Discovery

It’s Time for a Fashion Revolution

::I love your shirt!

:Thanks, I got it for $5/$10 at _____ store.

::Wow, what a steal!

How many times has that scenario played out in your life? I’ve lost count in my own life. If you take a moment to think about it though, what is the true cost of that cheap shirt? What are the conditions someone works in to allow you to buy a piece of clothing for $5 and $10? Have you gone to the fabric store and seen how much yards of fabric cost? It costs more to buy the fabric and thread than it does to go to Forever 21 or H & M and buy an item.

And, then, have you sewn a garment before? It is complicated!!!! So many pieces to cut, match up, sew, and hem. Seriously, garment seamstresses are crazy talented!! They should be paid accordingly. It’s time for a fashion revolution.

FAST FASHION RULES

This April marks the 4 year anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh. As demand increased for cheap and fast fashion, large stores rely on cheap labor in order to maximize profit, moving their factories to whichever country has the best labor deal. In Bangladesh, the minimum monthly wage for garment workers is $68 (in comparison, it is $260 in mainland China). This equals approximately $2 per day. So that $5 shirt you just bought, costs a garment worker 2 ½ days’ work. Is that really a good deal? (The guardian: Rana Collapse)

RANA PLAZA COLLAPSES

When the Rana Garment Factory collapsed, a lot of people, myself included, saw a glimpse into the fast fashion world, that honestly, I hadn’t given much thought to before. Ever shortening fashion cycles (new trends each month rather than each season), and lowering sale prices, lead big companies to cut cost wherever they can, and workers in countries without labor protection pay the heaviest cost.

Approximately 3600 Bangladeshi worked at the factory. On April 24th, 2013, seeing cracks in the wall, they refused to go in the building. Sohel Rana, the building’s owner, paid gang members to beat them, managers threatened non-payment for refusing to go into work. Under these threats, the workers entered the building at 8:00am to work due to these threats.  Just 45 minutes later, at 8:45am the electricity went out; generators kicked on, and almost immediately the building shifted and collapsed. 1,137 garment workers were killed in that collapse. (Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights: Factory Collapse)

Aftermath of Rana Collapse
The scene after the Rana Plaza collapse in April 2013. Photograph: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images

TRIANGLE SHIRTWAIST FACTORY

It’s easy to think that America is so much better off and that we don’t have garment worker issues. Well, it is a complicated history and relationship. Perhaps you’ve heard of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. 116 years ago, in New York City, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire occurred. Demands for maximum profit, lack of concern for the workers (many were young immigrants with limited resources and support systems), and concern of theft led to corners being cut.

The conditions leading to the fire truly created a perfect storm. The working space was cramped and filled with flammable fabric and thread. Owners and managers were concerned with theft, so they kept escape doors locked. Construction of the building had doors opening into the room. There were only a few buckets of water available to douse the flames. And the firefighter ladders were too short to reach the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors where the workers were located. And to make matters work, if anyone attempted to jump to safety in a net, they simply ripped like paper, completely ineffective. The result was a fast spreading fire, panicked workers piling onto the doors, not enough water, and no safety net, leading to the death of 146 workers.

Triangle Shirt Fire Aftermath
The factory floor after the fire. Long work tables and back-to-back chairs became deadly obstacles to workers trying to escape when fire broke out. Photo source: International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union Archives, Kheel Center, Cornell University

New Yorkers were outraged, fueling the efforts to organize labor parties and unions. Fire and building codes have changed due to this fire, and the realization of how these conditions contributed to the disastrous results. (OSHA: Triangle Shirtwaist Fire)

RANA COMPARED TO TRIANGLE

100 years later, the Rana Plaza collapsed. 1,137 garment workers were killed in the worst garment industry disaster in history.

If the death of 146 workers sparked an outrage that led to nationwide building and fire codes changing, shouldn’t the death of 1,137 workers spark the outrage of the world, and lead to fashion industry changes worldwide? I believe so!!

WHAT CAN I DO?

The realities in the fast fashion industry are hard to read. What do we do with that info? If you’ve read this far, I thank you for taking a few moments to learn a bit of history, and I believe you are one who wants to be a difference maker. Perhaps you aren’t sure what you can do. The first step is Education. Learning about the fashion industry through documentaries like The True Cost help to open your eyes and understand what is happening in the world to allow that fantastic deal on a shirt.

Next is the Research clothing companies. Become a purposeful consumer. Look for companies that tell a story of where they began, where their workers are located, and how they are cared for. This might seem daunting at first. I’ve actually been researching this for the past few years and have quite a few companies that produce all sorts of items. I’ll make a separate post with those companies to make it easier to find.

IT’S TIME FOR A FASHION REVOLUTION

In response to the Rana Collapse, a fashion revolution has begun! People are beginning to celebrate and shop slow, ethical, and fair trade fashion. This week is Fashion Revolution week. A chance to learn more about the industry and changes we can all make to honor garment workers and shop ethically. Use or search #Whomademyclothes and #fashionrevolution to see how others are celebrating, sharing, participating in this important change!

Fashion Revolution
#WhoMadeMyClothes #FashionRevolution

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