In 2013, the glamorous facade of the global fashion industry was shattered following the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh. The disaster put the subject of ethical fashion front and centre into the spotlight. The story made headline news across the world as details of the disaster forced a long overdue reckoning for fast fashion.
One of the many consequences of this catastrophe was the formation of Fashion Revolution – a non-profit organisation committed to enacting genuine change. We had the privilege and pleasure of talking to one of its co-founders, Orsola De Castro, who is now known as one of the activists spearheading the call for change within the fashion industry.
Below you can see some written extracts from the conversation we had. Alternatively, if you wanted to listen to our whole conversation you can also do so via the following podcast episode. If you don’t want to use our player then don’t worry, you can click here to listen via Spotify, or click here to listen via Apple Podcasts!
TRS: How did the Rana Plaza disaster lead to Fashion Revolution?
ODC: The disaster killed 1,138 people – 90% of them were young women under the age of 24 – and left another 2,000 maimed. We’d been saying it for years, it was inevitable, but nothing had been done. “Global brands had no idea whether they had or hadn’t been producing in Rana Plaza.” The CEOs and CFOs of all the mainstream fashion companies – not just fast fashion but premium brands as well – did not know they were producing there.
TRS: Are the issues due to a simple breakdown in communication between those at the top and the people sourcing these factories?
ODC: I like that you are bringing up the issue of communication “but I’d add a word in there which is deliberate”. We had zero understanding of the raw materials, the conditions, how the garments were made, woven, dyed, moved around “the information exists but was deliberately kept hidden.” If we choose to buy cheap clothes, we need to know why they are cheap. Affordable clothes are important but the responsibility is on the brands to inform us why they are cheap.
TRS: So, have you seen much change since the 2013 disaster?
ODC: “Yes, humungous change” in the sense of our understanding of raw materials, equal rights, environmental (sustainability) and the like. But the actual consequences of the disaster for the companies were “risible” as they paid trivial fines for their part in killing and maiming and as a result of COVID “2020 has shown us that nothing has actually changed… garment workers are still being exploited.” It’s been “shamefully visible” how the industry continues to deal with its supply chain. “Brands are not paying for their cancelled orders… and the premium brands are just as bad in exploiting workers.”
TRS: How possible is it to keep prices low, whilst still implementing fair trade and proper standards for workers?
ODC: “To pay a garment worker a living wage, the cost of the article would actually go up very little.” Workers are paid by the piece, and not by the hour, so there is huge pressure on workers to make as many pieces as possible, but no matter how fast they work, brands still demand more. “We need to look at workers’ lives and make those lives bearable… with dignity and safety.”
The responsibility is on fashion companies to provide us with sustainable and affordable brands, but as consumers, we can all demand that they make those changes. “Brands have a responsibility to foster our consciousness”. People have a right to affordable clothes, but brands have lied to us, and we need to know the truth behind what we buy. “Yes, we need affordable clothing, but still the average person can play a part in understanding the problem.” We need to dispel the myths behind fashion.
For more information on the issues raised in this piece and the podcast please visit www.fashionrevolution.com