Who made your clothes?
So, I’m starting this blog with an exercise. I want you to look down your body. Run your hands over every item of clothing that you’re wearing, every layer and feel right down to your shoes. Feel that material and look close at the stitches. Now, think about all the other hands that have touched your clothes too. Do you know how many? Now, check the labels. Made in where? Vietnam? China? Bangladesh? And made by who?
Did you know that, if you’re reading this, you have 4x the amount of clothes in your wardrobe than your parents did? Did you know that 1 in 4 people around the world work in the fashion industry as we know it, with 98% of those people living below the poverty line, and 80% of those people being women? And is any of this making any of us happier? Hell to the no. Far from it.
I want you to meet Nazma, who at 13 years old, started work in a Bangladeshi garment factory; earning a wage equivalent to £2 a month. Nazma’s life has been extremely difficult, because not only has she worked in conditions, that some consider as modern-day slavery since she was 13 years old, but she’s also seen the hardships and inequalities of hundreds just like her.
I saw Nazma last year. She was angry with the world and asking for change.
“Women are earning £50 a month. They make your t-shirts, your dresses, your leggings. The multi-national and retailers come to where the labour markets are cheap. And when clothes are cheap, women are cheap. Nothing comes for free in this world, nothing is discount, women pay with their blood and their sweat… Women are not respected. Women should be safe in all workplaces, everywhere.” – Nazma Akter, London, 2017
And above is Laboni and her husband, who moved to Bangladesh to find work and a new life. Laboni, alongside 1,137 others died when her factory collapsed five years ago. The Rana Plaza story still hits me hard because it’s a story so common and a story that is never taken seriously enough. A story where workers rights and concerns were ignored, and the clothes that now fill our wardrobes were made at a human cost, just like so many others.
Most of my wardrobe, and yours, would have started in the hands of girls like Laboni and Nazma. They then end up in shops worth billions of pounds. Worth enough money to pay these women and men fair living wages. Worth enough money for their CEO’s and management to actually make time and visit the hands that are making their goods. Worth enough money to ensure that no human is working in these unsafe and inhumane conditions, yet alone a 13-year-old child. Worth enough money to make a change.
You cannot exploit women in one country to empower them in another. It shouldn’t work like that. That’s not empowerment. That’s not freedom, or love, or anything positive in fact.
But we’re greedy, right? And at least they’ve got jobs, right?
Yeah in deathly conditions. You know in the UK when it hits over 25 degrees, and everyone starts banging on about ‘safe working conditions’ and workers’ rights in that godforsaken heat? Well imagine that, plus another 10 degrees, plus 10-hour working days, plus seeing your family twice a year, plus dirty living conditions, plus gruelling work environments that are unsafe and the air is filled with chemicals, plus very little choice so you’re trapped and taken advantage of. Workers in Cambodia faint daily from the heat, starvation and pure exhaustion. Who do they work for? Suppliers to Nike and Puma. For how much? £120 a month.
And that’s just a snippet of the effect it has on the people of our planet, but the fashion industry is harming our planet in extraordinary ways too.
As the consumers, we are the cause of this. We are the cause of a 500% increase in consumption. Because of us, the consumers, the factory industry is now the world’s biggest plastic polluter, the second biggest energy consumer and the biggest producer of the non-bio gradable material that is polyester. Click here for my last blog to read more about the effects that fashion has on our planet.
What are the solutions?
The solutions are in our hands, and there are so many of them! As a consumer (and human being!), I love to shop, I like my clothes, and I love getting dressed up. And I’m not saying we should stop, that we should boycott and throw tomatoes at the doors of Zara, but we can shop with a conscience, with more care and with more heart. This is easier said than done, when every time you flick on to Instagram you see girls earning big bucks for promoting these labels hard. I get the pressures of society. But think, is it worth it? What’s going to really matter 10 years from now?
- Repair, re-wear and reuse your clothes
Don’t buy anything with the thought of chucking it away. Buy things that you love and wear them with love, repeatedly. Repair them, learn to sew things up and customise!
- Engage with and challenge current suppliers
Shop ethically and challenge the fashion industry. If a company doesn’t have transparency regarding their suppliers and production makers, then the likelihood that they either have no idea who is making their clothes or that they’re in unsuitable, unethical conditions is highly likely. Do your research, ask questions and don’t be afraid to stand up for what’s right.
- Stop sending all your old sh*t to charity shops
Use Depop, eBay, car boot sales and sell them on! You’ll make some money and your clothes will go to a new home, instead of a landfill like the ones damaging Haiti. Who’s winning now?!
- Realise change starts with you
Nazma is now a human rights activist who spends her days fighting for justice, safe working conditions and fair pay for factory workers. We can do the same. Follow ethical brands on Instagram, shop from ethical brands and support these people hard! Move away from the stereotype that ethical fashion is expensive and exclusive. Imagine if every brand was ethical? It would all be affordable and sustainable.
In fact, only 1-3% of the final cost goes to the hands that actually made them, so realistically speaking, we just need to shift the money from the hands of the super rich CEO’s and into the hands of these women. This way, costs wouldn’t even go up for us…
The makers of our clothing, those who are so often invisible and marginalised, are worth celebrating and given safety and quality of life too. No-one’s life, and the future of our planet is worth losing over the latest material trends. Let’s call on the UK fashion brands to protect the women who make our clothes and the planet that we live on.
And next time you change your outfit or purchase a new item of clothing, I dare you to look at the label and ask; Who made my clothes? Is she getting paid? Is she safe? Who is she?
Thanks for reading you lovely lot!
Things to follow:
- https://cielocollective.com.au/ – Moacir and Skye of Cielo Collective also donate 5% of profits to the wonderful refuge of Mision Mexico!
Things to watch:
- Fast Fashion’s Effect on People, The Planet, & You | Patrick Woodyard | TEDxUniversityofMississippi
Vanisha May is a criminology and sociology graduate from London. She has a passion for international development and issues related to education, crisis for refugees, conflict and gender inequalities. Her dream is to travel the world while understanding, learning and resolving inequalities faced for the affected people across the globe.