Why a Revolution Within the Fashion Industry Is So Desperately Needed

Fashion worker in Bangladesh
A garment worker in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Fashion Revolution

It's been years since the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh. Since then, a group called Fashion Revolution has been working tirelessly for change within the fashion industry.

Fashion Revolution Week is an annual commemoration of the tragic collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The collapse occurred on April 24, 2013, killing 1,134 people and injuring more than 2,500 others. At the time, it opened the eyes of many Western consumers to the awful realities of the fashion industry and what actually goes on behind the scenes, such as poor structural integrity, overcrowded buildings, inadequate inspections, and lack of follow-up.

Rana Plaza collapse
The Rana Plaza factory collapsed on April 24, 2013, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Fashion Revolution

Unfortunately, when tragedies feel so far removed from one’s everyday life, it is easy to forget about them over time. That’s why a U.K.-based group called Fashion Revolution was formed – to keep the memory of that awful day alive, to provide perspective on a huge industry that affects us all, and to advocate for change.

“Most of the public is still not aware that human and environmental abuses are endemic across the fashion industry and that what they’re wearing could have been made in an exploitative way. We don’t want to wear that story anymore. We want to see fashion become a force for good.”

Something has to change because the current way in which fashion is made, sold, and discarded is unsustainable. From an ethical standpoint, there are 36 million people living in modern slavery today, many of whom are working for major Western fashion brands. Garment manufacturing is the world’s third-largest industrial industry (following automotive and electronics manufacturing), employing at least 60 million people directly and likely more than double that indirectly dependent on the sector (at least 80 million in China alone).

Then thee are the people on whom garment manufacturers depend, such as the cotton growers, dyers, weavers, and knitters. According to a white paper published by Fashion Revolution, the Fairtrade Foundation estimates that “as many as 100 million households are directly engaged in cotton production and that 300 million people work in the cotton sector in total (when you count family labor, farm labor, and workers in related services such as transportation, ginning, baling and storage).”

These workers are paid very little. Bangladesh’s minimum wage is estimated to cover only 60 percent of the cost of living in a slum. The minimum wages in Cambodia and China need to be double in order to cover the basic cost of living. With the majority of garment workers being women who have children to support, it adds to the pressure to work overtime for very little money. In many families, children are raised by relatives in distant villages while their mothers live and work in textile factories in the city, rarely coming home for visits.

From an environmental perspective, the waste generated by ‘fast fashion’ culture is devastating. Not only do Western consumers throw away shocking amounts of clothing – two million tonnes in the United Kingdom annually, 84 percent of which is never reused, although most of it could be – most of this waste goes to landfills, where it decomposes and releases carbon into the atmosphere. Fashion Revolution states, “Every ton of discarded textiles reused saves 20 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere and every 1,000 tons of used textiles collected is said to create about 7 full-time jobs and 15 indirect jobs.”

water waste for textiles
Another good reason not to buy and throw away cheap T-shirts. Fashion Revolution

The organization calls on you to ask the important question, “Who Made My Clothes?” By demanding that companies provide more information about who is actually behind the scenes, it will encourage greater transparency, which is crucial in order for the industry to change. Use the hashtag #whomademyclothes on Twitter and Instagram to join the global call for transparency.

“Transparency involves openness, communication and accountability. Transparency means operating in such a way that it is easy for others to see what actions are performed. Transparency is a means of holding people and businesses to account.”

Because we all wear clothes made in these factories, we are all implicated when it comes to the wellbeing of garment workers and our planet. Learn more, get involved, and become part of the solution, rather than the problem. Fashion Revolution is the best place to start.