“The t-shirt was 25$. That is crazy. I can find one for $5 in H&M”, says my friend while eating his 13$ grilled fish plate with a 3$ cold beer on a warm Sunday afternoon. This is not the first time i heard this line. Everytime i hear it, i slip into a rant in my head. Its no business of mine lecturing people. I didn’t know any better last year. But its not the same for me anymore. I never want to go back to my older habits.
“We always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap.” ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
It is impossible to manufacture one for that price in America. So how is it getting made ? Sweatshops. Two years ago, Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed killing 1133 people and injuring 2500. Stories like this make the news and are forgotten. For an incident like this near Delhi, the govt imposed a fine for 2$ per injured person. Really? 2$ is what a persons life is worth ? Thats less than the price of the beer for most Americans. I read about horror stories about 18 hour work days with no weekends. Women being forced to take contraceptive pills in front of the supervisors so that they don’t get pregnant, just so that they don’t disrupt the efficiency that goes into the making of the 5$ t-shirts. I hear stories of how Haiti became Disney’s sweatshop. They had a plan. Import cheap rice into the country. In no time, the farmers producing the more nutritious local variety could not sell their grain. And eventually, they had to move away from the villages into cities and be employed in sweatshops. The kids who do the embroidery for long hours so that we can wear a fancy top. Cheap embellished anything is a product of someone slaving over it for cents of daily wages…. Its all too sad. If at all i bring this up, i get asked “Aren’t we giving them an opportunity to work?”. “Them”. Its always “Them” vs us. Same rules don’t apply to us, but to them, its okay. I hear complains of how busy we are or how much work we have piled up for the weekend. But for them, its an opportunity. Here are some horror stories :
1. Average monthly wages for a Bangladeshi worker in a garment factory is 43$ in 2013. He gets paid not hourly but per ‘n’ amount of garments completed. Its not uncommon to work overtime without compensation to meet the production goals. 80 hour weeks are not uncommon.
2. No toilets, rats, cockroaches, mediocre lighting conditions, old buildings, sexual harassment, abuse, ….. are a part and parcel of this cycle. This is modern day slavery. When i read about these conditions, i cant help think of the concentration camps i visited in Germany. Ofcourse, i wouldn’t think it’s on the same level, but we are promoting this for cheap and fast fashion.
3. Horrible working conditions exist in garment districts in LA and NYC too. But not on the scale seen in third world countries.
4. Its not restricted to adults. Children are often employed to do the embroidery and attaching sequins/rhinestones/beads. Smaller hands work faster apparently.
5. Spectrum factory collapse incident in Dhaka killed about 64 and injured 72 workers. They had built additional 5 stories over a swamp land to meet the demand. They saw the cracks but couldn’t shut it down for repairs to meet the production demands. When it eventually collapsed, the workers bodies could be found under red Zara pull overs and purple stripe tops.
6. If the average salary of a Bangladeshi garment worker was tripled, it will cost the customer an extra 2.3$. They still don’t do it and we still won’t fight for them.
The more i read, the angrier i get. Fashion used to inspire me. Now, it just makes me rant and sad. I swore off fast fashion last year after i read: The end of Fast Fashion, Overdressed, Cheap, The lost art of dress and To die for (personal favourite). On the other end, the luxury markets cuts costs and make profits by outsourcing too ( Source: Deluxe ). Clothing, handbags and shoes now get assembled instead of made, in the country of residence of the fashion houses instead of being made there. All so that they can still retain the “Made in Italy/France/..” tag. Reading these books cured my addiction to Zara and high end handbags for good. Its all brainwashing via marketing. The back end process that goes into making these goods is anything but luxury. There are exceptions of course. Its time to bring back the appreciation for slow fashion. To support cottage industries. And companies that embrace sustainable practices to produce their goods. Embrace vintage and secondhand. Ask questions about how things get made. Embrace Made in America. And above all, consume less.
“…with knowing comes caring, with caring comes hope…” – Sylvia Earle.
The solution is not straightforward or simple. But it can be only if we consume less. And we have seen this happen before. When the issues of the environment get put out, we tend to throw out the culprits and buy echo-friendly stuff to replace them. My first thoughts were to get rid of the cheap clothes and buy better stuff. Shopping is not a solution for shopping. Its my shopping habits that get me here in the first place.
1. Do not buy clothes made in sweatshops.
2. Send emails asking about who made my stuff, if i want to purchase something. They need to know that we care. More questions they get, more likely they are to take notice.
3. Don’t buy unless really needed.
4. Blog more about this issue. There are too many fashion bloggers promoting fast fashion and influencing the world. And not nearly enough women talking about these issues.
5. More research.
6. Blog about fashion that has nothing to do with consumption. Talk quality, craftsmanship, make and design. And style over fashion.
UPDATE: Watch John Olivers take on it.
We dont want to trash our garment workers : Watch this excellent discussion on it.
“I cant afford ethical clothes”. An excellent FAQ blog post : here.
My favourite blogger’s review of ‘True Cost’, the documentary: here.