Winston Churchill once said “those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” this truism rang in my ears recently as we visited Cromford Mills in Derbyshire. Those of you who have been reading past blog entries or know your history will know this to be the first water powered cotton spinning mill that sparked the industrial revolution. Situated just down the road from where I grew up, it is part of the Derwent Mills UNESCO world heritage site which provide a tangible glimpse into our textile history. Built in 1771 by Richard Arkwright, an entrepreneurial man who patented a carding machine and water loom that launched the mass production of cotton.
Working conditions in Victorian cotton mills were notoriously arduous and dangerous but Sir Richard Arkwright was seen by many to be a good man. He built most of the houses in the village for his mill workers and their families and for the weavers that spun his yarn. A hotel, mill and market were also established as was a chapel where the children attended Sunday school and received an basic education which was somewhat of a luxury for most mill workers. They worked twelve hour shifts with an hour for lunch for a six days a week with a week’s holiday a year and even had medical insurance. Child labour was sadly used which can never be condoned.
What Sir Richard had known, even a over 300 years ago, was that it was important and beneficial to respect his workers. Happy workers means better productivity and is better for business as attested to by vast fortune and knighthood in 1786. This ethos is sadly missing today in our modern fashion & textile industry. Most workers, some just children, are in mainly developing countries work very long hours with few breaks or leave, have little or no rights, no housing or education provision and no medical insurance. In this day and age things should be different surely?
At the close of fashion revolution week to mark the Rana Plaza tragedy I am inspired by Cromford Mill to think about how the industry and consumers can move forward in a positive way and learn from both the good and bad aspects of our distant and recent past. What are the barriers to change or what could be the agents for change? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas as I try to challenge such barriers and establish positive agents within my business.
#TextileHistory #ArkwrightsMill #RanaPlaza #FashionRevolution