When an eight-story building collapsed in Dhaka three years ago, killing 1134 garment workers, we all felt uncomfortable. All of a sudden the clothes we had on took a different form. The soft fabric against our skin became heavy, itchy; suffocating. Because while we watched limp, sooty figures being carried from the rubble, we realised that there were faces, families and stories woven into what we wear. All of a sudden we were asking, who made my clothes?
Had we contributed to this?
The Rana Plaza collapse will be remembered as one of the worst industrial disasters in history. But more than that, through the awakening so many of us felt in the days and months following, it has become a catalyst for a revolution. A Fashion Revolution.
And though Rana Plaza highlighted the thirst for profit at the expense of safety and fair pay in Bangladesh, it also started a conversation about the impacts of a global fashion industry with a long, complex and suspiciously secretive supply chain. Forced labour in Uzbek cotton fields, toxins in the tanning yards in Bangladesh, cancer from cotton pesticides in India and the millions of workers exploited at cheap wages working long hours – the developing world is wearing the weight of our clothing on its shoulders.
The Rise of Fast Fashion
The textile industry has changed in the last half a century. A few decades ago we would buy one coat and wear it for 20 years. Today it is not uncommon to have an entirely new wardrobe every season. What we would’ve spent on one jacket for a few years, we now can spend on many new items for each season.
It’s a phenomenon known as Fast Fashion.
In the 1980s and 90s retailers shipped manufacturing offshore where wages were cheaper and labour laws could be exploited. Brands and retailers have since capitalised on this to push profit margins more than ever before. T-shirts can be made for as little as fifty cents and catwalk trends hit the stores within days. No longer does the fashion season consist of two collections per year: we are basically told to buy for 52 separate seasons. New collections hit stores weekly, and ‘old’ stock receives hefty discounts.
This is Why We Need a Revolution
Rana Plaza shook many of us out of our fast fashion daze: these were the people sewing our jeans, lining our jackets, stitching our buttonholes.
Suddenly it didn’t make sense that we were anxious to purchase free range eggs because we couldn’t bare the thought of chickens suffering, but really didn’t pay much attention to how free those who made our clothes were.
Since that day, it has started a conversation about the social responsibility of clothing companies. There were rumblings of this movement in the 90s when Nike and The Gap were ousted as using child labour in sweatshops, but the conversation had stalled somewhere in the mid-2000s.
Soon an international outcry demanding labour rights including safety requirements erupted around the world.
Over 150 apparel corporations from 20 countries in Australia, North America, Europe and Asia signed the Accord on Fire & Building Safety in Bangladesh. The Accord ensures factories receive independent inspection and public reporting of the results.
Many retailers, like Uniqlo owners Fast Retailing, were initially reluctant to commit to a binding agreement. But as consumer voices gained momentum, their demand for companies to do better won out, and more and more retailers have since committed to better working conditions for their workers. (Uniqlo has since signed The Accord).
And whether or not it concerns Bangladesh, consumers more than ever want to be aware of where their clothing comes from and who made them. That’s why we started Good On You. We wanted to give people the information they want – when they need it – so they can be more informed about the story behind their purchases. By bringing together a range of research and ratings, we analyse and give brands a simple rating so that we – consumers – can make informed decisions and be a part of the global movement. (I personally like to think of us as moving from being consumers to citizens and making purchases that create virtuous cycles).
What Still Needs to Change
The Accord has done a lot to give consumers confidence that brands they regularly buy from are taking the Bangladeshi safety issue seriously. But 60% of garment factories are still uncertified under the scheme, so the problem is far from solved. And a number of Australian clothing companies have still not signed the Accord, including the Just Group , who market Just Jeans among others, and Best and Less. And while the minimum wage has gone up dramatically, it’s still the lowest in the world.
It’s still just as important as ever to ask “who made my clothes?”
And so this week we’re doing just that. We’re joining Fashion Revolution and thousands around the world to turn our clothes inside out, take a selfie and spread the word about conscious consumption on social media. Find out about some ways you can get involved.
Like avoiding a cheap burger because we know it’s not going to nourish our body, consumers are opting to invest in timeless pieces, pay a little more, and take an interest in the health of their clothing. And as the momentum builds, a change will certainly take place.
Join The Revolution
Don’t restrict your fashion revolution to one day.
Here’s some simple ways to be a more mindful shopper in your everyday life:
- Obviously here I’m going to tell you to get the Good On You App so you can look up how almost 1000 brands rate on the issues you care about. And if you aren’t happy with the performance of your favourite brand you can send them a message to urge them to do better.
- Learn how to build an ethical wardrobe on a budget.
- Buy less and wear longer! Give your clothes the life they deserve by caring better for them.
Get the app!
Trusted ethical ratings in the palm of your hand.
Bethany is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Good On You. She is passionate about sustainable living, is a purveyor of vintage and ethical fashion and loves to travel the world meeting local artisans. You can follow her on Twitter at @.’