This April is the four-year anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse. 1,129 women and men died when the massive sewing factory they worked in fell apart around them. Stitchers, pattern makers, cutters and fabric weavers—people who do work so similar to ours, but on the other side of the world for pennies. They had no benefits, workplace safety, coffee breaks or overtime pay. If you look in the mirror you are likely wearing something sewn in similar conditions. I wrote this article shortly after the collapse for my union’s newsletter and now I’d like to share it with you. Some things have changed since, but not nearly enough. Check out links after the article for ideas to help.
Over one thousand garment makers were killed last month in the collapse of a sewing factory in Bangladesh. These were my brothers and sisters, my fellow stitchers, cutters, pattern makers and finishers. They were skilled in a profession that most Americans would never even consider a career choice, a forgotten art, so unappreciated here, that we buy cheap, fast fashion, throw it away, and replace it, without thinking. How many of us are even taught to repair our clothing, or use a sewing machine?
Articles about the tragedy often refer to these women and men as “factory workers” or “garment industry workers,” taking away the sense that these were real people, with real lives that were lost for our clothing. They worked long hours in poor conditions because the fashion Industry and our need for cheap clothes demanded it. The industry is complicit in ignoring worker safety and they pass the “savings” onto you, the consumer.
So what does it take to make our clothing? Lets say we are sewing a basic knit dress, start to finish it takes about 3 hours. First the fabric is cut from a pattern which itself took many hours to create, fit, perfect and then graded into multiple sizes for production. Next, the dress is sewn together, pressed and finished. Joe Fresh sells it for $16. A consumer in California could buy our dress with less than two hours’ pay at minimum wage, but it would take a month’s salary for a worker in Bangladesh to afford.
So what can we do to make a difference? There are small steps and big ones we could all take as a nation. From taking a dive into the deep end and buying only American made clothing, or supporting clothing companies that are working to make changes. On a smaller scale we could buy higher quality clothing or vintage pieces and much, much less of it. But even on the smallest level, we need to think before we buy. Why is this dress sixteen dollars? If we become conscious shoppers, and consider the lives across the ocean that are making our clothing for us, maybe we would mend our sweater instead of replacing it, and give just a little more care to the threads made for us by a very real pair of hands.
To learn more about “fast fashion” and how it’s bad for makers, consumers and the environment:
A list of companies who have strived to make a difference post Rana Plazza: