Nobody Should Die For What I Wear
Today marks the anniversary of one of the worst industrial disasters in history – the Rana Plaza building collapse that killed 1,134 and injured another 2,500 on April 24, 2013.
Severe cracks in the Bangladesh garment building’s walls compelled police to require an evacuation. Disregarding this directive, workers were ordered back to their sewing machines and the eight-storey building collapsed on top of them the following day.
The organization Fashion Revolution developed as a result of this tragedy and encourages us to ask questions about our clothing: Who made my clothes? How much are they paid? What are their lives like?
These questions have unsettling answers. Approximately 75 million people work to make our clothing, 80% of them women ages 18-35. The majority of these garment workers live in poverty and deal with exploitation, verbal and physical abuse, unsafe conditions, and unfair pay.
Fashion Revolution Week takes place every year during the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, to educate consumers and demand change from retailers and manufacturers. In honour of this anniversary, I wanted to share some of the ways that learning about this tragedy, and many others, has impacted my habits as a consumer.
My Shopping Guidelines
In my own purchasing decisions, I try to follow these steps:
- Consume less. Do you even need this item?
- Repurpose. Can you use something you already have?
- Borrow. Do you know someone who can lend this to you temporarily?
- Trade. Could you swap something else you own for this item?
- Thrift. Is there anything available second hand?
- Buy consciously. Can you find an ethical and sustainable retailer?
Start at the top, and consider all of the options in sequence. Buying new has been the default in our culture, but with enough practice you can rewire your thought process so that it becomes the last resort.
The Reality of the True Cost of Clothing
Buying from ethical and sustainable retailers isn’t a financially viable option for everyone, and even when it is, we tend to balk at the sticker price. There’s a reason clothing costs have become so low, and it’s because manufacturers and retailers are cutting corners in everything from wages to workplace safety to environmental responsibility. We’re so detached from the true cost of producing a garment that a fair price seems exorbitant to us. That isn’t to say that a higher price means a fair garment – tags of fashion brands from fast fashion to luxury were all found in the Rana Plaza rubble.
That being said, it’s important to let go of perfection and do what you can. Sometimes you won’t be able to find something you need from a responsible company, at a price you can afford. Recognize that doing your best is enough, and that doing something imperfectly is better than pushing yourself to the point that you feel discouraged and give up.
Actions You Can Take Right Now
I’ve put together some of the ways I try to lower my impact on the lives of others and on our planet. They range from awareness to lowering consumption to lobbying for change. These are only a few so please add your own ideas in the comments!
- Watch the documentary The True Cost for a great overview of the many issues in the fashion industry – and share it with others!
- Try Project 333, the minimalist fashion challenge that invites you to dress with 33 items or less for 3 months. You’re probably already wearing the same stuff on rotation anyway.
- Commit to a 30 wears campaign by asking yourself if you would wear an item at least 30 times before you buy it. Many of my items are 100+ wears now!
- Or better yet, while you’re testing out a capsule wardrobe for Project 333, why not commit to a year of not buying clothing at all?
- Increase your awareness of marketing practices, particularly the shift from promoting a product’s features to selling an emotion – check out the documentary The Century of the Self. You’ll never look at an ad the same way again.
- Look up your local Buy Nothing group. The Buy Nothing Project is a local gift economy – you post things that you need, or things that you want to give, and build community with your neighbours while you decrease your environmental impact.
- Visit workerdiaries.org to learn more about a yearlong research project focused on garment workers in Cambodia, Bangladesh and India.
- Check out the sustainable and ethical fashion directory from My Green Closet if you do need to buy something new.
- Visit fashionrevolution.org to learn more about the impact of the fast fashion industry, and how you can contribute.
- Contact your favourite retailers and ask about their practices. Use the hashtag #whomademyclothes to connect with others and advocate for greater transparency in the fashion supply chain.
The bottom line? I believe that nobody should die for what I wear.