In 2013 an eight-story commercial building in Bangladesh collapsed killing 1,129 garment workers and injuring over 2,500. It was this tragedy that prompted the world to wake up to the adverse effects of fast fashion, an industry neglecting human rights and encouraging inequality.
On April 24th 2013, the Rana Plaza factory workers were producing clothes for popular western brands, including Primart, Bennetton, Walmart & Mango. Clothes that were produced cheap - so cheap that working conditions and human rights were compromised.
Four years on, brands like those mentioned above are still profiting from fast fashion, and despite pressure to increase transparency there are still many human rights violations and slavery occurring in the fashion industry.
Fashion Revolution Week is a week to remember not only those lives lost in the Rana Plaza tragedy, but to also raise awareness about the implications that fast fashion has on our world today, both socially and environmentally.
Nepal has become one country where western brands look to for cheap labour. It is estimated that 1.6 million children in Nepal are child laborers, and many garment workers (predominantly women) earn less than than $3 per day, with some only earning $1 a day.
When Nasreen (founder of LWH) was just a child she experienced what it was like to be forced into child labour. She worked for 15 hours a day getting paid as little as $5. It was those experiences that inspired her to start LWH, and provide opportunity and empowerment to women in the garment industry in Nepal.
Since then Nasreen has trained over 100 women in the art of textile production and helped them discover new opportunities in their lives. Many of the women have come from underprivileged backgrounds and been victim to the social stigmas that still surround women in Nepal, including stereotypical gender roles and oppression. You can read some of the women’s stories here.
The women here at LWH have opportunity because they are treated equally. There is no discrimination at LWH, adhering to principle 6 of the 10 principles of fair trade - Commitment to Non Discrimination, Gender Equity and Women’s Economic Empowerment, and Freedom of Association.
Fast fashion does not promote equality, and it does not promote fair trade. If you expect to purchase a new t-shirt for $2 how much do you think the garment worker was paid to make that t-shirt? Watch the 2 Euro experiment here and see for yourself.
Fast fashion has created an expectation in the western world that clothes are cheap when in fact they are not. Somewhere, someone is paying. The global textile and garment industry (including textile, clothing, footwear and luxury fashion) is currently worth nearly $3 trillion dollars, yet workers and producers are still earning less than $1 per day. H&M hit £1.7 billion profit in 2016 with its 52 fashion seasons, while in Bangladesh garment workers earn £44 a month, a quarter of the nation’s monthly living wage.
If, in the western world, we found out that someone was getting paid below minimum wage there would be an outcry, yet here in developing countries we turn a blind eye to it. Sure living costs are lower but that does not mean we should expect someone to work hours on end for $1. These people are artisans, carrying on weaving traditions from centuries ago and yet we believe we are entitled to pay nothing for these garments. How do you tell an artist their work is not worth anything?
People still come into the LWH shop daily trying to bargain prices. They must see that a bag is not just a bag. It is craftsmanship, a work of art created by hand. The prices marked on these products are to ensure these artists get a fair wage. Every dollar bargained is a dollar taken away from an artisan, a human just like us.
This is why we need to start looking at our clothing and our products as works of art crafted by hand. They are in fact artworks, every stitch woven by a woman, a daughter, a wife, a mother...
This is why the Fashion Revolution prompts us to ask "Who made my clothes?" and build the relationship between the consumer and the producer.
This year we will be participating in Fashion Revolution Week here in Nepal. Last year during Fashion Revolution Week (18-24th April), over 70,000 people around the world asked brands #whomademyclothes?, which reached 156 million organic impressions (the number of times our conversation appeared in people’s social media feeds.).
This means that people are starting to make a stand against fast fashion, and look at more sustainable practices such as fair trade and environmentally friendly production. Here at LWH we adhere to the 10 principles of fair trade, and we have also produced our own range of products made from recycled materials such as recycled Saris. You can view some of our recycled products here.
You can also make a stand against fast fashion. Ask your brands “Who made my clothes?” or better yet, shop fair trade brands that you know are 100% ethical.
We are the change and we are the voice.