The fourth-largest industrial disaster in history happened on the 24th of April 2013 in Bangladesh. The Rana Plaza building collapsed killing 1,138 people and another 2500 were injured[i]. There were five garment factories in Rana Plaza, all manufacturing clothing for big global brands. The victims were mostly young women.
Ever since that incident, people from all over the world have come together to use the power of fashion to change the world. Have you ever wondered who made your clothes? How much they are being paid, and what their lives are like?
Before our clothes hit the store shelves, they go on a long journey. Starting from the hands of the cotton farmers, spinners, weavers, dyers, sewers and others. About 75 million[ii] people labour to make our clothes. 80% of them are women[iii] between the ages of 18 and 35.
Still, the majority of people who make clothes for the global market live in poverty. They are unable to afford basic needs. Most of them are exploited, abused verbally or physically and work in unsafe conditions with very little wages.
Today, people suffer as a result of the way fashion is made, sourced and consumed[iv].
This needs to change.
Currently, most of countries exist in a capitalist economy. It means that companies need an increase in sales and need to make more profits in order to be successful — but certainly, not at the expense of peoples’ working conditions.
If you are a person who shops and wears fashion (yes, that’s almost everyone) or you work in the trade along the supply chain somewhere or if you are a policymaker who can have an impact on legal requirements, you are responsible for the impact fashion has on people’s lives.
WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE?[v]
The Model, Material, and Mindset
In order to achieve change, three key things needs to be addressed, and the brilliant framework developed by researchers Rebecca Earley and Kate Goldsworthy explains that.
- MODEL — The business of fashion
The way fashion is produced and consumed has drastically changed in the last 20-30 years. Even though the cost of making clothes is high, the price we pay for our clothing is cheaper than ever before. This system isn’t working. The whole fashion industry needs a paradigm shift and the way we produce and consume clothes needs to be changed. This means business models will need to change and a whole lot of solutions will be required.
- MATERIAL — People
The harsh reality is that basic health and safety measures do not exist for many of the people working in fashion’s supply chains. The legal minimum wage in most garment-producing countries is rarely enough for workers to live on.
- MINDSET — Shifting the way we think about fashion
The way we consume clothing has changed a lot over the past 20-30 years too. We buy more clothes than we used to and spend less on them. A century ago, we spent more than half our money on food and clothes, today we spend less than a fifth[vi]. As a society we purchase 400% more clothing today than we did just 20 years ago[vii]. Every time we buy something that costs less than we think it should, we are implicit in the impacts of that transaction.
We need to break our addiction to the need for speed and volume. We need to realise the true cost of our cheap bargains. Ultimately, we need to buy less, buy better and keep asking questions about the realities behind what we are purchasing. We need to love the clothes we already own more and work harder to make them last.
Divya re-joined Oasis India in 2015 after working as a project leader for two years in Oasis India’s rural project during 2012-2014. She’s has a MBA – Project Management degree from the University of Wales. She has briefly volunteered for the Fairtrade Foundation in the UK and is very passionate about ethical trade and ethically run businesses. Today, she oversees our day-to-day operations of social enterprises. Outside the office, you can find Divya having fun with her husband and their four-year-old son all over the town.