Today we mark one year since the death of over 1,130 people at the Rana Plaza factory complex in Bangladesh. 2,500 were also injured. I highly recommend The Guardian’s interactive report The Shirt on Your Back featuring workers from Rana Plaza to help you understand more about this disaster and get to know some of those impacted. This was a horrendous tragedy but one that is all too common – and we are complicit in it as they were making the clothes that we buy and wear. Fashion Revolution Day has been started to highlight the importance of turning fashion into a force for good.
We have an emotional connection to our clothes. What we choose to wear can have a big impact on how we feel that day. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of wearing an outfit that makes us feel on top of the world, and also one that sends us down in the dumps! We depend on clothes to protect our modesty, and rely on them to portray the kind of image that we want to project to the outside world.
But do you ever stop to think: Who made your clothes?
What about the workers who made them – have they received a fair wage, do they have safe working conditions, are they exposed to dangerous chemicals, what damage has been done to their local drinking water supply by the methods of production used? So many questions that are too easy to ignore thanks to the disconnect between our purchase of an item in a glossy high street shop and our knowledge of anything about where it came from. But we depend on these workers, so they should be able to depend on us too.
We are probably intelligent enough to work out that something must be wrong when you can buy a pair of jeans for £10 – someone must be paying the price for such cheap fashion. But it is just so easy to make shopping for clothes a hobby, and buying the latest must-have item a necessity. The introduction of Fast Fashion has made this an all-consuming habit. It is now more important than ever to start being a conscious consumer – not just one blindly following the pack.
You might ask what difference your choices will make? In the grand scheme of things, very little. However if everyone uses that excuse we’re no better off than we were. Just think of the story about the starfish you heard as a child. You might also believe that any job is better than no job for those workers, and that as long as the country’s GDP improves everyone will benefit. In response I remember an expanded version of a familiar expression I recently heard: A rising tide lifts all boats… but what if you don’t have a boat? We need to be supporting the organisations that are providing the “boats” and campaigning to ensure that everyone has the right to a “boat”. Another common issue is that ethical clothing can cost significantly more. However they will usually be of a much higher quality and will therefore last longer, and do you really need so many items of highly disposable clothes??
Fundamentally, are you really comfortable walking around each day knowing that the clothes you are wearing have come at such a high cost to a fellow human’s quality of life? I know my conscience won’t allow that.
Actions you can take now:
- Check out Clothing, footwear and jewellery for ideas about how to be a more conscious consumer.
- Fashion Revolution Day have lots of suggestions based around this year’s theme ‘Who Made Your Clothes?’ You can read more about the inspiration for Fashion Revolution Day by one of the co-founders Orsola de Castro on the Fairtrade Foundation blog.
- Get involved with one or more campaigns to improve the clothing industry – Ethical Consumer has collated a number of current campaigns from their recent research.