As you no doubt know, three weeks ago on April 24, an eight-story factory building collapsed. Early reports counted a death toll of a few hundred, and especially at first, the event felt more like a far-away bullet point in the news than something that might actually affect you or me.
But soon, we heard that the factory building was one where garments have been produced for brands that we know well, like Zara, Lee, Nike, Walmart and more. Last week the body count continued to climb, now reaching over 1,100.
I wasn’t initially going to write about this, because my goal is to cover positive news about ethical fashion, not negative. But this event is a game-changer — which I realized fully only after listening to a Terry Gross interview on NPR with Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.
“I’m 100 percent convinced this is the turning point,” she said. “I feel like it’s too bad of a tragedy for the brands to bounce back this time.”
She pointed out that the media coverage has been linking the connection between the demand we create for cheap fashion and the tragedy that happened as a result of unsafe factory conditions. This connection wasn’t being made a year ago, she said, and the turning point will happen because brands can sense that.
If you’re at all interested in ethical fashion, definitely listen to this interview: Elizabeth describes how our relationship to our clothes has changed over the past few decades and how our consumption has changed as a result, and she describes her experience reporting undercover for her book in Bangladesh specifically. (She wasn’t surprised to hear this latest news.)
Her message for people who are wary of spending more on ethically produced garments: “Sometimes it’s about how you shop, not where you shop.” Don’t think of your clothes as disposable, think of them as pieces you’ll wear for years.
Some effects of the factory collapse: Retailers including H&M and Zara have signed onto a plan that finances fire safety and building improvements in factories they use in Bangladesh (NYTimes). As many as 300 factories in Bangladesh have closed due to demands for safety from workers (BBC). The Bangladeshi government is now allowing trade unions to form (BBC). The minimum wage in Bangladesh is increasing, though it’s still one of the lowest in the world (BBC).