Who Made My Clothes?

by Stylianee Parascha, President Fashion Revolution Luxembourg

The death of thousands

It was April 24, 2013, seven years ago, when a horrendous sound from afar shook the fashion world from its roots. It was neither the unfortunate death of an infant prodigy of high fashion, nor the assassination of a master of bold patterns and Medusa heads. It was the death of those who never made it to the glossy fashion magazines, of those whom the fashion press never spent any ink to write about. 

It was the death of more than a thousand garment workers, most of them young women who were earning a living while making our beautiful clothes. Another two thousands were injured, many of them from injuries that would not allow them to work in the factories again.

COVID-19 and the fashion industry

Fast forward to 2020: Covid-19 has stricken and it’s as if someone hit the pause button. The business and production frenzy stopped to give the planet a break at everyone else’s expense. The fashion industry is among the businesses that are suffering the biggest loss. Fashion weeks were cancelled, high street stores and shopping malls all closed down. Clothes sales plummeted; who needs more clothes when staying at home fearing about their health and the health of their loved ones?

Garment workers were hit again, with a slow death this time. Writing for the Business of Fashion, Bangladeshi garment manufacturer Mostafiz Uddin said eloquently: “Poverty is a killer too, and many more people die from poverty than from COVID-19”. With more than 1 million garment workers in Bangladesh having lost their jobs or being furloughed and many more in India, Cambodia, Vietnam and elsewhere, it is the makers of our clothes, at the very center of the fashion industry, who always seem to pay the price.

But how did that happen?

Force majeure is a good enough reason for order cancellations in the fashion industry, and major fashion brands everywhere took advantage of it. Three billion dollars’ worth of orders were cancelled only from factories in Bangladesh. Brands were losing money, so they decided to let the weakest link in the chain deal with the consequences: they left garment factories unpaid for goods that were already produced.

Factory owners had to send workers home without paying them for work they have already done, and they received nothing for already paid materials either. At best, they had to bargain to sell already-ordered clothes for a fraction of their real price.

Abandoned from their partners, the fashion brands that practically depend on them, factory owners and their workers are not at home and having a hard time to put food on the table. They might not have social security, savings or anything to depend on for their survival.

A commemoration for the Rana Plaza incident

That’s why the 24th April the Fashion Revolution Day, which commemorated those who died at the Rana Plaza incident is now more relevant than ever. 7 years after, garment workers are still exposed to all sorts of threats and perils and the precariousness of their situation has not changed.

There is still a fight to win

Living wage demands from advocacy organizations are not yet met, and working conditions have not greatly improved. Seven years of activism and advocacy, seven years of collaboration with the fashion industry did bring an enormous improvement on the visibility of the subject, nevertheless.

More consumers are aware of the exploitation in the supply chain, and they are also aware of the enormous amount of waste and depletion of natural resources that is connected with the operations of the fashion industry.

But, everybody needs to be aware. Consumers need to be mobilized to demand from brands to protect their workers. Our clothes would not exist without workers, so let’s ask together Who Made My Clothes and let’s demand transparency that will bring accountability and the much-needed change in the fashion industry.

To learn more about Fashion Revolution Luxembourg and its cause, click here.

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