Today is the third anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse—the deadliest garment-factory accident in history, where over a thousand were killed.
It’s easy to forget—willfully or otherwise—about such a horrific occurrence. It’s easy to say “never again.” It’s easy to feel powerless in the face of an overwhelming industry. I find it is less easy to write about fashion. Talking about fashion and the issues within the industry feels much like talking about food: it’s deeply personal and the effects are far-reaching, yet we can’t see how our individual choices contribute—for good or for ill.
The clothes we buy and wear—the things we choose to cover our skin—are intimately related to our identities—how we define ourselves and how we wish others to define us. Taking a stance means running the risk of offending someone’s chosen identities, and exposing oneself as a hypocrite.
It’s not easy to admit: I am a hypocrite.
It’s also not easy to know where to begin.
The collapse of Rana Plaza was foreshadowed by cracks in the building. Other tenants moved out, but the owners of the garment factory insisted that workers return the next day, that fateful day.
So what if we started with exposing the cracks? Maybe, three years out, we can learn to see that the foundation of the industry itself is fractured, and we must flee before it comes crashing down on us. Yet it’s so hard to see the cracks in the window displays at Nordstrom—so expertly painted so often—and it’s so hard to see the cracks in the soles of the shoes switched out every season.
The True Cost, a feature-length documentary released last year, exposes those cracks—carefully and cogently. The film interviews garment factory workers about their living conditions, leading activists regarding the environmental and ecological consequences of fast fashion, and independent designers aiming to redefine the industry. It is a must-see for anyone who wears clothes—which is to say, for everyone.
Since watching it, I felt the impetus for this space—to explore these topics as they relate to my day-to-day. Clearly, I’ve barely started—as the industry feels too huge and I feel too small and powerless to change it. Luckily, I’m not alone: the individuals behind The True Cost did not cease their work when the film was released, movements such as Fashion Revolution are on the rise, designers like Elizabeth Suzann and Vetta Capsule are pushing back, and bloggers like Un-fancy are taking up the cause.
But it’s more than that—it’s more than a cause. These are lives we’re talking about here. A thousand people in Bangladesh three years ago, countless more living below poverty lines across the globe, and countless more suffering in the cycle of seemingly endless consumerism. It has to stop, it has to change, and we have to start where we are, however imperfect or messy.