It has been three years since the tragedy that took place at Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza, the home of a handful of fast fashion garment factories, which collapsed in April 2013. The details that emerged shortly after the tragedy were harrowing: over three thousand people were in the building at the time of the collapse, over two thousand were injured by the collapse, and over one thousand lost their lives. Some of the factories located in Rana Plaza manufactured clothing for brands including Primark, H&M, Wal-Mart, Joe Fresh, Mango, and Benetton.
Since the Rana Plaza collapse, the building's owner, Sohel Rana, has been charged in a criminal lawsuit (after attempting to flee the country); associations, such as the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, have been formed to address the conditions (think: illegally run, poorly-built factories, desperately bad pay, foul mistreatment of (mainly female, often underage) workers and a system of mind-numbingly slow bureaucracy which prevents compensation from getting to the survivors); and awareness is at a high. Celebrities, activists, and designers have taken notice of the horrible conditions in Bangladesh and are pleading with consumers to be more mindful when making a purchase.
In light of the annual Fashion Revolution week, which began on Monday, we will be running an array of fast fashion-retailed articles, as well as those dedicated to sustainable/ethical manufacturing. First up: We caught up with some of our favorite industry insiders to discuss fast fashion, responsibly made clothing, and why they prefer one over the other. Here's what they had to say …
Errolson Hugh, ACRONYM: Fast fashion is deception. The 15 dollar dress, on the ten thousand dollar a day model, shot for the multi-million dollar campaign. That's the fast fashion swindle. The disconnect between the image portrayed and the conditions under which the garments are actually made could not be bigger. Fast fashion pricing may seem democratic, but it boils down to this: if you're not paying for it, someone else is. And the fast fashion brands are laughing all the way to the bank. They've got the poor stealing from the poor. It's a downward spiral that won't reach it's end until there are some fundamental changes in society's understanding of value.
Johnson Hartig, Libertine: People first, everything else second. Make fashion with people in mind first and foremost forever.
BryanBoy, Blogger: For me, the final straw was when fast fashion brands jumped on the whole "eco-conscious" bandwagon a few years ago. There is nothing environmentally-friendly in encouraging people to consume clothes that cost less than a meal in a restaurant. How is it possible to create a pair of jeans that is cheaper than a venti Starbucks coffee? Thinking about the long term environmental effects of mass production (processing raw materials/fabric, the dyes, the toxic waste thrown) makes me sad. Such items come with a price -- not just in an environmental perspective but also in a humanitarian point of view. It breaks my heart to imagine the labor conditions the workers were subjected to. It's unfortunate that we live in an era where humans buy, discard and dispose clothes easily simply because they're too cheap and easily available.
Todd Snyder, Designer: I have been working with vertical retailers for 20+ years, Gap, J.Crew, etc. and have learned the necessary precautions to take when using global sourcing. We take great care to source our clothing from responsible manufacturers around the world. Obviously there are bad seeds in every country, including our own. However, there are many factories in every country, even developing countries, that take great pride in their employees and finished products. We only work with those people and that shows in the quality of the products we offer. As a result, that oftentimes leads to higher prices. Customers are learning to vote with their wallet.
Pamela Love, Designer: It's important to me to wear ethically made clothes. I don't believe that providing the first world with new clothes should come at the expense of the planet or the people living and working on it. We need to stop supporting manufacturing processes that take advantage of those far away from us and their quality of working life.
Jeffrey Costello and Robert Tagliapietra, Designers: For us, it is a question of trying whenever possible, to spend our money in ways that closely follow our beliefs. We have always treated our business in this manner as well… if there is an ethical way of doing something we do it, and at times these opportunities coincide with convenience. For example, producing in New York allows you the ease of factory visits as often as needed.
Siki Im, Designer: For me quality is very important. Quality means in this context that not only the clothes are well made but also that the person who makes them is treated respectfully. The end consumer does not really care anymore - they want clothes with lots of embellishments or treatments for a very very low price. This actually means that the factory has to supply rigorously no matter how the demands so we can buy a pair of jeans with lots of holes for $30.
Bonnie Rae Boyes, NOE Undergarments: Just as most of us are aware of what we put in our bodies we need to take that knowledgeable approach for understanding what we put "on" our bodies. In this day and age we cannot afford to be uninformed of what we wear- from both an ethical impact on people and the environment. It's our job and we play a big role as designers in this fashion community to make decisions so our product reflects that - from where it's produced to the materials used.
Piu Piu, DJ and Singer: I don't wear fast fashion because I believe one of the reasons why fashion is so powerful is because it represents an idealized version of ourselves. We dress how we feel but also how we want to feel, and how we want to see ourselves. Therefore, it also represents us on a larger scale. Some of us simply might not think about fashion in that way, and might just look for what look for cheaper versions, but fast fashion has a cost. A human cost, a cost on the planet. And in the end, fast fashion is really just copies of someone else's ideas, and creates a craving to always have more and more meaningless things. Every single that we do matters, even as superficial as it may sound, and we owe it to ourselves, as persons and as a civilization, to simply care.
Jennifer Williams, The Fashion Law: Being opposed to fast fashion isn't just about liking labels. In fact, for many, it's not about that at all. It's about valuing someone's life more than a cheaply made top. It's about expecting that people be treated humanly. And it's about a willingness to pay more in order to support these ideas. No one should have to suffer for hours on end and work in fear in the name of low price points.
Michael Lavergne, Author, Fixing Fashion: Changing the Way we Make, Market and Buy our Clothes: I don't wear those fast fashion brands which lack a robust ethical sourcing programme because it doesn't really cost that much more to buy responsibly! It's also my responsibility to set the example for my children. Ethics start at home
Wendy Brandes, Jewelry designer: I never buy anything that I don't think I can wear for 10 years. Quality is everything to me. Quality of material, quality of workmanship. I'm passionate about that when it comes to my own jewelry line too. And from that personal manufacturing experience, I can't imagine that conditions at the kind of place produces a shirt that can be retailed for $5.
*This article was initially published in April 2015.