April 24, 2013 was a horrifying day in fashion history. The catastrophic events of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh have sparked a momentous movement a year later. That day is now known as Fashion Revolution Day.
More than 1,100 garment workers—a third of those who entered the clothing factories that morning in Bangladesh—died in the collapse of the massive eight-story building. Ordered to come to work despite the warnings that cracks found in the building the day before could lead to an imminent collapse, the fashion industry demands flew in the face of safety, and the factory operators ignored the warnings for fear of losing money and clients.
The Rana Plaza collapse triggered protests and riots in Bangladesh over fashion factory working conditions. On June 5th, police in Bangladesh opened fire on protestors who were demanding back pay and compensation that had been promised by the Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association and the government. Several months later, more protests over wages led to fighting and gunfire from police.
No garment is worth this price.
The idea for Fashion Revolution Day was born out of the atrocity in Bangladesh and countless other conditions around the world that exist in the name of cheap, fast fashion. Fair Trade pioneer Carry Somers, fashion activist Lucy Siegel and Livia Firth came up with the idea to redefine the day and empower those lives lost in Bangladesh as a means to prevent more unnecessary tragedy. The event “will keep the most vulnerable in the supply chain in the public eye,” FRD says on its website. “Fashion Revolution Day is the day on which we will celebrate fashion as a positive influence, and all those who contribute to making it so. It will rally the high street, the high end, the new, the ancient, the innovators, the buyers, the shoppers, the media, the commentators, the activists and everyone in between.”
“We want people talking about the provenance of clothes,” Somers told Vogue, “raising awareness of the fact that we aren’t just purchasing a garment, but a whole chain of value and relationships. FRD will become a platform for best practice – for brands to show off what they are doing to improve things.”
But, Firth warns that we should be wary of greenwashing. “A paper bag here, an organic T-shirt there – some brands tick a couple of boxes and ignore the main issue,” she says. “Some mega brands still don’t give a damn but there are brilliant examples like Paul Smith who is absolutely in charge of his production chain.”
“As consumers, we want people to re-engage with fashion, slow things down a bit, love the clothes we buy more,” adds Firth. “Care about how they are made and by whom.”
It used to be this way. People we knew made our clothes, or people who sold the clothes to us knew who made them. Garments had tremendous value. Clothing, blankets, accessories, were made to last—and they did, for decades, generations. They were handmade, crafted with time and precision, not against corporate deadlines, ignoring safety and human decency.
Cate Blanchett told Vogue that garment manufacture demands the same attention as we’ve been giving to climate change, an issue she’s extremely passionate about. “If you offer options then it’s not sacrifice, it’s choice,” she says. “As well as the fundamental improvement to our spiritual health, buying with conscience is about the option to buy something for £1 that has the potential to blind 15 children as a result of an inhumane production line – or something else for £1.50 that will have a positive effect. Like climate change – we need to change the way we consume fashion. And if more individuals do then we make a change collectively.”
To participate in Fashion Revolution Day, people are being urged to wear one article of clothing inside out to signify their support of ethical fashion and more transparency in production. Take a picture or video of yourself in the inside out clothing and post online to Instagram or Twitter to @Fash_Rev with the hashtag #InsideOut. The campaign is also urging people to get in touch with the brands that make their favorite clothes and ask the question: “Who Made Your Clothes?”
“Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of the Rana Plaza disaster was that, even a week later, many brands did not know whether or not they had been producing clothing within the building,” the campaign explains. “The theme for the first year brings the consumer to the forefront and tell brands that they want to know who made their clothes.”
The fallout from Rana Plaza has brought attention to the discussion about why “ethical fashion” needs to come to have the same definition as simply “fashion”—all fashion should be produced ethically, all the time. No one should be forced into working conditions that are unethical, unhealthy and unfair. If that’s the price of clothing—if we can’t do better than this—then perhaps we should wear nothing at all. “This is a global problem – we need to question how loyal we are to all brands to flush out sweatshops all over the world, even in developed countries, on our doorstep,” says Firth. “If we imagine we are voting every time we buy something, and we use our purchase power, then things will change.” They just have to.
Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
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Image credit via Fashion Revolution Day
Model:Portia at Storm
Corset: Katharine Hamnett
Jacket: Katharine Hamnett
Stylist: Stevie Westgarth
Make-up: Jo Frost
Hair: Eliot Bsilla