Today is the one year anniversary of the tragic collapse of Rana Plaza, a garment factory in Savar, Bangladesh. Over 1,100 workers died in the collapse, and more than 2,500 were severely injured, making it the deadliest garment factory “accident” in history. I’m putting “accident” in quotes because the fact is this tragedy was completely preventable. The building, which was never zoned for factory use, was crammed with heavy machinery and crowded with workers, frantically trying to keep up with the impossibly rushed production cycle of fast fashion retailers in America and Europe. If we don’t want to see a repeat of Rana Plaza, something needs to change.
To mark this somber anniversary and kick off a call for change in the fashion industry, today has been branded Fashion Revolution Day. This year’s FRD theme is transparency. Here’s an excerpt from the official website:
We have lost the connection with the clothes that we wear, so we thought it was important to make this first day about transparency and reconnecting the relationships in the fashion value chain. What is the connection to someone else through your clothes? The farmers do not know where their cotton goes; the producers no longer make entire garments, they are just line workers; and the end consumer rarely knows where their clothes were made. We need to reconnect through a positive narrative, to understand that we aren’t just purchasing a garment or accessory, but a whole chain of value and relationships.
To help remedy this disconnection, one of the ways FRD is urging consumers to get involved is to take a photo of themselves wearing their clothing inside out, with the label clearly visible. Tag the photo with #InsideOut and @fash_rev, and use Twitter, Facebook, and/or Instagram to send the photo to the brand on the label. Ask them, “Who made my clothes?” Encourage your friends to join in, too. If you’re wearing a brand that already values their workers and is transparent about their manufacturing process, reach out and thank them. Give them a social media shoutout. It’s important to give irresponsible brands a virtual kick in the ass in the hopes they get their act together, but it’s equally important to support the brands who are doing things right.
Will posting a tagged selfie on Instagram magically undo the hurt and suffering caused by the collapse of Rana Plaza? Of course not. Will it instantly fix all the massive flaws in the fashion industry? No, it won’t. But that doesn’t mean it’s a futile endeavor. The first step of a true fashion revolution is awareness — we have to get people to look at the labels of their clothes, to care about where and how they were made, to think about who made them, and demand that those people are treated with fairness and respect. Does the label of your shirt say “Made in China”? “Made in Bangladesh”? “Made in Vietnam”? “Made in USA”? What does that mean about the people who made it and how they were treated? What does that mean about how it was made? Will the brand you bought it from supply that information if you ask? If not, why?
Curiosity is powerful. Questions are powerful. A week after Rana Plaza collapsed, many fast fashion companies were still not able to say with certainty whether their garments were made there. Even the companies themselves didn’t know who made their clothes. That’s how disconnected the manufacturing process has become, and trust me: clothing companies are not going to start caring about these things until we prove to them that we care. If 10,000 people send photos to Old Navy or H&M today, asking, “Hey, who makes your clothes?” that’s going to register with them on some level. They might not change their practices immediately (or ever, unfortunately), but if we keep asking, they will have to take notice. It’s a simple act that sends a clear message, and has the potential to make a real impact.
There are many things you can do to become a more conscious consumer and get involved in the fashion revolution. Today, look at your clothing labels, post a photo, and ask brands to answer an important question they’ve been ignoring for far too long: “Who makes your clothes?”