Fashion Revolution Week: Tuesday
Tuesday, 23 April 2019 | Joanna
On 25 March 1911 a huge fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, New York. The blaze killed 426 garment workers, mainly recent immigrant women aged
14-23. The causes of the fire, and the reason it was so deadly, were due to the fact that too many machines and workers were packed into the factory, fire exits were blocked and flammable textiles and cardboard.
In the aftermath of the fire, employment law was changed so that, at first in New York, then across the US and finally across the developed world, health and safety at work became a priority. It was important that the women who make our clothes had dignified work in clean and safe conditions.
On 24 April 2013 the Rana Plaza complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed. 1,138 garment workers – mainly young women aged 18-25 - were killed and an estimated 2,500 more were injured, some so severely they have been unable to return to work. In the hours and days after the collapse, big fashion brands were falling over themselves to distance their brands from the factory. When the rubble was cleared it became obvious that some of the very biggest names in fashion were sourcing their clothes from the factory. Of the seven major brands whose labels were found on clothing in the factory, five had no idea their goods were being made there.
Long supply chains, greedy middlemen, unscrupulous factory owners who outsource orders they can't fulfil - these are endemic in the fast fashion industry. The reason? Our insatiable demand for new clothes. Fashion used to have two collections a year - spring/summer and autumn/winter. The ethical fashion brands you find on the All's Fair website still use this method, as do haute couture designer brands. But high street shops have new designs on sale every two weeks.
We buy four times as many clothes as we did in 1998. Why? Because they are so cheap, and buying something new gives us a buzz. After all, if it only costs £5 who cares if we're only going to wear it a couple of times.
On Thursday we'll talk about the environmental impact of fast fashion, but as a fair trade organisation, we feel very strongly that buying high quality fair trade goods from companies which source from factories which have been proven to adhere to the ten principles of fair trade. The WFTO have produced a catalogue of its members who sell fashion items. You can see it here.
So it's vitally important we ask "Who made my clothes?" because if we don't, fashion brands will think we don't care. And if we don't care, who will stop something like Rana Plaza happening again?