I'm sure most of you have heard about the tragic accident in Bangladesh involving the collapse of an 8-story garment factory and the death of some 300+ people. Although the picture painted by journalists covering this story is truly horrifying, there is some solace in the fact that each day rescuers have pulled survivors from the rubble. I can't even imagine the terrifying days of darkness some of those survivors must have endured before being pulled to safety. Our hearts go out to those men and women, and the families of those who lost their lives. This incident was particularly bad, with a very high count of lost lives. However, this has been a somewhat common thing in Bangladesh and other emerging economies overseas that are lousy with American garment manufacturing. In Bangladesh alone, there have been 41 'fire related' incidence in the past 5 months alone-- killing 9 and injuring some 660 (severe burns, smoke inhalation and being trampled). Inspections are lax, attempts by unions to improve conditions are constantly blunted and factory owners have used their influence with local governments to subvert inspectors and regulations. I could go on, this really is just the rim of the rabbit hole. But regardless of what is happening (or not happening) in Bangladesh, the real culprit of this dirty enterprise is the 'disposable fashion' needs of American Companies. What's worse, is that our population's seemingly endless need for cheap, fast, low-quality clothing fuels the fires (sometimes quite literally) of many of these factories.
My point in writing about this is not to dwell on the business practices of the multi-national & industry giants in the clothing world, rather, attempt to understand ‘why’ the shift happened, and how it can be improved. How did America loose all of its manufacturing? Why must we fill our closets with these garments and turn a blind eye to the pedigree of our clothing? One answer might be simple ignorance– we didn’t know, how could we? It is incredibly difficult to discover the origin of any piece of clothing if the retailer is not painfully transparent (very few are). A brand can paint themselves green and dump a few million behind an ad campaign to showcase their ‘care for the earth’ and ‘investment in responsibility’, but looking past those gimmicks you have to see how they run their business– what are their tenants? In many cases (namely with public companies), the tenants will likely put a priority on profits above all else. And if that is the case– all other ideals will take a back seat, despite any one board member or share holder’s believe in ethical behavior. The corporation becomes it’s own manifestation, and will behave without principal if that mindset is allowed to run rampant.
You may be looking at this post title and thinking “where’s the hope? This all seems pretty hopeless.”. Well, it doesn’t have to be. There is a resurgence of companies who are not solely worried about their profit margin, and are putting beliefs and practices of ethical sourcing and manufacturing high on their lists of “musts” (Patagonia, Toms, Warby Parker to name a few). This is incredibly refreshing to know that there is another option out there today, that there is hope. Not all of these ‘humanistic’ companies base their infrastructure entirely in America (sometimes it’s simply impossible due to our own shortages)– but they sure do focus on doing it the right way wherever they are and are incredibly transparent. That is a great start. Slowly, manufacturing is coming back to our shores… maybe not with the big box stores and fashion giants, but I have to believe there is hope for them too. It only takes the will and demand of the customer to force their hand and behavior to be a little more civil and ethical. But we have a long way to go. It is still difficult to find American sourced materials, and even more of a challenge to find organic or environmentally friendly materials (I’m talking about cotton, wool, dies, etc.). Add that to the manufacturing shortage and we have a real problem to overcome. But like I said, there is a fix, and our engines are warming up again. We can all help that shift to continue.
Community & Culture,
Slow Clothes & Sustainability
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