Who made my clothes? That’s the question Fashion Revolution is asking us all to consider as it highlights the anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster, where 1,133 garment workers lost their lives three years ago when their factory collapsed in Bangladesh. Because of this tragic event and because of the evolution of fast fashion, this question is far more important than many of us acknowledge and too important from which to turn a blind eye. Here’s why…
Who made my clothes…? Before I start, make no mistake, this question isn’t about where our clothes were bought, nor is it loaded with the intention to guilt trip consumers. It’s activist. It’s asking us to question the fashion labels. It’s asking whether we can look at the outfit we’re wearing in the mirror and feel confident its supply chain would stand up to ethical and moral scrutiny. That its makers were not exploited. That the fashion brand behind the logos emblazoned on it valued the person who stitched it together. That they were paid a fair living wage – just like you probably are.
A strong supporter of Fashion Revolution, author and journalist Lucy Siegle, puts it quite evocatively: “Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone somewhere is paying.”
The garment workers at Rana Plaza paid for it. They were working under dangerous conditions, inside a building that was not fit for purpose. They were churning out clothes for the western market, for brands we all know, like Benetton and Primark. They might even have made something you’re wearing right now. Fashion Revolution was born just after the disaster. A group of industry professionals decided enough was enough; that our thirst for fast fashion had to slow down for the sake of the lives of people making them. Fashion had to become a force for good, and they started this by getting us all to ask, ‘who made my clothes?’.
If we can’t answer that question, we may as well tell ourselves that the fabric fairies made our jeans. We may as well not acknowledge the entire chain of hands – real hands – involved in making the thousands and thousands of clothing items that are sold and discarded in the UK each day. We may as well say those hands, that work hard to sustain a living, breathing, smiling person, don’t deserve a fair salary.
Fashion isn’t frivolous, it’s a strong and profitable industry. It is also part of our culture, it forms our identity. This is exactly why we must take responsibility for it. Fashion brands won’t answer ‘who made my clothes?’ unless we ask it of them. And because the fashion industry holds lives at stake, it must be responsible for answering questions that affect them.
The world of fast fashion cannot justify another Rana Plaza. Lives cannot be the price we pay for our obsession with cheap clothes. And yet, as Lucy Siegle points out, the garment industry remains dangerous and workers are still at risk. So, in true activist style, Fashion Revolution has a raft of tips to help us value our clothes and the people who made them, and help us join the movement to question the labels behind them.