Tag Archives: Triple Bottom Line

Bangladesh Blues – Rhea’s response

I see a tidal wave turning as people realize that cheap disposable clothing is not cheap at all.

Rhea Singh is the Director of Strategy behind Ashima & Leena Couture http://www.ashima-leena.com.  When we met in India, she told me how she had been moved to leave Europe for India to inspire change and effectuate it.  We had a simply mahvelous time (dahling) as Rhea is total riot.  I also discovered that she is an eloquent writer.

ashima leena sari

My absolute favorite Ashima & Leena Sari from last year’s collection.

Rhea is at the top echelon of Indian fashion, her designs stunning, her vision unique.  But that is only part of her success.  Rhea briefly told me of some of her programs to educate and empower children of garment workers.  Rhea is probably as close to the cheap fast fashion industry as I am.  In her field of passion, she is being the change, wrapped in the ethos of ethical business.  Her margins are built-in to give back.  She has come to the same conclusion of the triple bottom line I grew up with at Nature’s Path: socially responsible, environmentally sustainable and financially viable.

Wanting a fashion insider’s point of view, I asked Rhea if she would respond to Emma’s comment from my first Bangladesh Blues post https://thedeepersideblog.com/2013/04/27/bangladesh-fast-fashion-blues/ .  Here is what she said.

“We’re here to discuss the dark side that is driven by the retail giants that seek monopolistic profits and will go to any length to keep our favorite heather tee under $9.99, never-mind that the guy who could be making it for us in a third-world country in Asia is overworked and has earned poverty wages for it. Addressing this question more specifically on the subject of your post, it would be in a sense right ( and in a sense wrong ! ) to confuse a Gap assembly-line with a batch of fair-trade coffee. The cheapest of goods have to be made in the cheapest of countries. The cheapest of countries must offer the cheapest of pay to the cheapest of labour to meet the offered price. The cheapest of labour will be subjected to the poorest of conditions. This is the reality of competitive manufacturing and the built-in complicity of the volume game.
 
“So, unless the biggies of the mass-market labels come together to actively counter the plague of deplorable back-end conditions – the red–tape will flourish, there will be more fatalities and little room for the formation of independent trade-bodies. Stringent checks on work-environs have to become mandatory. At the risk of sounding idealistic, compliance guidelines with penalty-treaty agreements have to be set, regardless of currency fluctuations, price shifts and delivery deadlines. And that can be all done while keeping rigorous price and quality demands, if only the greed for profit would marginally subside.
 
“It boils down to a simple statement and I quote : ” By the perverse moral logic to which today’s captains of industry subscribe, a corporation would never voluntarily reduce its profits, however modestly, to accomplish an irrelevant purpose like paying a decent wage to the people around the world who make its products. “

– Thank you Rhea.

I maintain that if we spend our money on clothing that is ethically and socially –
responsibly made, we will signal the markets and the markets will change.
Markets respond to shocks.  Let’s shock the markets.
Be idealists and hold steadfast.
We are of stardust and light.
We deserve no less.

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!