On 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing over 1100 garment workers, and injuring around 2500. This shocked the world, as the public demanded a change to the working conditions that created this disaster. Indeed, attempts had previously been made to create an agreement to ensure effective health and safety standards, however it was this horrifying event, and increased consumer pressure, that sped up the process, resulting in the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh (Clean Clothes Campaign, 2013).
Hey guys, happy February and welcome to another Fashion Factfiles blogpost!
The Fashion Factfiles is where we expose the brutal realities of the garment industry, the side that the big corporations and big names in fashion work hard to hide behind ‘girl power’ tees and ‘look at us recycling omg we do care’ campaigns.
This month we’ll be highlighting an issue that many may not be familiar with, but is absolutely horrific and heartbreaking: the Sumangali System.
WARNING: Content regarding sexual abuse and suicide throughout.
Actually let me begin with this disclaimer: ANY CRITICISM I MAY MAKE ABOUT CERTAIN SITUATIONS/ORGANISATIONS/GROUPS OF PEOPLE IS NOT AN ATTACK ON THESE PEOPLE AS INDIVIDUALS BUT THE SYSTEM FROM WHICH THEY HAVE DERIVED FROM.
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.
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.
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.
p.s. check out some of the events happening for Fashion Revolution Week this week here
Every year this day serves as a reminder of our responsibility as stewards of the planet.
Why should we care about the state of the environment? Because it is important for our own personal well being and our great great grandchildren’s well being. Earth is our home and we should treat is as we would our own four walls.
I’ve compiled tips that can be used in everyday life from the moment you read this post.
Start your New Earth Year resolutions now!
Buy locally-grown produce to reduce your carbon footprint. Find your local farmers market or farm and support their sustainable business. You’ll be giving your money to a good business and be part of a bigger change.
Walk to work- Walking to work isn’t only good for the environment. It’s good for mental health as well as physical well being. We generally spend too much time away from natural light and those at desk jobs spend too much time sitting down! I find that walking to and from work is an easy way to add some exercise to your lifestyle.
And ask Elle Woods explains:
Stop using disposable plastic
Bottled water- Drink tap water and if you feel it might not be safe then get a filtered bottle. A bobble is an affordable sustainably made reusable bottle and the filter needs to be replaced every 2 to 3 months.
Plastic bags- Use. Reusable. Bags.
Microbeads- Ensure that your beauty products don’t have microbeads which go down our sinkholes into our land and sea.
Eat less meat- If you read our last post you’ll know that meat production accounts for a large proportion of greenhouse gases. “Producing one calorie of meat requires nearly twenty times the amount of energy as one plant calorie!”
Support environmentally friendly fashion- Stop relying on fast fashion and have faith in sweatshops and ethical brands! Next time you feel the shopping urge or need something new check out the many fair favourites we have featured or just google it!
FAIR FAVOURITES- KOMODO
“Komodo has been a pioneer brand, promoting the use and development of Organic Cotton, Hemp, Bamboo, Tencel and other natural fibres since the early 90s. Equally important was the welfare of the suppliers and people who work in the small factory units that make our clothes. There needs to be loyalty and respect to make a good deal for all and we still visit our factories for at least 2 months+ each year to ensure that any problems are solved together.”
So here is a short list of nice places to shop. Places to find clothes that are ethical, second hand, vintage, handmade and by independent designers. We will add to the list as we discover more but if you need inspiration look no further!
The list will start with Angel! These are a few things I picked up.
Found them at:
Oxfam- 29 Islington high st
The Fara Workshop- 28-32 Pentonville Rd, London N1 9HJ
Brick Lane obviously has awesome vintage shops. These are my favourite:
Blitz- 55-59 Hanbury St, London E1 5JP
Rokit-101 Brick Ln, London E1 6SE
Beyond Retro- 110-112 Cheshire St, London E2 6EJ
The Laden Showroom- The Rib Man, 103 Brick Ln, Greater London E1 6SE
Wood Green has a cluster of charity shop gold. This list goes from Turnpike lane to Wood Green station.
North London Hospice
British Heart Foundation
Dalston also has a a few charity shops I enjoyed visiting when I worked in the area:
Traid- 106-108 Kingsland High St, London E8 2NS
This dress was from Traid. Love it SO much.
Oxfam- 514 Kingsland Rd, London E8 4AR
St Vincents- 484-486 Kingsland Rd London E8 4AE
Camden is great for having both vintage and charity in the same place. If you walk from Mornington Crescent towards Camden Market:
British Heart Foundation
Rokit- 226 Camden High St
Only one for Notting Hill at the moment but I hear there are lot’s of places I need to visit!
Mary’s Living and Giving Shop- 177 Westbourne Grove, London W11 2SB
This one has a special place in my heart as I volunteered there for a summer and I loved it there.