On April 24th, 2013, an eight-story building called Rana Plaza collapsed in Bangladesh. 1,129 human beings lost their lives and 2,515 were injured.
Rana Plaza was a garment factory. Workers were being paid $38 per month to create clothing for several well-known clothing brands. This was a tragedy of epic proportions that made headlines across the globe. But on a smaller scale, tragedies in the garment industry go unnoticed every day.
As consumers, we typically reward the clothing labels that will sell us our fashion for the lowest possible price, so naturally the major labels compete for market share by slashing prices. The only way for them to do this (without cutting into their profits) is by putting more and more pressure on their factories to lower their manufacturing costs. But after a certain point, a factory simply cannot drop their prices any further. Rather than lose out on huge manufacturing contracts, factory owners seek to lower costs in other ways. They turn to methods like paying their workers a slave’s wage, providing unsafe working conditions, using cheap raw materials and environmentally harmful manufacturing practices, and the list goes on. The major labels reward these tactics with manufacturing contracts and we reward the major labels by purchasing our clothing from them.
This trend is called the “race to the bottom”. The brand with the cheapest and lowest quality product wins. From the farmer that plants the cotton seeds all the way down the supply chain to the consumer, all eyes are fixed on the bottom line… damn the consequences. The effects are widespread and the death toll is much higher than we first realize.
Local shop owners can’t set prices low enough to compete with major chains, so the small business dies.
Domestic factories can’t drop prices as low as overseas factories, so American industry dies.
Farmers can’t grow cheap enough cotton without huge amounts of water infused with poison and chemicals, so the planet dies.
Overseas factories can’t drop manufacturing prices any further without slave wages, unsafe working conditions, and cheap raw materials, so human beings die.
And on it goes until one day we realize that cheap fashion actually carries an incredibly high price tag.
But, there is good news: as consumers, we are 100% in the driver’s seat. When we spend our money we send a message, and the message we send will create change, for better or worse. To ensure we are making a change for the better, a movement called Fashion Revolution (www.fashionrevolution.org) is asking us to put the breaks on the race to the bottom by asking one simple question, “WHO MADE YOUR CLOTHES?”
The first annual Fashion Revolution Day will take place on April 24th, one year to the day of the tragedy in Rana Plaza. To remember and celebrate lives lost and highlight the need for change, Fashion Revolution Day is asking us to wear our clothes inside out for the entire day. This will force us, and those around us, to look at the labels in our garments and think about how they were made; from what material and by whose hand. It will force us to think about how much we paid for our clothes, the number of people that played a part in creating each piece, how far our apparel had to travel to make it to our closets, and where it will end up when we’re done with it. It will force us to be AWARE. Because the further we remove ourselves from the process, the less responsibility we will feel for it, when in fact, we are entirely responsible.
The fact of the matter is, not all “Major Labels”, as I referred to them earlier are guilty of these harmful manufacturing practices. It’s important to investigate how the brands you know and love are making your clothes. The brands that are doing things right need to be rewarded with our business and those that aren’t need to be encouraged to change. That encouragement needs to come from us!
The promotional products industry provides perhaps the world’s best example of companies racing each other to the bottom. Racing to see who can sell the cheapest product and watching as businesses large and small line up to stamp their logo on it. Only a couple of years ago, Brandsmith strode proudly at the front of this pack without realizing we were doing any harm. One day a client asked us to create some “cheap junk” for a giveaway and it dawned on us that we had absolutely zero interest in selling “junk” of any sort. We were ashamed to be a “junk” dealers. But it wasn’t until we started researching the alternatives that our eyes were opened to how harmful all that “junk” really was. Since then Brandsmith has striven to work with companies that take pride in where they put their logo. Furthermore, each of the brands and product lines we are developing internally are 100% focussed on high quality materials and manufacturing practices. We are eager to share more about The Sustainable Shirt that we will be launching this year, and we are incredibly proud of how wonderfully well made our American Berries line of baby clothing is (you will see a lot more from American Berries very soon, as well!).
But this blog post is not intended to be an advertisement, but rather, a call to action. We encourage you to join us next Thursday (April 24th) and spread the wonderful message of Fashion Revolution Day. Let’s honor the lives we lost last year in Bangladesh by asking ourselves “Who Made Our Clothes?” and let’s be aware of the message we are sending with our money.
I want to finish with a quick thank you to Matt Reynolds from Indigenous Clothing, who first turned us on to Fashion Revolution Day when we saw him speak at Magic earlier this year. Indigenous is making clothing that can be worn #insideout with great pride. Keep up the good work and thank you Matt!