On this day four years ago the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh famously collapsed. There were five garment factories in Rana Plaza, all of which manufactured clothing for big global brands like Inditex (which owns fast fashion company Zara), Mango, Primark, JCPenney, Walmart and many others. The collapse, which left only the ground floor intact, killed 1,138 people and injured another 2,500, making it the fourth largest industrial disaster in history.
For many, the tragic collapse was a call to arms — because let’s be real, I don’t care how cute that $15 skirt is, it’s not worth even one human life. And that’s where the good people at Fashion Revolution come in. They saw the tragedy as a wake up call and launched a global movement calling for a fairer, safer, cleaner and more transparent fashion industry. And I think those are things we can all get behind.
And while the Rana Plaza tragedy brought a lot of the fashion industry’s dirty laundry to light, today the industry remains largely unchanged. The majority of the global fashion industry is still opaque, exploitative, and environmentally damaging.
Approximately 75 million people work to make our clothes, with 80% of them being women between the ages of 18 and 35. And because the legal minimum wage in most garment-producing countries is usually not enough for workers to afford basic necessities, the majority of them live in poverty. In Bangladesh, for example, garment workers earn approximately $56 per month, which is 1/4 of a living wage.
And although there are international standards and national laws that should prevent human rights abuses, they still remain prevalent throughout the industry. Garment workers not only face unsafe working conditions, they also suffer verbal and physical abuse and exploitation. The Global Slavery Index estimates that 36 million people are living in some sort of modern slavery today. In Guangdong, China young women face 150 hours of overtime each month, 60% have no contract and 90% no access to social insurance.
And we haven’t even gotten to the environmental issues yet. As I’ve mentioned before, it has been said that the clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world (second only to the oil industry). With the 150 billion items of clothing that are delivered out of factories annually, it’s really no surprise that textile production uses 25% of the world’s chemicals and is responsible for approximately 10% of global carbon emissions. And from growing cotton, to dying and laundering garment production also uses more water than any industry besides agriculture.
Not to mention that our insatiable appetite for new clothes is also filling up our landfills. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, over 15 million tons of textile waste was generated in 2013. Of that, nearly 13 million tons were sent to either a landfill or incinerator. And just FYI, 11 million of that is coming from just the United States alone.
These are just a few of the reasons that Fashion Revolution has set out to change the way our clothes are sourced, produced and purchased. They believe three things have to change in order to transform the industry — the model, the material and the mindset.
- Model. Fashion Revolution believes we need to rethink the way the fashion industry works. In the last 20 years the way fashion is produced has dramatically scaled (some estimate by 400%) and sped up. In addition costs for apparel companies are going up, but what we pay is going down. This all adds up to a business model that is not sustainable and should be changed.
- Material. As mentioned above, fashion has a big social and environmental impact — often negative. Fashion Revolution believes it is time to rethink everything from the raw materials to the production practices that all have harmful impacts. They also believe it is time to revisit artisanal and heritage craft industries that are currently being eroded.
- Mindset. Fashion Revolution believes we need to change our attitude towards clothing, and break our addictions for speed, bargains and volume. Instead find clothing we love and treat it that way. Buy less, buy better and make it last.
They also believe that the first step to change is transparency and accountability. According to Fashion Revolution, a survey of 91 fashion brands found that only 12% could demonstrate any action at all towards paying wages to garment workers above legal minimum. But as consumers, we have the power to change that. Our questions, voices and shopping habits all have the power to make a difference. Vote with your wallet and always ask questions.
So, what you can do?
- Be Curious. Look and think about the brands and clothes you buy. You can research companies online to see what their environmental and human rights policies are. Check the label to see where the garment was made. Look at the quality of your purchase — is it going to fall apart immediately? And really think about all the purchases you make.
- Show your label. The easiest way you can get involved is my taking a photo of your clothing label during Fashion Revolution Week,and asking the brand #whomademyclothes? Share the photo on Instagram during Fashion Revolution Week, and make sure to tag the brand in your photo so they see your question.
- Ask the brand. Write a letter to the brand and ask #whomademyclothes. You can use Fashion Revolutions’ pre-written template. Or you can also ask the brand #whomademyclothes on Twitter (p.s. to make it easy Fashion Rev has provided you with a form on their homepage). If a brand doesn’t respond, keep asking.
- Write a postcard to a policy maker. Ask them what they’re doing to create a fairer, safer, cleaner, more transparent fashion industry.
- Create a love story. Rather than buying new clothes, fall back in love with what you already own. Share your love story about that item of clothing that means so much to you.
- Post a #haulternative. Instead of the traditional fashion haul where you go shopping and post of video of what you’ve bought, do a different kind of haul. Show everyone something you’ve upcycled, swapped or thrifted.
- Go to an event. There are tons of Fashion Revolution events happening around the world. Find your local event here.
- Support the cause. You can help Fashion Revolution keep on fighting the good fight by donating here.
Click here to find out more about becoming a revolutionary. And also explore other great organizations that are trying to change the industry like Labour Behind the Label, an organization working to campaign for garment workers’ rights worldwide and Clean Clothes Campaign, a global alliance dedicated to improving working conditions and empowering workers in the global garment and sportswear industries.