Bangladesh – Fast Fashion Blues

I see a world where fairness supersedes profits.

Suffering is in my heart as I read about the senseless deaths in Bangladesh.

Now, it may seem so far from where we all are

It’s something we can’t reject That suffering, I can’t neglect …

– George Harrison  from the protest song “Bangladesh”, 1970

I am biting back many bitter and angry words right now about the Bangladesh Building Collapse. The G-rated version boils down to: If workers were cared for and their concerns about a crumbling building were addressed, this would not have happened.  If people weren’t so interested in buying cheaply made clothes this might not have happened.  I lament for those souls sacrificed at the altar of greed.  I marvel at the woman who gave birth in the rubble.  I wish for a better future for them and us all.  I wish to turn that pain into productive thoughts and actions.

We have begun to embrace Fair-Trade coffee and chocolate.  Now how about Fair-Trade clothes?  Where workers are given the right to work in clean, safe buildings that are regularly subjected to safety and fire drills?  Why is fast food unacceptable but fast fashion is extolled?  Why should a fancy coffee cost more than a tee-shirt?

What step forward can we take to unwind this conundrum?  What changes in the right direction can we make?  There are the band-aid solutions and then there are the steps to make towards real change.  For the band-aid solutions: give aid, hold perpetrators accountable for lax and insufficient standards.

For the long-term, I would like to bring up again the Stephens Sisters’ shopping Diet (the SSSD). If you love to shop, this will not limit your shopping enjoyment, but greatly enhance it.  The SSSD: Whatever you buy, it must be one or more of the following categories: Local, Organic, Sustainable, Second Hand, or Fair-Trade.  If you can’t find local, then buy from a country with a stellar social and environmental record.  Buy Quality so that you don’t have to shop as much  to replace your stuff as often.

The more categories you check, the better.  Instead of looking only at the price tag, see beyond to the hidden costs (people and the Earth) and pay the fair price.  When you look at prices at the supermarket or clothing store and automatically reach for the cheapest, stop and ask yourself:  Is it really the cheapest?  Who and what am I supporting with my purchase?  Do the companies I support give back?  Can I spend a little more and support a company that is doing the right thing by people and our planet?

Stop and look at your clothes.   Where did you buy them?  When did you buy them?  In what country were they made?

Today I am wearing Canadian-made black, bootcut, mid rise Second Yoga jeans http://www.secondclothing.com/, a locally made shirt from Shop Coccoon http://www.shopcocoon.com/ in Cambie St village 3 years old (took out the itchy tag so can’t provide the brand), socks from recycled wool (from Leka http://lekadesign.com/ in Victoria), boots i bought when I lived in Florence over 9 years ago (they are scruffy but I love them like an old friend), a hand-me-down Sweater from my mom, and a Coat I bought in Italy 8 years ago.  My bag is vintage LV from the late 1990s.  I wear it every day.  It looks almost-new because it’s designed to last.  When a strap breaks I get it fixed.  Shopping the SS Diet can be enormously fun and rewarding.  I challenge you to try the diet for your next clothing purchase.   Share pictures and stories here and on social media.

You work hard for your money.  When you exchange that money for goods, make your dollar, pound, peso, euro…  speak for you.  If you don’t have time to write to organize protests,  encourage with your dollars, boycott with your money.   Focus on the positive, support fair fashion and fair trade. Try to ignore advertising (it’s hard I know) which tells you to buy what you don’t need.  Instead, search out the truth in yourself.

You are not alone.  I am there with you.  Let’s draw strength from each other and create a more righteous world –  one fairly-made garment at a time!

5 thoughts on “Bangladesh – Fast Fashion Blues

  1. Emma

    Deepa – I am with you in my soul…. But (and here is where the economists ALWAYS say but), many, many people in less well-off countries benefit from having access to trade-focused jobs like those in the garment industry in Bangladesh. For many of these folks, their outside option (subsistence village living, etc.) is *in probability* worse for the day-to-day survival of their families. NO-ONE should die in an unambiguously heinous and avoidable incident with a multiplicity of causes (regulatory failure and bad management, for instance). But if I can’t control the enforcement of workplace regs in Bangladesh, what are my options? One option is for me to simply stop buying Bangladeshi-made clothes, which is principled, and sits well with my deeply buried conscience. BUT if we *all* do this, then there are many people who will – on average – end up in worse circumstances than the current environment offers them. A second option is for me to keep blindly shopping at H&M (etc.), and help perpetuate the problem. Neither of these options makes me happy. Can’t there be a third way? Are there workers’ rights organizations that we can contribute to – ones that fight for worker safety and fair injury compensation – while at the same time still supporting economic development through trade? Sorry for the long-winded post. Sometimes economists really do want to hear from non-economists about ways to fix social problems in a complex world, honest!

