot of room for improvement.

Die 70. Folge des Podcasts "Vom Feld in Regal" live mit Marie Nasemann. ©GIZ, 2022

By Marie Nasemann

Marie Nasemann is a feminist, actress and fair fashion activist. As the most important ambassador for fair fashion in Germany, Marie has been introduced as the official voice of Conservation International in June 2022. The SPIEGEL bestselling author Marie Nasemann raises the awareness of an entire generation for green issues through her social media channels and her just newly launched fair fashion information platform fairknallt.

Picture: Robin Kater

All contributions

By Jan Rübel

Jan Rübel is author at Zeitenspiegel Reportagen, a columnist at Yahoo and writes for national newspapers and magazines. He studied History and Middle Eastern Studies.

All contributions

Nothing in this cube-shaped solitary building is reminiscent of the Rana Plaza, and yet the reinforced concrete skeleton structure in Sabhar, Bangladesh, is very close. The canteen of the daily newspaper ‘taz’ in Berlin is 7,000 kilometres away from the eight-storey factory complex that collapsed in 2013 and took the lives of 1,136 people; most of them were female textile workers. Like a warning sign, ‘Rana Plaza’ keeps coming up in conversations tonight at the live recording event of the GIZ podcast ‘From the Field to the Shelf’ as part of Fair Week 2022. The podcast is run by the Initiative for Sustainable Agricultural Supply Chains, commissioned by the BMZ [German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development]. ‘We have to reach a point where everyone can live from their work in dignity’, host Max-Johannes Baumann from GIZ sets the bar shortly before the recording begins. The 70th episode is the first live broadcast in front of an audience. It is one of around 2,000 events and campaigns during Fair Week.


Since 2003, it has taken place every year in the second half of September. It is the largest campaign week for fair trade in Germany, organised by the Forum Fairer Handel e.V. in collaboration with the seal of approval provider Fairtrade Deutschland e.V. and the Weltladen-Dachverband e.V. This year’s motto ‘Fair suits you – #fairtrade for human rights worldwide’ focuses on humane working conditions and sustainable operations in the textile supply chain. The textile supply chain is still considered extremely vulnerable to human rights violations and environmental problems. Unpaid overtime, wages that are not enough to live on and termination without notice are only part of the problem. Rapidly changing collections and fashion trends, low prices and fast fashion add to the pressure on seamstresses in the Global South who produce massive amounts of clothes in a very short time.


How do you handle that? The proportion of fairly produced clothing in the global trade is miniscule. The hall on the ground floor of the taz canteen is full, and yet the question of how to get out of this bubble continues to resonate throughout the evening. Lara Heinz and Thilo Liedlbauer from the podcast also ask their guest about it. ‘Fashion is dismissed as insignificant and superficial’, Marie Nasemann answers, ‘but we need to find ways to spread the information and raise awareness.’ Nasemann, 33, is a model, actress, author and a podcaster. In her spare time, she also runs a blog – and, a fair fashion platform. At heart, Nasemann is an activist. Away from the podcast, she will sit down for a chat with our website:


Would there be a need for something like Fridays for Future for Fair Trade?

Marie Nasemann: I actually fancy cocking my leg on more brands – like a disapproving dog.


But how?

Via my Instagram account. It’s great and important to take to the streets. But I reach more people with a post than perhaps with a demonstration. Online, you can quickly educate a lot of people and point out grievances – while sharing what could be improved, if in doubt.


So don’t chain yourself to a fashion house?

(She laughs.) Well, I’m not going to be that radical. Nothing illegal and no violence – but instead education. Well-researched facts – and presenting them in an entertaining way. Let’s see where the journey takes us.


Do you see the fair trade movement becoming more radical? The climate movement also began with education.

I’m totally in favour of more bans. There’s no other way – we’ve tried it long enough without them. The state needs to prescribe more to companies – and hence to consumers. Somehow this consumer madness in fashion has to be actively restricted.


The current situation sounds devastating. 14.8 kilograms of textiles are bought by every EU citizen per year. Between 2000 and 2015, the consumption of clothing doubled worldwide. More, faster and, most importantly, cheap – ‘it only works because so many people suffer,’ says Nasemann.


