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Fashion Revolution Week: Realities of the Garment Industry

Fashion Revolution Week: Realities of the Garment Industry

Fast fashion. A term I had never heard of and most people haven’t heard of either. Like a lot of other thing we buy from day to day, we don’t stop to think where our items are coming from. Fast fashion is a term in the garment industry where the production processes are expedited in order to get new trends to the market as quickly and cheaply as possible. Looking at that definition, I initially thought to my self — well that’s business right? However, I kept reading the definition over and over to my self and two words stood out to me. “As QUICKLY and as CHEAPLY as possible.” That is where I began to think of many issues those two words could raise.

We might hear the words ‘quickly' and ‘cheaply' and think — what harm can that do? I wanted to figure the answer to that out myself. Long before we started Wakened Apparel, I began my research on how most of the items we wear are made, as well as what impact it has on human life, the environment, and society. Sure enough there was plenty of information, articles, studies, and documentaries to spend countless hours going through. Here is just a small example of what I found.
Even in 2017, there are working conditions in countries like in india and China especially that are still extremely poor. You don’t have to look too far back and find factory disasters, but you DO HAVE TO LOOK. News like that goes unnoticed and so the average consumer isn’t aware. Rana plaza, for example. It probably doesn’t ring a bell but in 2013 just four years ago, the Rana plaza disaster is to date the deadliest disaster in the garment industry in history worldwide. A little under 4,000 workers toiled in the Rana plaza building making clothing for some US, Canadian, and European clothing labels and retailers. The majority of the people working there were women aged between 18-20 years old. Working 14 hour shifts around 100 hours a week, their earnings 12 cents to 22 cents an hour, averaging $11 a week. On the morning of April 24th 2013 the workers refused to enter the building. There were many structural damages and the building was dilapidated. The owner Sohel Rana hired gang members to beat the women and men to get them into the building to get to work. They even threatened the workers that they would not get paid for the entire month if they did not follow orders to work. For these poor men and women that meant no food for themselves or their children, so in they went. At around 8:45 am that same day the power went out and generators kicked on, but almost immediately the building began to shake and a loud crashing sound was heard by all the workers as the building collapsed, killing 1,137 people. Even a year later 200 people were still missing and over 2,000 people were seriously injured. Although 38 people were charged with murder, the companies that force fast fashion were not held accountable. That is where the issue lies and where things need to change. A large corporation can just do 'damage control' until people forget and then move onto to the next factory owner that will meet the demand for fast and cheap production. The change needs to come from the companies demanding the fast fashion. The responsibility lies greatly on their shoulders to take accountability of the damaging effects they cause and to change that system.

There are countless examples of atrocities like those, in Bangladesh. 112 people lost there lives in a fire in a similar type of building, where they couldn’t get out being locked into the building to work. It goes on even today. It hasn’t changed and some of the top brands we see in malls are the biggest offenders. We can change that, we can make change with our purchases. I cannot begin to say how we can solve the problem. Maybe less profit margins for companies so that there is better working conditions for workers in countries that spend 100 hours a week earning $11 a week, so the workers can receive better wages and conditions. Maybe increase the price a bit of each garment and slow down on the fashion trends. There are now 52 seasons in the fashion industry. This presents new styles to the consumer on a weekly basis. Not too long ago, there was only 2-4 seasons of fashion. It all comes down to the consumer though. It is hard knowing that we receive a certain amount of salary a month and we have to stretch that to make a living. This is what makes buying cheaply so alluring. But we have to remember that we are responsible as consumers as well. Each time we purchase something, we are creating a demand and thereby telling brands what we find acceptable. By truly looking at ourselves and what we buy, we can start to make more informed decisions. Really think about what you actually need and what you value. Support brands that are producing ethically and responsibly. We owe it to our fellow human beings we share this world with and we owe to ourselves. Change comes from each individual. We can do our part, as small as it may seem.
At Wakened Apparel, since before it’s birth in 2015, we wanted to be a company with a ethical standards and integrity. Our products are fair trade or made in America. The threads are made in America, some are even from recycled materials. The workers we help to employ earn fair wages that provide for their families and have safe working conditions. We don’t release items at a fast rate, but when it feels right to use. We are not the only ones doing this though. We are just a small fish in a large ocean of ethically founded companies. Companies like Everlane, People Tree, Nisolo, Patagonia, Alternative Apparel, Eileen Fisher, Pact Apparel, Elizabeth Susann, Bryr Clogs, Only Child and many more. Change comes from the consumer and Ethical companies. Together we can support each other and bring change for those who go unnoticed. If you’d like to learn more about Rana plaza or the real effects of the garment industry, check out the documentary The True Cost.

It is the week of the fourth anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster, I write this to remember those who lost their lives and to help bring awareness so that it will never happen again. And that one day, this way will be a thing of the past.

Photo Sources: BBC, NY TIMES, OCCRP