Fourth Anniversary of the Rana Plaza Collapse- my thoughts.

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Photography by Rahul Talukder

Today marks the fourth anniversary of an incident that left the world horrified, as we witnessed the deplorable consequences of corporate greed and capitalism.

On 24th April 2013, 8am, 3639 workers refused to enter the eight-storey Rana Plaza factory building in Bangladesh, due to visible cracks in the wall that evidently posed a threat to the workers’ lives. In response, the owner Sohel Rana, brought paid gang members to beat the workers, forcing them to work, with threats that they would not be paid that month. They reluctantly went in.

At 8:45am, the 8 storey building collapsed.

1,137 have been confirmed dead, with over 200 remaining missing. Tales of workers trapped in the rubble with no choice but to saw their own limbs off to escape, of workers trapped within the collapse for days without food or water, surrounded by dead bodies. Of the families who had to identify their deceased family members, only to find that the bodies had been so deformed by the collapse they were almost  unrecognisable. The suffering of the injured workers who are no longer physically capable of working, plummeting them into further poverty. The orphans who lost either one or both parents. The workers who survived, but must face on going psychological torment, as they return to work in the garment factories.

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Photography by Rahul Talukder

What makes things worse is the amount of pressure required to force retailers whose clothes had been found in the factory to compensate the victims and the families of the victims. Indeed, while some did pay up, others, notably Benetton, required intense pressure from campaigners before they gave in. Why they felt they were in no position to support these families is beyond me.

For the past four years since the accident, activists around the world have marked this day as Fashion Revolution Day, and the week it takes place in as Fashion Revolution Week. During this time, people all around the world ask big businesses who made their clothes, highlighting consumer concern for the workers behind their clothes and the need to hold corporations accountable for their workers’ wellbeing.

Demand for the fashion industry to check themselves has increased, and it is refreshing to see fast fashion corporations becoming more transparent, as well as some improvements being shown.

What I cannot deal with however, is the recurring news stories on factory fires from Vietnam to India, garment workers fainting en masse in Cambodia due to lack of nutrition, exhaustion and sweltering heat, young Dalit girls in Tamil Nadu being sexually exploited and abused through the Sumangali System (an agreement that women work in return for dowry required for marriage), women having abortions or working up til pregnancy to avoid being fired, impoverished communities being struck with high levels of cancer and disease due to corporations polluting their land with toxic materials or compelling workers to use hazardous materials, the cotton farmers committing suicide because they cannot keep up with the impossible debt they are put in.

The worst part? We are all unwillingly complicit in this cycle of exploitation, through a system called ‘fast fashion.’

Fast fashion simply refers to when retailers pick up trends from the catwalk, and push them out at large quantities to consumers as cheaply as possible. However, with trends now rapidly changing faster than ever, due to factors such as instant coverage of increasingly frequent fashion shows and online accessibility to new styles, retailers must keep up in order to meet consumer desires. For example, in Zara, designs will stay on sale for a maximum of four weeks. If Zara launch a particular product that doesn’t sell within a week, it is withdrawn, orders are cancelled and new designs are formulated, further highlighting their dedication to consumer demands.

As fast fashion retailers continue to push out new collections in large quantities and short spaces of time, this creates impossible targets for garment workers to reach in terms of clothes required to be made. This is why retailers aim to set up factories in developing countries, where the impoverished are in desperate need of work, where wages can be kept low, and where laws supporting the rights of garment workers are weak. This allows corporations to exploit workers more easily, with workers being faced with long hours, limited breaks, poor working conditions, poor pay, as well as physical, verbal, and sexual abuse.

Smh.

As someone who has always loved designing clothes, combining materials, mixing my cultures via fabric, using my wardrobe to express political views- I feel evermore compelled to fight this battle. I love clothes, but fashion is absolute bull. As my fave Tansy Hoskins explained in an article, fashion today is a facade of ‘choice and empowerment’, a beacon of creativity, but intentionally refuses to acknowledge that it is held up by and dependent on the exploitation of the impoverished.

This is evident in the glorifying of fashion on social media. Particularly, it is the rise of the fashion blogger that has made me increasingly alarmed with this lack of accountability the fashion industry gets away with. Every time I see an Insta post with a caption saying something like ‘OMG I’M ADDICTED TO SHOES’ ‘SOMEONE TELL ME HOW TO STOP BUYING CLOTHES’ ‘I CAN’T STOP BUYING CLOTHES’ ‘RETAIL THERAPY’, and all these clothing hauls, it makes me sad that corporations have really worked their magic on us. Through persuading us that the only way we can be deemed as successful, the only way we can be happy, is by purchasing clothes that only provide a short term happiness which eventually fades until we get our next fix of ‘retail therapy’, they are truly feeding on our insecurities and the susceptibility of our subconscious to external messages. I can honestly say, most of this realisation has come from analysing myself and my responses to the world, and trust me it is a constant struggle battling between the messages we receive from society and my own consciousness.