‘In Dhaka, the minimum wage is $77 a month, she says of the place where the Rana Plaza stood. ‘There is child labour because, otherwise, families would not survive.’ There is another way. On a small scale, activists in the lobby of the event demonstrate how fair trade works. A table is set with bowls of nuts, cashews with rosemary or chilli as well as macadamia nuts. ‘We buy directly’, says Celina Böger from the fair trade initiative ‘Gebana’. The 26-year-old stands next to the table and offers a bag of nuts. ‘We also sell fresh fruit – last year we promoted oranges because more and more Greek farmers wanted to join us; after all, they earn three times as much with us.’ Her black T-shirt says in yellow lettering: ‘we are changing the rules’. While the food industry has made progress in that sense, the fashion industry is still struggling. ‘Don’t consumers also have a responsibility?’ asks Thilo Liedlbauer. And Lara Heinz adds: ‘When it comes to food, we also became aware of that earlier.’ The corporations conceal a lot, Nasemann retorts. ‘It’s extremely complicated to understand what is actually sustainable.’ There are very few brands ‘that do everything perfectly. I can count them on one hand’.


How did you come to this topic?

Marie Nasemann: In 2013, the Rana Plaza textile factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1100 people. Before that, I was an absolute fashion victim, obsessed and addicted to shopping for the latest styles. When I saw the pictures of the collapse on TV, the true reality become crystal clear: No, I can’t go on like this and continue to fuel the industry. First, I curbed my shopping habits – and then I changed them. Then came the idea of the blog.


The blog relies a lot on positive impulses. Doesn’t it still boil down to the fact that people will eventually have to do without more?

I think so. It still works like that now. But at some point it won’t. So the renunciation had better come earlier – and not as extreme as it might have to be in 20 years. The pandemic has shown that we can all limit ourselves and do without. Why shouldn’t we be able to do the same for the planet?


On the other hand, we have rising inflation. Could this usher in a climate where a ‘stinginess is sexy’ is more in vogue? Wouldn’t that be toxic for sustainable clothing, which is more expensive?

That’s difficult. But I believe: If you buy less, you can also afford more expensive and higher quality clothes. In the long run, that’s more fun than a quick shopping spree.


Can anyone and everyone do this?

Yes, I’d say so.


It’s a stupid question, but low-income citizens are always mentioned at this point.

Of course they can still go to H&M and Zara. But they’re not the problem. It’s people who buy far too much and constantly replenish the fashion in their wardrobes. It’s never about people having nothing to wear – it’s about how much you buy.


Celina Böger from Gebana looks determined. Is she making a difference? ‘I think so – everyone just needs to start. There are options.’ She studied sustainable economics and wrote her master’s thesis on direct trade. This is how she learned about Gebana. Inside, Nasemann tells us that any return of an online purchase is burned right away. She also explains how difficult it is to sell second-hand clothes due to the floods of cheap clothes. Moreover, the feels very strongly that manufacturers should finally be forced to install filters in their washing machines to avoid dumping tonnes of microplastics from polyester textiles back into the closed-loop cycle. She adds: ‘Flats and cars are shared. So, why not clothes?’ Outside, a woman from South America tells us: ‘When we go to a party, we sometimes borrow something from shops. Owning is simply too expensive, so this is a great alternative.’


You say that politics should change the framework conditions. Do you see a movement?

At least we now have the Supply Chain Act. But there needs to be pressure for it to be more consistent, while also impacting smaller companies – the whole supply chain. I don’t know how you can achieve that without going into politics yourself.


An option for you?

I like the entertainment industry more. You have to vote to put people in control who actually have an inkling about what all these decisions mean for the future.


And do you see any changes in the economy?

The be-all-and-end-all of companies is to stay afloat – so they’re still in business in 20 or 30 years. They will only do that if they think about how they can operate sustainably. Unfortunately, our economic system is built on always having more and more – that every company has to grow. Is this system compatible for our planet? But in politics there’s never time and space to address these big questions.


Time and space will not expand in the future…

...that’s true. That’s why need bans and laws! She laughs. Just push it through. There’s no other way.


If you compare your enthusiasm in 2013, when you started, with that of today: Has it grown or diminished?

I have slowed down a little bit – because I gave birth to two wonderful children in the last three years. Of course, that’s a big priority for me. But now that they’re getting older, I’m taking more opportunities to get involved in sustainability. Besides, it’s precisely because of my children that I’m motivated to make a difference. I want them to grow up in an intact world.


Do you feel you can make a difference?

I am a very, very, very small cog. The work I do is a drop in the ocean. But at least I want to do something. When my children ask me later, ‘What did you actually do for it?’, I want to have an answer.


The screen on stage bears the logo ‘#ICH WILL FAIR’ (I WANT IT FAIR). It sounds defiant, as if the motto of Fair Week ‘Fair suits you’ is becoming ‘Do you get it?’. The problems, Lara Heinz sums up, are not getting smaller. As the podcast ends and music streams through the speakers, a spotlight illuminates the single disco ball hanging from the ceiling. Suddenly it looks like a globe on which Berlin and Sabhar are tiny crystal shards – in the only world we have.


Find here the full podcast file „Fast Fashion and "Fair steht dir" - Live Podcast with Marie Nasemann“ (german language).

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