When I started this blog, I started it for fun. I started it to talk about 90s nostalgia, pop culture, and thrift shopping. I didn’t start this blog to talk about sweat shops, fast fashion, and 1,127 dead people in a pile of rubble. Yet, here we are.
One thousand, one hundred, and twenty-seven.
That very long number is the number of people that perished in the Savar building collapse on April 24, 2013. You know the story by now: On April 23, a large crack was spotted in a Bangladesh Plaza that housed shops, offices, and a very large garment factory. Warnings to evacuate the building were heeded by some, but on the very next day, thousands of garment workers were ordered back to work and into the building. A few hours later, the building collapsed, and 1,127 people suffered a horrific death.
A crash that loud, and number that big, is hard to ignore. But with a crash that loud and a number that big, it’s hard to know what to say.
And yet, I feel a strange pressure to say something. I think that’s because nearly every article that attempts to offer some conscience-freeing solutions to this tragedy suggests more thrift shopping. By that measurement, people like me are star students. It’s easy, looking at my closet of 95% thrifted garments, to feel like a smug star student. Nearly every dollar I spent on clothing in the last two years has gone to the Salvation Army, BFM, or Talize. Looking at the images like this from Bangladesh, my inner monologue starts almost immediately: “Well, I didn’t buy any Joe Fresh last year. I don’t support slave labour. I can go back to reading TV recaps and stop feeling guilty.” But I don’t have a right to do that, because if I’m honest with myself, I didn’t start thrifting out of global concern. I started thrifting because I wanted to cool clothing for cheap prices. That right there is the very the same reason people go to Joe Fresh, F21 and Walmart. It’s the same game. That game has less harmful consequences when you play it in the thrift shop, but that mentality – more for less – is at the root of the fast fashion problem.
This problem needs addressing, and so, I’m going to address it. I’ll admit, I’ve sort of been waiting for someone else to say something, so I could just tweet a link to it and feel better. But sadly, the fashion blogging community has been nearly silent about this. Their silence comes from the fact that these cheaply-made garments are their bread and butter, and I’d imagine it’s hard to condemn the industry that fills up your side bar with ads. If it isn’t silence, then it’s a singular post stating that “my heart is with Bangladesh” and “I’ve donated what I spent on Joe Fresh to the relief fund”.
That last option is, of course, a good thing to do, but it’s not enough. What does it do to quell the production of the millions of garments still being produced by millions of people in other factories, in different countries? All the other retail giants (WalMart, Target, American Eagle) are still producing garments in buildings as packed, as inhumane, and maybe even as dangerous the one that fell down in Bangladesh. They just haven’t fallen down yet, so we haven’t heard the crash. Outside the fashion blogging community, various bloggers and non-profits have attempted to provide some suggestions for consumers who are aghast at what the industry has come to. This article offers up some good ideas, and rightly points to thrift shopping as a good alternative (# 6), but again, I’m struck by the last two words in that sentence: “…save money!”
Donating money to the relief fund is good. Thrift shopping is good. Don’t stop doing these things, but they aren’t solutions if the bottom line is still about saving money. So what is the solution? What can we do to foster a more responsible garment industry?