Today, 24th April 2015, is Fashion Revolution Day.
Every year on this day we commemorate the Rana Plaza disaster, in which two years ago 1133 garment factory workers lost their lives and hundreds more were injured in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka.
I really can’t, in good faith, describe myself as an ethical fashionista. I can’t say I spare much thought for where my clothes are coming from, what the story behind them is. I might think of them lying in piles in some abstract Topshop warehouse, or in plastic bags with my name on in the dispatch heap at Asos. I feel completely detached from the actual production process – more than detached in fact, because I don’t think about it happening at all. I suppose the fact that there are SO MANY identical dresses in that warehouse pile make it feel, in a way, like those dresses just phantomatically ‘exist’. At a stretch, maybe a machine made them. Not a person like you and me. Certainly not an underpaid, maltreated and malnourished person that is nothing like you and me.
I do realise that is very silly. I don’t really believe machines operate themselves. And obviously the last thing I want to do is enable a business model founded on the principles of greed and exploitation. The thing is that that business model is ensuring that ‘brands and factory owners are making huge profits, the Bangladeshi government is ensuring employment, albeit of poor quality, is provided to its most marginalised people, and consumers can buy extremely cheap clothes. It also means that in Europe the brands can keep prices low at a time of wage deflation and austerity’ (theguardian.com). All of the above allows for it to be argued that hey, maybe poor working conditions are just a necessary, and temporary evil. Until 1133 people die and that argument becomes harder to back up. Enter Fashion Revolution, a ‘global coalition of designers, academics, writers, business leaders and parliamentarians calling for systemic reform of the fashion supply chain’, who believe that ‘1133 is too many people to lose from the planet in one factory, on one terrible day without that standing for something‘.
What makes ventures like Fashion Revolution so uncomfortable is that they make us realise the extent to which we have been repressing logic and empathy in favour of convenience. And when most of us continue to buy from the high street (because let’s face it – when all is said and done, and all the inside-out selfies have fallen to the bottom of our feeds – we will probably be just as ready to splash some of that payday weekend cash), that little niggle of discomfort will nevertheless resurface from time to time. That’s a start, right?
Let’s also take solace from the fact that we are not alone – this is not your lonely battle against the powers that be. The fashion world is such a powerful place, home to some of the world’s greatest creative minds. We are in this with all of those minds. ‘The true cost of the current fashion business model must not be forgotten: complacency and distraction means unless we stamp our resolve here and now, incidents such as Rana Plaza will be dismissed as an unfortunate reality of contemporary life. We must not allow that to happen’. I am confident that together, eventually, we will conquer that idea.
So in the spirit of togetherness, the power of social media, and doing something here is my inside-out selfie. A big thank you to whoever made my clothes.