Have you ever looked in your wardrobe at all the clothes you own and considered that each piece, from your socks to your simple cotton tee, went through thousands of different hands to get to you? From the cotton being picked and woven, to the dyeing and sewing of the fabric, to the product being ready to purchase in store, these are just a few steps involved in this process known as the supply chain.
As a society obsessed with consumption we don’t really take the time to consider what went into making our clothes. You can buy your humble cotton tee at the click of a button tonight and have it delivered to your door the next day. We want new clothes, full wardrobes, the latest trend and we want them yesterday. But every now and then the true cost of fashion production rears its ugly head and exposes itself to first world countries that are seemingly in oblivion. The Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh on the 24th April 2013 is an example of this. Rana Plaza employed thousands of Bangladeshi workers and the collapse killed 1133 people and injured 2500 more.
The news of the factory collapse was wide spread and exposed a seriously unethical industry that employs millions of people worldwide. According to the report Behind the Barcode, “91 percent of companies don’t have full knowledge of where their cotton is coming from, over 75 percent don’t know the source of all their fabrics, 85 percent of companies are not paying their workers enough to meet the basic needs and 48 percent haven’t traced where their clothes are being made.” From chemical dyes killing tens of thousands of people every year to underpaid, under age staff working around the clock in unsafe factories like Rana Plaza, there is a serious flaw in this chain that is very well hidden from us as (relentless) consumers.
The good news is the Rana Plaza factory collapse was not in vain and there are organisations and fashion labels working to create a more transparent supply chain and keep consumers informed. The Fashion Revolution is an organisation that aims to expose the supply chain for what it is and ensure that incidents like the Rana Plaza collapse aren’t accepted as unfortunate consequences of our consumption driven lifestyles. The organisation is arming us with the knowledge we need to make informed decisions.
Every year on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse the Fashion Revolution motivates consumers to ask labels “who made my clothes” using the hashtag #whomademyclothes, in an attempt to create a narrative around the production of our clothing. If there is a face behind your cotton tee, it is more meaningful than just swiping your card at the checkout (or e-checkout). Transparency throughout the supply chain is the aim. On the day, uploading a picture of one’s clothes and tagging the brand that produced them, prompts fashion labels and their manufacturers to join the conversation.
This year many labels responded, including Zara who gave a detailed description of the production behind a consumers’ hoodie. After being questioned on Instragram, Australian label, Tigerlily said that they would be adding information to their website about their ethical standards. This is just two cases from an initiative that takes place in 70 countries around the world; talk about a revolution!
So what can we as consumers do until April 24 comes around again?
There’s no reason why the question ‘who made my clothes?’ should be limited to just one day of the year. The conversation should be constant and comprehensive. Labels should be engaged with their factories and their consumers to bring us the best standards possible and the opportunities to make informed decisions.
Another way you can support the cause is buying ethically. There are a number of amazing local brands leading the way in ethical fashion. These include, The Goodnight Society, Oranges Oranges, Fire and Shine and The Great Beyond. All of these brands were involved in Fashion Revolution Day 2015 and produce on-trend clothing with high ethical standards.
Two international labels I love, not only for their ethical and sustainable production, but also for their incredibly cool clothing is The Reformation and Everlane. These brands provide detailed descriptions behind every step in the supply chain to offer total transparency behind their product. Everlane details exactly what goes into making their basic cotton tee and consumers are being given a totally new outlook when it comes to shopping that would be hidden by most brands.
Catch a movie:
It might not seem like the obvious choice when fighting for an ethical supply chain, but The True Cost (released on May 29 2015) is a documentary that tackles the biggest issues in the fashion industry. You can buy it online now for $10.99 and equip yourself with the knowledge to make the right choice when shopping.
If we stay curious and informed we can truly make a change to the millions of people involved in bringing us our clothing. The fashion industry is slowly but surely seeing a shift in the transparency of the supply chain and hopefully this will result in safer standards in factories like Rana Plaza.