At the end of the day, as much as society compels us to think fashion, style etc is the epitome of social success and happiness, we need to remind ourselves that this mindset is intentional, is a tactical form of marketing, and most importantly, A LIE.

The fact is, no one should have to suffer for me to be able to express myself, to be unique, to be creative, to be able to have a cute insta aesthetic and get bare likes for an ootd. As obvious as it sounds, this is the world we are in.

While I am still unsure as to how exactly we transform the fashion industry (I think about this everyday ngl lol), there is something I am sure of: You need to make your voice heard. Retailers depend on consumers to thrive, so increasing the pressure on these corporations to ensure the wellbeing of their workers is essential. Even simply @ing or emailing retailers like h&m, inquiring about workers rights has a powerful impact, especially if done collectively. In addition,  I strongly believe in the impact our own actions can have on changing the world and changing our own behaviours. By reducing the amount of unnecessary clothes we buy, mending or recycling the clothes we have, opting for secondhand garmz or even Fairtrade stuff if u got p, we can encompass a sense of consciousness for humanity with every action we take, allowing our lives to symbolise the world we want to see, and help to actually be the change we want to see.  There are also many organisations out here working actively to support garment workers around the world, such as Clean Clothes Campaign and Labour Behind the Label- check them out. I hope, both individually and collectively, we will all take a stand against this consumerist, materialistic society fuelled by capitalism. 

Anyway I’m out. I truly hope we can create a world where the greed and ego of the people at the top is overridden by the masses and our desire to care for and protect our brothers and sisters around the world. 

Mayisha

p.s. check out some of the events happening for Fashion Revolution Week this week here

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Photography by Rahul Talukder

Soomaiya Saturday- Don’t be a cow.

Have you ever wondered how on earth we produce 11 BILLION litres of milk in the UK per year?

The question has crossed my mind!

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Milk.

What grinds my gears about the milk industry is that:

1. Cows are continuously impregnated. 

2. Male calves are useless so they’re sold into the meat industry (as veal, apparently often to halal slaughterhouses).

3. According to this PETA article cows produce up to 5 times amount the milk than a cow in 1950. Through artificial insemination and drugs to produce more milk we are producing milk in an unnatural and immoral way.

4. Even though cows can live up to 20 years, they’re killed after 5 years, after they have been worn out and are of no use anymore.

It bothers me because as a compassionate human person (whose religion orders them to take care of the world and everything in it, as we will be accountable for every action we take) I hate to see living creatures being exploited and just becoming a commodity.

I understand that milk is halal (permissible in Islam) and that we CAN drink it but sometimes people raise the point that we are drinking another animals milk. No other animals drink another animals milk. 

I can understand that male calves may not be useful to a business owner, and is a liability to care for. But I don’t understand how there is no value for their life at all. 

In an ideal world there would be more value for a calves life. There would be an option where they can grow up and still be useful. Like Ahimsa, a slaughter free milk company. You may not get milk as often as you’d like but it seems to stay in line with the natural order of things. 

Milk is now produced, in my opinion, in an unnatural way. In many ways we have taken the laws of nature into our own hands. 

It CAN be used for good but it IS used for exploitation.

PETA VS THIS IS DAIRY FORMING

Something else that is quite interesting is how information about milk production is presented on an anti-milk article compared to a pro-milk website.

Instead of rebuking or providing extensive information the pro-milk website provides worryingly short explanations about animal welfare. You can click the names of the websites above to see for yourself.

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FAIR FAVOURITES

This weeks favourites are from a fair trade shop called Bibico. I really appreciate their small collection which consists of essentials. I love minimal, easy clothes that you can’t go wrong with.

MAYA DENIM TUNIC DRESS

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AUDREY CHUNKY COWL NECK SWEATER

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STRIPED MOHAIR SCARF

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I used the following sources-

http://freefromharm.org/farm-animal-welfare/what-about-humanely-raised-milk-and-dairy-products/

http://www.thisisdairyfarming.com/discover/dairy-farming-facts/are-‘super-dairies’-harmful-to-cow-welfare/ 

http://freefromharm.org/farm-animal-welfare/what-about-humanely-raised-milk-and-dairy-products/

http://www.the-calf-at-foot-dairy.co.uk/about-our-dairy.html

http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming/cows/dairy-industry/

Soomaiya Saturday- My Search for Ethical Jeans

 I need new black jeans! Here’s what I found when I did a quick search online.

