Two years ago we were gripped in horror by the Rana Plaza disaster. On 24 April, 2013, 1133 people died and a further 2500 were injured in the Rana Plaza factories in Dhaka Bangladesh. They were killed and injured working for familiar fashion brands in one of the many accidents that plague the garment industry. Not to mention the often appalling working conditions, trafficking, forced labour and scant wages that barely enable people to feed themselves.
Politicians spoke up in outrage at the tragedy and committed to ensuring it never happened again. Many companies were quick to sign up to the Ethical Trading Initiative, which aims to promote respect for workers.
And many of us committed to buying clothes that were fairly made. Or at least to thinking more carefully about where our clothes are made.
Two years on though, Rana Plaza is really a distant memory. We’ve probably got a few fair fashion purchases in our wardrobes that we bought with a sense of virtue and determination to make sure we didn’t contribute to the terrible supply chains blighting most high street stores. But generally, where we spend our money is once again it’s business as usual.
Unfortunately for many of the Rana Plaza victims and their families, business as usual is not possible. Many are suffering from lifelong injuries and can no longer work. Women like Rebecca who not only lost five of her family members, but also lost both legs and now relies on her husband to carry her everywhere. Many are still waiting for compensation because the high street stores involved are taking their sweet time to meet their legal obligations.
In response to the Rana Plaza disaster, Fashion Revolution Day – a global movement held annually on 24 April – was born. It calls for much needed improvements to the fashion supply chain.
When we buy a new top this season’s trendy pastel colours, most of us are unaware of the processes, and more importantly the people, involved in the creation of our garment. We need to understand that we aren’t simply purchasing a garment. We are buying into a whole chain of values and relationships. We are directly impacting the life and wellbeing of another human being.
It’s easy to make excuses though. We are busy people and high street stores are easily accessible. We are faced with rising living costs and need value for money. We live in an image obsessed society and want access to the latest trends hot off the runways.
I’ll be honest. Buying fair fashion isn’t always the easy, accessible or cheap option. But fast fashion has a far higher and greater cost – the very lives of people and their wellbeing. Are you prepared to choose the easy, cheap option at the cost of another person’s life at one extreme and their wellbeing at the other?
We often mitigate ourselves from solutions with the belief that we are just a small, inconsequential drop in the ocean; that our choices and actions won’t make any difference – the problem is just too big.
The encouraging thing is that through initiatives like Fashion Revolution we can make a difference, because all of those drops add up. So be part of the revolution. Do your bit to see fashion supply chains change for the better.
You can attend one of the many Fashion Revolution Day events that aim to raise awareness and inspire, challenge and equip consumers to use their buying power positively. You could ask your favourite stores the question “Who Made My Clothes?” Or wear your clothes inside out on Friday, 24 April to raise awareness and invite conversation about why we need to buy fair fashion.
You might like to commit to buying more fair fashion items from some of the fantastic and easily accessible brands such as People Tree, Lowie and Fashion Conscience. I can personally testify that I don’t spend more money on fair fashion because now I buy less frequently and better quality. This summer come along to the threads clothes swap in King’s Cross (details to come) or perhaps you’d like to host one yourself.
The true cost of our high street fashion must not be forgotten. Complacency and distraction means unless we stamp our resolve here and now, incidents such as Rana Plaza will be dismissed as an unfortunate reality of contemporary life. We must not allow that happen.
All our individual choices add up. Together we can affect positive change and improve the working conditions, lives and wellbeing of garment workers and their families. Let’s take a stand. Let’s join the revolution. Let’s be the change.