Have you gone clothes shopping with a shirt in mind and returned with everything BUT that shirt?
Do you buy a specific brand because you fit their ‘Medium’ rather than a ‘Large’ like you do in every other brand?
Have you looked in the mirror and felt ugly because you don’t have the ‘perfect’ body?
Have you ever hated someone because they were ‘skinny’ and could fit into anything they wanted?
Have you ever thrown away an item of clothing because you could?
Finally, have you ever said, “I have nothing wear” when you actually do own a closet-full of clothes?
If you answered ‘yes,’ to any of these questions, you can appreciate that fashion is a mess!
When we set out to make our mark on the fashion industry, we were naive. Can you believe we thought we’d be chilling with artists, muses, champagne, culture, and fun? Little did we know that people and the planet are the least of the fashion industry’s concerns. Instead of fashion being this fun, form of self-expression, it’s turned into a machine of destruction.
It’s 2019. We can do better.
In this article, we’ll explore how we got to this point and what we can do to break free to actually make fashion great again.
What we’ve discovered so far
The more we learned about the fashion industry, the more we felt the need for change. On our quest to discover more, we noticed a strong link between the industry’s secrets and how they play out in society.
Doesn’t it baffle you that a basic human need is a significant source of social and environmental harm? John 10:10 says the thief comes to steal, kill and destroy. When we imagine a thief, we worry about our most precious assets. We very rarely pay attention to the everyday and mundane. And if there’s one place to wreak havoc, it’s in the areas we take for granted – like fashion. Again, we can do better.
To understand, why we need change, here’s a short history lesson. Here we go!
Once upon a time, there was Rana Plaza
As we approach the 6th year anniversary, let’s have a little reminder.
On April 24th, 2013, the 8-story, Rana Plaza factory, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed. On the 23rd, the building’s shop and bank workers stayed home. Inspectors had warned them about cracks they had found in the building. Unfortunately, the building’s garment workers did not have that luxury. On the morning of the 24th, the 3,639 people who worked in the Plaza refused to enter the building. But they could not stand up to their managers who threatened their jobs if they didn’t go to work. A few hours into that morning, over 1,100 people lost their lives as the Plaza came tumbling down. Many of the victims were young women, 18-20 years old, who worked 100 hours a week, with two days off a month The catastrophe sparked international outrage. All while the 31 well-known brands tied to the factory remained silent. Questions flowed with many asking how we go to Rana Plaza.
To understand what led to Rana Plaza, we need a basic understanding of the garment industry. For years, fashion has been seasonal. In the past, the most profitable brands came out with collections 2-4 times a year. Clothing makers took their time to produce quality items and were paid fairly. Recently, fast fashion brands have appeared on the scene producing over 50 seasons a year. This has turned the fashion industry into a tailspin. Fast fashion brands operate on the principle of margin. The idea is to sell cheap but to sell more of it. They’re not focused on quality. They aim to sell trendy items fast then rinse, repeat, and do it again. Because items are cheap and of poor quality, it’s easy to justify buying something new whether you need it or not. “Fast fashion has engendered a race to the bottom, pushing companies to find ever-cheaper sources of labor,” according to a UNICEF report. To produce within this model (cheap and often), fast fashion brands need to keep costs low. Who doesn’t love that? Unfortunately, a significant cost in clothing manufacturing is labor. These brands produce in countries like Bangladesh to gain access to cheap labor. To break it down, a fast-fashion brand, will go to a factory in, let’s say, Bangladesh. They may need 20,000 of a particular style of shirt. The two parties negotiate a price, draft a contract and start production.
As the fast fashion brand becomes more powerful, manufacturers become less able to negotiate. If, for example, a manufacturer quotes a price that’s a bit too high and the fast fashion brand declines it, guess what? The fast fashion brand will go somewhere where they can get the job done for the price they prefer. The fast fashion brands are dealing with managers. The managers accept the contract, take a slice of the pie and leave little to the garment workers. Now the garment workers who depend on this for their livelihoods are left peanuts. Now you can say, why don’t the garment workers leave and go somewhere else? The question is where? The issue is an epidemic. Any kind of resistance is met with forceful and sometimes life-threatening retaliation. Accommodating garment workers is not a priority. This is because the garment industry significantly contributes to the developing country’s GDP. It’s important to note that many times, a manufacturer might accept a job that’s too large for them to handle. To get it done on time, they will subcontract parts of the job to another factory. Many fast-fashion brands will claim to produce in ‘approved’ factories. Yet they know that their contract will most likely be outsourced, given its size. At first, brands could make the case that they had no idea that this was happening. But today, ignorance is inexcusable. With a little research, you can tell if your contract is going to be outsourced. All you need is the garment manufacturer’s capacity and you have the information you need.
