This article has been inspired by a follow-up discussion I had with my daughter after she saw the theatre play “Fashion victims” in school, which relates the parallel lives of two teenagers, one shopping compulsively because he’s bored of his life and the other forced to work as a slave in Bangladesh, producing the fast fashion clothes the first so carelessly buys. On the background, the tragedy of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, when on april 24th 2013 a building housing a large clothing factory collapsed, killing over 1000 people. These people were the real victims of fast fashion and of the fashion first supply chain.
Without entering in details of what prompts people to bash into fast fashion (boredom, affordability, imitation of the day’s influencers), has anything really changed in the approach to fashion after that tragical incident?
Yes and no. Certainly, it was a huge eye opener for many fashion brands, but several still turn a blind eye to the harsh conditions workers in the supply chain have to put up with (not just in Bangladesh but also in Cina, Mexico, India, Turkey, Romania…). Alongside the brave efforts of some SME, like Mart Veeken’s Labl Fashion, engaging in promoting a more sustainable fashion style literally from the cotton crop to the final products (see my podcast episode here), several associations to promote the workers’ rights in the fashion industry have been created, like Clean Clothes, whose headquarters are in Amsterdam. As for the receivers of fast fashion, one of the most important awareness movement to have an impact on their purchasing choices is Fashion Revolution, an international organization involved in many events, like the yearly fashion revolution week.
Unfortunately, the COVID period of course hasn’t made things easier, as an extensive research carried out by Aberdeen University in Scotland pointed out THE IMPACT OF GLOBAL CLOTHING RETAILERS’ PRACTICES ON BANGLADESHI SUPPLIERS DURING COVID-19 , prodiving extensive data of the many orders that unfortunately were cancelled or not paid for, making the conditions in the supply chain even more miserable.
In 2021, the International Accord, an agreement to ensure better working conditions in most countries that are part of the first chain supplier, was enforced and later upgraded in 2023, and signed by most of the bigger fashion brands. But some have yet to sign it. Why? It looks like sustainability in fashion is still primarily a matter of low impact on the environment (new technologies applied to produce hyper technical fabrics, recycling materials to produce second raw materials, etc) than improving the quality of life of workers in the clothing manufactures. Perhaps because the big names involved in fast fashion give priority to environmentally friendly production lines, which might appear simpler and more profitable than openly engage in campaigns for social welfare of the workers.
What can we actually do? Needless to say, the solution is multifaceted and involves too many factors, and certainly this article does not give any. However, we can reflect on the kind of impact we want to make with our consciouos and mindful choices (which is also similar to the reason why I personally don’t want an electric car until I know where and in which conditions the people at the first supply chain work). Thus, an effective way to move away from fast fashion is simply stop buying clothes from the brands which refused to sign that agreement or which are patently thriving in fast fashion and keep a keen eye on the labels of the clothes in our wardrobe, so that next time we buy something we don’t blindly follow the sales’ advertisements but we do it mindfully. We all know that fast food is bad for our health. Let’s widen our perspective and be aware that fast fashion is just as bad for other peoples’ health and living conditions.
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