Here are a few more startling statistics. We demand about four times the amount of clothes we would have demanded thirty years ago. We accumulate in the region of twenty-eight kilograms of clothing in one year. We prematurely bin around the same amount that we buy and we only wear 20% of our wardrobe 80% of the time.
Despite buying more than 4 clothing items per month we know almost nothing about the people who make them and the conditions they face in order that we have the privilege of buying cheap clothes on tap.
Last week we heard that a Welsh woman had found a hand-stitched label in her Primark dress that said, “Forced to work exhausting hours”. Primark responded by saying they are “committed to making working conditions safer for those who manufacture its products”. Making a commitment is one thing. Actually putting into action real improvements is another.
In response to the message found, the Daily Mail was quick to highlight high street brands they deem as ‘ethical’ simply because they have a few pieces made of organic cotton. No mention was made of working conditions.
This cry for help has once again reignited the debate about our obsession for fast fashion and the devastating impact it has on the most vulnerable in the supply chain. It’s not the first time a message has been found. Recently a woman found a letter in her paper shopping bag from Saks Fifth Avenue pleading for help due to harsh working and living conditions.
Last year’s Rana Plaza disaster, which saw more than 1,300 people killed and many more injured, sparked international concern and a commitment by many high street brands to improve working conditions.
More than 150 British brands signed the Bangladesh Safety Accord. This is a legally binding contract between brands, retailers and trade unions that make independent safety inspections and public reporting compulsory. While it’s encouraging to see major brands recognise the need for improvement, it has, unfortunately, changed very little.
Workers continue to suffer despicable conditions. There are numerous reports about workers being locked into factories and forced to work more than 19 hours in unsafe environments.
Despite the reality facing workers; despite the Rana Plaza disaster and others like it; despite desperate messages being found in clothing we continue to buy clothes made off the backs of another’s suffering – our only concern being personal convenience, pleasure and value for money. Every so often a story might break that compels us to make ethical purchases. Yet we quickly fall back into our usual purchasing habits. Common excuses are that ethical clothes cost too much, that’s it not convenient or that our individual purchases are too small and too insignificant to effect change.
That’s the problem, all of the above are just excuses. Sharing a link on Facebook is not enough. A change in our attitude towards fashion is necessary. Buy less. Buy better. Commit to wearing items 30 times. Look at inventive ways to update your wardrobe – vintage fairs, charity shops, making your own, renting an outfit for special occasions.
Late last year I made a personal commitment to buy ethical clothing wherever possible. At the time it seemed a daunting task. The result has been an exciting and inspiring journey that continues to this day as I transform my view of fashion and my approach to consumer choices. Over the last few months I’ve ready many books and blogs that have inspired me, motivated me and more importantly offered practical advice. I get immense satisfaction knowing that my good stewardship is helping support businesses that put the wellbeing of their workers first.
We need to acknowledge the true value of our purchasing power and start to make choices that reflect the values and principles we believe in. Until we do this, the fashion trade will continue to take the path of least resistance. Workers will continue to suffer. Conditions will continue to get worse.
You are responsible for the choices you make. The power is in your hands.
(Feel free to comment and ask questions!)
Image credit: Andre Mercier