On April 24, 2013, the collapse of the Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh left 1,130 factory workers dead and 2.500 injured. After dangerous cracks were discovered throughout the building in the days prior, the shops and bank housed on the lower level closed immediately. However, garment workers were demanded to return to work the following days. This outrageous death toll was entirely avoidable, and it shed light on how little care was being paid to the welfare of these workers.
The factory workers at Rana Plaza were manufacturing clothing for a host of fast fashion retailers including the following:
- Primark (UK)
- Bonmarche (France)
- Iconix Group (Bongo, Ecko, Mossimo, Zoo York, Ed Hardy, London Fog, etc.)
- United Colors of Benetton
- The Children’s Place
- Joe Fresh
- J.C. Penney
This was really the first major event to spark a revolution against the modern day fashion industry, for the monster it had become.
Have these retailers learned from all this? Well I know they’ve certainly learned to up their PR game. I was scrolling through the comments underneath a video that H&M posted on Instagram for “World Recycle Week” recently. Several people had left comments and questions about what their factory workers are being paid and what the conditions are like (you see, we ARE making an impact!). Someone from H&M responded with an answer that went something like this: “We do not employ the factory workers directly. They are employed through a third party so we don’t know what they are getting paid.” I went back later to try and screen shot their response, and it had been deleted. Oopsies, looks like someone on the social media team made an “uh oh.”
I find this very, very concerning. H&M is clearly continuing to not take responsibility for the livelihood of its workers, and that is just not acceptable. This is the reason I stopped supporting and continue not to support H&M. They can throw out a “Conscious Collection” every season but, to me, that doesn’t make up for their lack of transparency and their lack of integrity.
I know it may seem like you, as one person, cannot change the way the fashion industry operates. But if we all, collectively, start speaking up and start choosing ethical over conventional, these retailers will have no choice but to change.
Here are some actual, actionable steps you can take to be a part of this change.
1 | BE ACTIVE ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Log onto your Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook accounts and start asking your favorite retailers the following questions:
- Where is your clothing made?
- What are the conditions like for your workers?
- Are they being paid a fair wage?
- What are you doing to reduce your environmental impact?
If a retailer does something that you don’t agree with, speak up! Let them know that their practices don’t align with your values and that you won’t be shopping from them anymore, or at least until they change. It’s easier now than ever to interact directly with brands with the multitude of social media outlets. Use that as your leverage!
2 | VOTE WITH YOUR DOLLAR
There’s really only one reason these companies are using unfair trade and unethical business practices, and I bet you can guess what that is. MONEY. Yes, finding a cute top for $7 has become the norm, and I know not all of us are rolling in the dough. But at some point you need to ask yourself, is this $7 top worth knowing that someone on the other side of the world is being exploited for their labor?
First we need to change our idea of what “affordable” is, and adjust our shopping habits. Aim for more quality, not more quantity. I have a list of affordable ethical fashion brands to help get you started, as well as a comprehensive shopping guide. You can also reduce your overall impact by shopping second-hand and hosting swap parties with your friends. The Ethical Writers Coalition hosts two of these a year and they’re always a blast!
3 | PARTICIPATE IN FASHION REVOLUTION 2016 | #WHOMADEMYCLOTHES
What is Fashion Revolution? It’s an organization that was created as a response to the 2013 Rana Plaza tragedy. Over ten thousand conscious consumers in over 70 countries participated last year, posting photos of labels from their clothing and asking retailers, “Who Made My Clothes?” It’s a way to directly interact with the brands we’ve grown to love, and to make sure that they’re operating ethically. It’s a way to raise awareness about the Rana Plaza event and to make sure something like that doesn’t happen again.
This year, Fashion Revolution will be a week-long event running from April 18-24. Go to their website to find out more information about the work they’re doing and to find an event close to you.
You will find me this Sunday (the 17th) at Kaight Shop in Brooklyn with the Ethical Writers Coalition for a Fashion Revolution Photo Shoot + Party. If you’re in the NYC area, I hope to see you there!
Be sure to check out what these other ethical writers are writing about this week for Fashion Revolution.
Sotela | We Choose to be American Made
Sustaining Life | Join the Fashion Revolution
Eleanor Snare | My Story With Clothes
Style Wise | 3 Years of Fashion Revolution
Kamea World | Boost Life Satisfaction Through Your Fashion Choices
Terumah | Renting Dresses for Special Occasions
Leotie Lovely | #GONEGREEN2016
My Kind Closet | Making the Most of What I Have
Let’s Be Fair | 5 Simple Ways to Kick a Fast Fashion Habit
These Native Goods | Fashion Revolution Week Haulternative
Walking With Cake | Fashion Revolution 2016