When we started Saint Basics in 2009, many people wondered why we were advocating a fair, safe and clean clothing industry. For most, clothes were things that were 'just there' and you didn't think where, how and by whom they were made. But then, on 24 April 2013, Rana Plaza happened.
The world watched in shock how a clothing factory in Bangadesh collapsed, killing more than 1,100 workers, revealing many well-know fashion labels in the rubble. There was outrage and a public outcry for safer and healthier factories. Rana Plaza was to be a turning point in worker safety. But how much has really changed for the better after 10 years?
The short answer is: not too much. Things haven't worsened, but also not improved. While some fast fashion brands just moved their production from Bangladesh to Indonesia, others signed covenants striving for better working conditions. The reality is that of the countless clothing factories in low wage countries, around 30,000 have been audited and around 400 have started making improvements (source).
What happened at Rana Plaza
A day before the disaster In Rana Plaza, cracks were observed in the building, after which the shops on the lower floors closed their doors. The building had eight floors, the top three of which were erected without a permit, according to the local fire department. The building was also not designed for the vibrations of heavy machinery used by the textile factories. When it collapsed, 1,134 people died and another 2,500 were injured. It was one of the deadliest disasters in industrial history.
What's the hold-up?
What's stopping progress, is that the clothing industry is a many-headed beast. You can audit thousands of manufacturers, but checking the hundreds of thousands sub-contractors who supply parts like yarns, zippers, buttons, waistbands etc. is virtually impossible.
On top of that, the main clothing brands still put pressure on the manufacturers to deliver high volumes in impossible short production time at the lowest costs possible. Saying 'no' to these powerful brands is a luxury most manufacturers cannot afford. Just like the workers can't say 'no' to working 16 hours a day to earn a living wage.
So where is the key to improvement? As usual, it's with you as a consumer. You have the power to say 'no' to fast fashion with suspiciously low prices. You have the possibility to compare brands and choose the ones with fair and sustainable ways of working. And you have the right to ask the brands that you buy from for transparency (read our statement here). Together, we can change the world bottom-up.
So where to start?
Between 22 and 29 April, it's Fashion Revolution Week. And not coincidentally, the theme for this year is Manifesto for a Fashion Revolution. You can sign this manifesto here and join the movement.
We love fashion. But we don’t want our clothes to exploit people or destroy our planet. We are coming together as a global community to bring our manifesto into reality.
Shopping sustainably isn't difficult, it's a mindset. Together, we can make the world a cleaner, nicer and safer place. It feels good to be a Saint!