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Monkee Genes

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This company really appeals to me because they just take the words out of my mouth. Have a read of their about section: https://www.monkeegenes.com/about/ where they use “carefully sourced fabrics made by people who care because they are being cared for!” and how they’re “Disillusioned with Primark and other disposable high street fashion, the Monkee Genes team decided to raise public consciousness”. They also have an outlet store where everything is 10% off http://www.monkeegenesoutlet.com

Boden

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Biden have a lovely selection of jeans. I think my favourite is the velvet navy :). Read about their ethical policy here- http://www.boden.co.uk/en-gb/help/our-ethical-policy where they state they are part of the Ethical Trading Initiative, are transparent about where their clothes are made, and talk about the different charities and initiative’s they are part of including the the HERproject which aims to “increase knowledge, improve behaviour and provide wider access to critical health services for women working in factories.”

Nomads clothing

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This is a fair trade company and although they don’t have black skinnies they do have a nice range of trousers. Read their ethical and fair trade clothing page http://www.nomadsclothing.com/fair-trade-clothing to see their policy about the environment and how to treat workers which includes policies such as “No children under the age of 16 make our products.
Paying a fair wage to workers that is either at or above the national average. Paying producers in advance so that they do not go into debt buying materials.” These might sound like basic things to us but in the garment industry workers often don’t have these rights. 

Braintree Clothing

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Braintree clothing is another company that didn’t have black jeans but I love the clothes they have available. Read about the sustainable fabric and how they ensure to have thoughtful supply on their Our Story page- http://www.braintreeclothing.com/our-thoughtful-way “From the fabrics we use to how our garments are designed, made and delivered, each step of our collection’s journey is carefully considered and done so ethically.”

I’ve only focused on jeans on this post because I really need a new pair. I don’t LOVE shopping so I mainly do it when I really need something. However, I would recommend that you browse the websites because you’re sure to find that they sell the loveliest clothes that I think are reasonably priced. And the best thing? You’d be contributing to a better world. It doesn’t take long to find the ethical alternative. It just takes a quick google search 🙂

An Exploration of Bangladesh Nakshi stitching and Khadi

Today I went to visit Oitij-jo Collective’s first exhibition;
an exploration of Bangladeshi Nakshi stitching and Khadi material with
designer Rukia Ullah and the ethical and sustainable fashion designer
Shama Kun. Seeing Bengalis out here not just embracing our culture, but doing so through ethical and sustainable means is the BEST THING EVAR and is honestly so inspiring to someone who wishes to do the same (somehow).

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Nakshi comes from the Bengali word “naksha”, which refers to
artistic patterns. The stitching was used traditionally to make
‘Kanthas’ or quilts by using old sarees and other materials. Rukia
explores the spirit of this very traditional process what now would be
called ‘recycling or upcycling’.

Rukia’s specialism is
print and pattern design along with fashion design – her explorations
through design now include understanding her cultural roots of
Bangladesh – her collections are thus inspired from Bangladesh and its
diverse heritage, and she aspires to engage further with this by drawing
her inspiration from Bengal’s rich cultural heritage. In this
collection she uses both recycled patterned fabric and Nakshi to
counteract stereotypes of Bangladesh with the beautiful aspects of the
land, in particular the beauty of Barsa, the rainy season.

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Shama Kun explores the often neglected Khadi also known as
‘Khaddar’ which has a long history in Bangladesh dating back to 16th
Century. The material is mainly woven from cotton and blended with silk
or other materials by hand on the ‘Chakra’, and carries a message of
self-reliance and sustainability. Not to mention that it’s completely
eco-friendly!

A ‘people before profit’ label, Shama
Kun focuses on keeping indigenous Bangladeshi textile knowledge alive
while providing culturally inspired, cutting edge yet modern wear for
the modern woman. Shama Kun ethically produces all her range in rural
weaving belts and craft cluster of Bangladesh.

Thank you to Oitij-jo for such an inspiring exhibition. As a woman who is passionate about ethics and celebrating my grandparents’ culture, it is so beautiful to see the two entwined by two very talented women, especially seeing how women in Bangladesh have actually been recycling for TIME #ethicalgoals – looking forward to similar events!

For more info:

www.oitijjo.org

Twitter: @Oitijjo

Facebook: www.facebook.com/oitijjolondon

New report exposes workers’ rights abuses behind fashion giant UNIQLO’s ‘ethical’ claims

New report exposes workers’ rights abuses behind fashion giant UNIQLO’s ‘ethical’ claims