    Reply
    1. Gurdeep Stephens Post author

      Emma,

      You have made a great point or series of points. What I’ve read on wiki is that the following brands had their garments being produced in the Bangladesh Building Collapse: Benetton, The Children’s Place, Primark, Monsoon and Dress Barn. H and M wasn’t on the list. Apparently, it has been trying to polish its image by using organic cotton and reducing waste as I’ve read over and over again. Is it polishing the turd, as my friend Paul says? If we’re buying stuff that designed to last a season, should we support that?

      I was at a Natural Products trade show (years ago) when some sugar supplier came up to my dad and told him about his new brand policy about using agricultural production that did the fair thing by the land and the people, they wouldn’t burn the excess production, they wouldn’t leave the children to work, workers would be protected against pesticides, schools put in place for children and so on.

      And by the way, yes, it costed more.

      Guess who bought that sugar? (Dad of course)

      I heard the same questions you quite right-fully ask about fair coffee and fair sugar. “But it’s a cut-throat world, people need every edge they can get”. “People are going to go without jobs” “If we dont support the status quo, then those workers will be the ones to suffer, not us here in Canada” “Better they have a job than not” Fast forward to 2013. Everywhere I go, I see fair-trade coffee for sale. I even saw Cadbury’s has come out with fair trade chocolate. Yes it costs more. And more suprisingly, people are increasingly wanting to pay the difference to make a difference.

      Over twenty years ago, I was doing a supermarket demo at the Safeway on Arbutus and Broadway in Vancouver. I was in my teens and trying to earn some pocket money creating awareness for my dad’s new organic cereals and Breads. I remembder this one lady who stopped for a few mintues to have a taste and look at the label on the packaging. Hoping for a sale, I chirped up, “And they’re organic, too!’ I said it with a proud smile. She looked at me with a puzzled face. “That means they’re grown without pesticides and herbicides” I explained eagerly. Her face was full of absolulte derision. “I’m a nutritionist young lady and organic means it contains carbon”. She snorted and walked away.

      See how far we’ve come, Emma? We just need to go the next step for fashion and turn the tide. You have heard Margaret Mead’s “Never Doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has”

      If we demand fair and safe conditions for workers making our clothes, if our dollars go to support the companies that do the right thing, then the market will respond. This is my first answer, but I will research this further and find out from my friends in the fashion industry who and what we can support, if there is a fair trade logo for fashion. If not, let’s start one!

      XO

      Reply
  2. Pingback: Bangladesh Blues – Rhea’s response | The Deeper Side Blog by Gurdeep Stephens

  3. lolchoff

    Wonderful blog, and great reply to Emma’s questions! Let’s change the world together! 🙂

    Reply
  4. Irene

    Love what you’re saying Gurdeep. I’m not a fashionista, I became comfortable with my very classic and relaxed look a very long time ago. One of by brothers gave me the best ever compliment recently. “Irene, you are classic, you have never changed your style, you’re like Stevie Nicks, you have maintained who you are”. I thought …….wow ……what a great compliment. Some of my threads are getting a wee bit thin but I am slowly
    finding replacements, it’s been a process. I’m having trouble giving up my leaking 20 year old shoes despite that fact that I have a lovely perfectly comfortable new pair now for two years. For me, my apparel is like my skin, an old friend that I feel faithful to because I have had such good company and service. I wish everyone connected to themselves the same way. We are not snakes that need to shed our skin. I wish that people could just stop and be satisfied with the abundance that most of us outside of the developing countries have,
    hang onto it and give it some consideration and reverence. Sure the third world can flourish from our greed, but at what cost, when it jeopardizes personal safety? I say take stock, wake up, realize.

    Reply

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