Thursday, 25 April 2013

Bangladesh: Taking Responsibility

Image from The Times
Yesterday's preventable factory disaster in Savar, Bangladesh comes just five months after the Tazreen Fashion factory fire in Dhaka. As I type this the death toll has climbed to 228. The footage of distraught families searching through the lines of deceased for their loved ones reveals to us the true price of our cheap, disposable clothing. The images should prompt more than just pity and outrage in Western consumers, we should feel uncomfortable and ashamed. It is not enough to merely point a finger at the retailers involved such as Penneys (Primark outside of Ireland). We need to change the way we shop. We are all complicit.

Photograph: Andrew Biraj/Reuters via The Irish Times
If we, the consumers are upset by the bleak lives led by the people who stitch together our low price, trend driven clothing we have a responsibility to put our money where our mouths are. That is, if we complain about unethical business practices in the fashion industry our spending should reflect our opinions. We need to shop responsibly and although that's not always easy there are plenty of options if you want to avoid sweatshop labour. Many don't like the idea of wearing second hand clothing (although when you see images of the places where contemporary clothing is made you do have to ask yourself how clean it really is) and ethical fashion labels generally carry larger price tags than most high street chains, but I genuinely believe that it's better value in the long run to shop for quality and longevity than spending little and often on pieces that have a very short lifespan. The Guardian has a directory of ethical fashion brands and I find Ecouterre to be a great resource for all things ethical and sustainable.

I believe that there is also a responsibility on those who have a public platform within the fashion industry to promote ethical brands. I've lost count of the amount of Irish stylists I've seen whoring themselves out to Penneys. In March 2012 an Irish stylist and fashion writer who has gained international recognition over the past year wrote an article about how wonderful Penneys is. I left a comment under a link to the article she posted on facebook expressing my disappointment, she responded encouraging me to contact her privately (link appears to have been removed since). Below are screenshots of the message I sent to her and her reply:

Sounds like a conflict of interests to me. She's happy to associate herself with Re-Dress but she's also happy to associate with Penneys. It's all work I guess. If you see a stylist or fashion writer endorsing a brand that you know to have less than acceptable manufacturing standards don't be afraid to challenge them on it.

Penneys' image has sort of changed for the better during the recession. There was a time when shopping there was not really something you'd want to broadcast, now there are countless young ladies uploading videos to youtube with the sole purpose of broadcasting their "Penneys Haul". As if they're a thrifty bargain hunter. As if they just picked up an Hermes scarf in a charity shop for a fiver. No, that's not what you did, you went into a budget clothes retailer and bought a load of budget clothes. That's not a once in a lifetime find. I could do the same thing but I think too highly of myself to dress in rags designed with the express purpose of either falling apart or else falling out of fashion in the next fortnight. As with the fashion writers I encourage you to give people shit for promoting this stuff.

Bangladesh is holding a mirror up to the west right now and I'm hoping that everybody is as disgusted with the reflection as I am.  I'm going to end on a humorous note, here's a comment taken from the Penneys facebook page, underneath their "Shocked and Appalled" lol press release:

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