Eight years ago, on April 24th, 2013, the Rana Plaza factory in Dhaka collapsed, killing 1138 people and injuring 2500 more. The Rana Plaza building had housed a number of garment factories that were producing clothes for many of the biggest fast-fashion brands. The majority of victims were young women and the sad truth is that some of us may have been wearing the clothes they made.
To this day, the collapse remains one of the world’s worst industrial accidents. Fashion Revolution Week is a week of campaigns to demand more transparency and accountability from brands and make sure such a horrible accident never happens again.
What has changed since Rana Plaza?
Since 2013, the fashion industry has made huge strides towards more transparent supply chains. Many brands now publicly disclose crucial information about their practices and suppliers, allowing NGOs and journalists to investigate and solve issues faced by workers.
In some ways, quality of life and working conditions for textile and garment workers have improved, for example, due to the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which helps make garment factories safer.
Because of the huge environmental toll the global fashion industry is taking on the planet, some of the world’s most prominent fashion brands have also joined the United Nations Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action and the G7 Fashion Pact to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Fortunately, increasing consumer awareness of the negative impact of the fashion and textile industry is slowly beginning to affect purchasing behavior, and consumption volumes have started to decline in Western markets.
Why do we still need a Fashion Revolution?
But all this is only a start, and a Fashion Revolution is still needed - and perhaps now more than ever. What the fashion industry needs is a systematic transformation; especially in the face of urgent challenges such as the climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and deeply entrenched inequality and structural racism.
While some apsects of working conditions have improved since Rana Plaza collapsed, millions of workers around the world still face poverty, danger and even death while making the clothes we buy and wear. For example, the legal minimum wage for a garment worker in Bangladesh is still only €16 per month, although a single person would actually need €72 to afford a decent living standard. And at the same time, gender-based discrimination and violence continue to be a huge problem - with one in every two women workers in garment factories in Southeast Asia having experienced sexual harassment.
It is also time the fashion industry addressed structural racism which manifests in many different ways, including but not limited to a lack of diversity, discrimination in the workplace, racist product design and marketing, as well as cultural appropriation.
Another reason why we still need a Fashion Revolution is the fact that the fashion industry continues to deplete and pollute forests, air, soil and water while using way too many resources. And although consumption volumes have started to decline, we still buy too many clothes and produce too much waste that cannot be regenerated. The truth is that we are far from understanding the true scale of the environmental impact of the fashion and textile industry. Too few studies have been done, and the data that exists is sometimes unreliable or even contradictory. But one only has to think about the fact that around 80 billion new pieces of clothing are consumed every year to realize that we have a problem.
We are running out of time; the planet simply cannot handle this amount of overproduction, overconsumption and waste.
What can we all do?
As consumers, we have more power than we may think to help revolutionize the fashion industry, and the possibilities are endless. The Fashion Revolution movement depends on every single one of us to question our own shopping behavior and encourage others to do the same. Here are a few things we can all do to drive positive change:
→ Ask. If you want brands to know that you care about the way they treat garment workers, you can send them an email using the email template on this page. It will only take a few minutes.
→ Unfollow and Unsubscribe. Take 15 minutes to unfollow accounts that negatively influence your shopping behavior and unsubscribe from any email newsletters that push you into making impulse purchases.
→ Spread the message. By using the hashtags #WhatsInMyClothes or #WhoMadeMyClothes on social media, you can encourage others to question the resources, materials and environmental impacts of the clothes they’re wearing and think about those who made them. Or inspire others to keep and wear their existing clothes with the hashtag #LovedClothesLast.
While Fashion Revolution Week is an important time to reflect on what needs to change, we will only really be able to revolutionize the fashion industry if we commit to doing so every day of the year. So, are you ready to join the revolution?