Labeled as a “mass industrial homicide,” the Rana Plaza textile factory collapse in 2013 has forced brands and consumers to rethink the true cost of the fashion industry
What happened at Rana Plaza?
On April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza textile factory in Bangladesh suddenly collapsed and killed over 1,000 people in less than 90 seconds. The tragedy made it glaringly apparent of the global inequality directly caused by high demand for trendy clothing at the lowest cost possible.
The Rana Plaza textile factory produced garments for a number of retail giants including Inditex (i.e. Zara), Benetton, J.C. Penney, Primark, and Walmart.
Who is responsible for the Rana Plaza collapse? The fashion brands, the factory owners or the government?
Picture a snowflake. Now augment its size to a 6 foot-tall person. Think of all of the intricate, frozen water molecules inside, how their structures are delicately formed, close together, yet also branching in different directions.
The fashion ecosystem is massive as it is complex.
Take a look at the chart below chart by Shared Value Chain, a sustainable supply chain consulting firm. The chart provides an overview of the fashion supply chain that gives a better idea of the “Fashion-Ecosystem-as-a-Huge-Snowflake-Concept.”
The reality is that fashion production (raw materials, manufacturing, etc.), distribution (transfer of goods from factories to warehouses/stores) and consumption cycles (sales/marketing to buyers) within the greater fashion ecosystem are so far removed from each other. For example, for consumers to shame Zara sales associates and store managers for the horrible textile factory conditions in Bangladesh is quite rash and misdirected. The store employees’ professional objective is to sell product and provide customer service—they are not responsible for auditing factory conditions.
The partnerships between the variety of different suppliers and the actual fashion house itself are all over the place—it is hard to pin down accountability when no one wants to take responsibility at a higher financial cost without compensation.
It’s now 2018. Have fashion brands, factory owners or the government made any changes to improve ethical practices and create safe work environments?
There are two private companies trying to assist the Bangladeshi government and factory owners to improve the conditions, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing. Despite the companies’ best efforts, there is no way to visit every, single factory and ensure that any ethical practices will remain.
Only a handful of retailers who had their products manufactured at Rana Plaza have made public statements or pledged to improve their supply chain conditions.
View the list of brands who have donated (or not) to the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund.
How can brands allow workers to be in such unsafe conditions? How can brands allow children to work in these factories? Why aren’t there more aggressive actions being taken by the government or associations to fix these urgent problems in the textile factories? Why aren’t brands taking more responsibility?
… Unfortunately, all of these questions have been asked in the past and continue to be asked today.
It comes down to accountability and transparency. If no one is willing to have an honest conversation about the unsustainability of the fashion industry and no one makes the changes to solve the issues, the situation will only worsen.
How can consumers make a real impact to make more sustainable fashion choices?
Fact: Consumers wield more power than you think. It can be overwhelming to understand the gravity of the fashion industry’s supply chain problems, but it doesn’t mean that shoppers can’t make a difference.
The demand is growing for a #FashionRevolution. In the wake of the Rana Plaza collapse, two entrepreneurs launched the international Fashion Revolution movement:
After the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed in 2013, killing 1,138 people and injuring many more, Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro got into action. As sustainable fashion leaders, they knew the industry they loved needed to do a much better job protecting workers and the environment. The pair launched Fashion Revolution to demand changes in how our clothes are sourced, produced and purchased.
The movement quickly expanded beyond the U.K. to become a global campaign, growing about 100% each year since. More than 2.5 million people took part in last year’s campaign. Its hashtags—including the standout #whomademyclothes–had 533 million impressions online.
Fashion Revolution Week is an active effort made by consumers, businesses, and brands to raise awareness about why sustainable fashion matters. Visit this page to download materials and learn more about the Fashion Revolution movement.
There are more ethical and sustainable clothing brands on the market. I could dedicate a series of blog posts, but I’ll share my favorites that first come to mind:
- Everlane– The hot NYC-San Francisco startup offers minimalist urban style and maximum production transparency. The leather Petra shopper tote was their first major product offering, followed by apparel, other accessories, and footwear. Everlane’s viral campaigns for #DamnGoodDenim and their Day Glove shoe are absolute fire.
- Amour Vert-If you’re looking for a one-stop shop for eco-friendly clothing brands, the California-based online shop has plenty of feminine and French-inspired apparel to choose from.
- ABLE– Formerly known as FASHIONABLE, this brand works with women artisans from all over the world to produce handcrafted, ethical leather goods and apparel.
- VEJA– Perfect alternative to Adidas, VEJA is an environmentally-conscious sneaker brand that makes vegan sneakers with organic cotton and other ethically sourced materials. The best part? Wearers automatically get style points for knowing about the chic Parisian-based brand.
There is nothing wrong with shopping at consignment stores. A good consignment store will only accept quality, gently used clothing and accessories. Shopping consignment isn’t the only answer to ending the consumer cycle, but it certainly can help reduce textile waste.
When it comes to your wardrobe, value quality over quantity. I know. This is a piece of advice given by every fashion magazine and stylist. By investing in well-made, *versatile* pieces, it reduces the need to re-buy lesser quality versions of the same item of clothing. Naturally, your clothes will have some wear over time, but in the long run, it’s cheaper to sew or replace a button or repair a seam.
Note: I chose to feature pictures of denim is because it is the most environmentally damaging garments because of the cotton harvesting, dyeing, and sandblasting processes involved. Learn more about The Environmental and Human Cost of Making a Pair of Jeans.
How Two Entrepreneurs Became Unexpected Activists and Started a Fashion Revolution (Forbes)
Fashion Revolution Week 2018: Five Years After the Rana Plaza Collapse, What has Changed? (Independent)
Three factory safety deals in Bangladesh aim to improve conditions (The Guardian)
These Retailers Involved In Bangladesh Factory Disaster Have Yet To Compensate Victims, Forbes
The Human Cost of Cheap Clothing
Searching for Sustainable Style: An Examination of the Rising Demand for Fairer Fashion
7 thoughts on “#WhoMadeMyClothes—What is Sustainable and Ethical Fashion and Why It Matters”
I love your article, Mia, it’s very well thought and written. I completely agree that we, as consumers, wield more power that we should be aware of, and become more involved in knowing where our clothing comes from and what we can do to improve the process.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read the post! People deserve to know that they can make a global impact by making better choices. I hope you take what you have learned from the post and pass it on to someone else to spread awareness 🙂
Wow I didn’t realize this was such an issue. Great article.
Thank you! Glad you were able to learn a different side of the fashion industry!