So was justice served at Rana Plaza?
In a way. But you can decide. The managers who accepted the job contracts: On July 18th, 2016, they were formally charged with murder. Sohel Rana, the owner of the Plaza, along with 37 Bangladeshi managers, bore the full burden of the tragedy. The fast fashion brands who initiated these job contracts: Many of these brands did business with Rana Plaza aware of their poor labor conditions. If they didn’t know, they were willfully ignorant. Shortly after the tragedy, many brands pulled together to contribute to the $30 million Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund. This served as compensation to the survivors and families of the victims.
What do you think? Was justice served?
So what now?
On a positive note, the most significant result of Rana Plaza is the new focus on supply chain transparency. Transparency leads to accountability. Accountability leads to change. Over the past 5 years, it’s clear that the number of sustainable brands has increased. You can’t escape ‘sustainable’ or ‘ethical’ fashion. It’s everywhere. But there hasn’t been a decrease in revenues for fast-fashion brands. Wouldn’t you expect greater change given the amount of information available? It seems our actions and the information available are not moving in the same direction. This makes a little sense because it’s still challenging to ignore the marketing and the prices. Prices are so low that it’s no wonder we end up with tons of stuff in our closet that we’ve barely worn. It’s also why we send 15 million tons of textile waste to landfills every year. Friend. That’s insane. Every time we waste money buying clothes we don’t need we’re feeding the monster called fast fashion. And we’re funding an industry that has no regard for human life or the planet. And we’re also funding brands that profit from us going broke while making us believe we’re saving money. But there’s good news! If you like fashion. If it’s your form of expression, your art form, you don’t have to give it up. You have to wear clothes! What we’re saying is that if you’re into fashion, you don’t have to skip out because you’ve become a conscious consumer. There’s a much better way.
Here are 3 things you can do today:
Support organizations like the Fashion Revolution
The Fashion Revolution has been instrumental in shedding light on the fashion industry. Campaigns such as “Who Made my Clothes” inspire the average person to ask that very question. They are vital in measuring society’s response to these social and environmental issues. And are key in influencing brands to consider their practices. They’ve created the transparency index. It’s a quantitative measure of a brand’s, you guessed it, transparency. Without transparency, there can be no change. And there’s no way to assess change unless there’s a measurable scale. Fashion Revolution Week happens every April around the Rana Plaza anniversary. It’s a week of increased awareness about the fashion industry. And a time where we can all come together to help bring the fashion industry forward. Several events take place around this time. In fact, you can create your own event in support of sustainable and ethical fashion.
Do something different – explore a new fashion concept
Einstein said, ‘insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result.’
It could be that the fashion industry needs something different.
Maybe becoming a sustainable shopper requires more than replacing your fast fashion finds with ethical ones.
Why don’t we break free and do our own thing? Thread Life is a new fashion concept where vendors come to you. When you visit the website it might feel familiar, but the concept is very different – it’s reversed if you will. We haven’t launched yet, but we will soon. In the meantime, we’re signing on vendors. Visit Thread Life to learn more.
Shop vintage, second hand or rent
Competing with fast-fashion prices is difficult. Don’t you think it’s a bit cheeky to ask a college student to spend $80 on a plain white tee when they can get a similar one for a fraction of the price? It’s a hard sell. You might not be a college student, but you could be in a similar boat. Why not consider shopping vintage or second hand? We’re speaking mostly to you if you’ve never considered second hand or have a particular resistance to it. We’re trying our best to convince you that there’s so much out there that’s in good condition and has been barely worn. Just like you might have a ton of items in your wardrobe that you’ve never worn, so do many of us. If you’re not sure where to look to find these items, place an ad and these vendors will come to you. Or if it’s just not for you, why not consider renting. Brands like Rent the Runway have revolutionized the industry in this way.
We all have to wear clothes (thank goodness). But we don’t have to do it at the expense of people and the planet. Perhaps what you need is a new way of doing fashion. It’s hard to think differently about fashion unless the whole process is different. Whether you place an ad or you respond to one, you are shifting the balance of power into your pocket. You are creating a new ecosystem that doesn’t rely on what marketing says is right, but on what you know is right. You don’t have to feel trapped by society’s standards. Break free. You don’t have to be part of the culture of waste. You can put a stop to it today.
Did you like what you read? If so, would you mind sharing this article with your friends?
Are there any others ways you feel you can make a difference in the fashion industry? Please let us know in the comments section.