Back to Bangladesh

bangladesh factory collapseSo how much have you been thinking about the factory collapse in Bangladesh that happened in April? I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I was pleased to see this excellent cover story on this in last Saturday’s edition of the Vancouver Sun; grateful that media is still bringing attention to the plight of workers in the Bangladeshi garment industry and answering some of my questions about accountability of their employers.

book cover overdressedOne commenter on my blog about the collapse encouraged me to read Overdressed: the shockingly high cost of cheap fashion by Elizabeth Cline. I promptly got it out of the library and read it in a week. It is well written, describing the evolution of the garment industry in America. (Most of which could likely be said for Canada, since we are so heavily influenced by our neighbours to the south.) What I also appreciated was that the book was also her own personal journey of discovery and change: she was a cheap fashion addict but is now in “recovery” and is even learning to sew her own clothing. I highly recommend this book; it confirmed for me that my commitment to purchasing thrifted clothing is good. It also made me think more about consumerism again.

sewing-maching-pakistan

What I didn’t quite agree with, however, was the main thrust of her book: to bring garment manufacturing back to America. I am not opposed to this per se, I think that there is definitely a place for well-made clothing to be created in North America. But I also believe that there is a need for consumers like us to put pressure on companies to ensure that all their employees, whether they live in Canada, the U.S., Vietnam, China, India, Bangladesh or elsewhere, are paid a living wage, can work in safety and be treated with dignity.

IMG_3183So I am thinking about a few different ways to take action. I am a letter-writer so I am going to write letters to the companies whose clothing I like to wear. I am going to thank those whose websites indicate responsibility to their garment makers and let them know that I value this enough to pay more for clothing that is made in an ethical manner. I am also going to write to some of the companies whose clothing I wear and love but who do not provide any kind of information on their website regarding the places and conditions of their garment makers. One of these companies is Northern Reflections. I wear quite a bit of their clothing – most of purchased used but occasionally purchased new, on sale – and nearly all of it is made in developing countries like Bangladesh, India, Vietnam and China.

What are you doing in response to the Bangladesh garment factory collapse? Would you be willing to pay more for clothing that was ethically produced?

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14 Responses to Back to Bangladesh

  1. you should also read Branded it’s about the brands we know and love and WHY we feel compelled to brand ourselves–very good! I have NOT thought too much about the collapse and for that I feel remorse–I don’t listen or pan attention to the news because I have young kids and I don’t think they need to hear ANY of the hype or the terrible things that happen…call them sheltered but thats ok by me : )

    We do sew some of our clothes but even the fabric is made in china and poorly made these days–we try to invest in well made clothes that can stand the test of time (AND BOYS!!) we always buy 2nd hand when we can too

    • a few people have recommended that book to me too – it’s also on my list for summer reading! kudos to you for sheltering your kids; there’s plenty of time to learn about bad news… sadly enough. i also have a boy (who is now 21) and i remember the challenge of even buying thrifted clothes for him because boys tend to be harder on their clothing than girls, so thrift pickins for boys was often slim pickins! my sewing skills suck, i’m always in awe of people who are skilled with needle and thread!

  2. Anna-Marie says:

    The garment industry is one I have been struggling with since high school. My search for fair trade options has being going on for most of my life. I like clothes. I like new things, I like thrifted things. I have found a few fair trade options, but they are all UK based and therefore even more expensive (34 GBP for a t-shirt ends up being a lot of Canadian dollars). It gets hard to put that kind of money down.

    What I am struggling with right now is opting out of the disposable fashion mind-set. I get sick of my clothes quickly. Usually I replenish my wardrobe with thrift, but I like to buy new things as well. It really comes back to the question of consumption. Why do I get sick of my clothes? Is it because my friends have new clothes? Is it because I see what is “new and hot” on the fashion racks? I know my clothes are fine, and I know I have the skills to fix them when they tear. And to convert old things into more “up-to-date” new things. And to make my own clothes entirely. I have the power to opt out.

    The argument that comes back to me (from myself and from the outside world) is that by opting out I decrease someone’s livelihood. The “it may suck but at least it’s a job” argument is there and is sometimes difficult to push aside. I’m all for converting the companies that use sweat-shop labour. But does that compel us all to continue disposable fashion consumerism? Where is the balance between garment industry job creation (and good job creation) and the imminent need for us all to slow down and take less from the planet and each other? Can disposable fashion, even fairly made, ever be sustainable?

    Heavy thoughts for a Monday morning.

    • i share all of your thoughts! it really does all come back to consumerism – and one thought i have had is that if all the folks who work in the garment industry really were paid a decent, living wage, were treated with dignity and respect and could work in safety, then it might automatically make all of our clothing more expensive because they’d simply have to pay garment makers more. that then, might translate into me purchasing less often because i can’t afford to buy clothes at a higher price – but then, if i demand that manufacturers also produce better quality clothing that lasts longer, it might be okay for me to own less, because the clothing i wear is better made and the people who make it are paid a better wage. in a way, it could all balance out. you’re definitely right though, it all comes down to how much we consume – how many pairs of shoes do i really need? thrifted or not?

  3. ivanoiurares40 says:

    Reblogged this on TheSlashDash.

  4. Thriftcore says:

    I’d definitely be willing to pay more for ethically produced clothing- I’m sure it would result in more quality wares as well. I think of this often while thrifting. Great post, I’ll have to check out the book as well.

  5. T Lani says:

    Thanks for the great blog, Angelika! There’s so much I’d like to chat about on this topic, but for another time. But I will say that for one thing, I’m happy to support MCC by buying their thrift stuff. Even if I buy something at MCC thrift that I don’t know where it originally came from, the maker is not benefitting from the sale anyhow. I’m just glad MCC is being supported because they actively work to REVERSE the exploitation of 3rd-world workers, by various means.

    • indeed. buying clothing at any thrift shop helps support a charity and doesn’t line the pockets of big industry. the irony is, someone had to buy the clothes in the first place and donate them to MCC so i can buy them there! but yes, supporting charities, like MCC, that work in developing countries to improve the lives of workers just like the ones in Bangladesh’s garment industry, is important. that’s why i’m a thrift shopper for peace!

  6. Lori says:

    Interesting post. Ironically, my 22 year old son has decided he only wants to buy things made in the USA – great, right? So the first thing he wants is a pair of jeans made in the USA. Can’t get more American than denim jeans, can you? Well, all the Levi’s, Wrangler’s, and Lee’s are made…NOT in the USA. No Abercrombie & Fitch or Hollister is manufactured anywhere near the continental 48. However, you can buy a pair of Levi’s or even Wrangler’s ONLINE that are made in America. The catch…they cost $139.00 a pair. No lie. Serious as a heart attack. Read it and weep. We will never get manufacturing back in this country like it used to be, I fear. I, personally, won’t pay 139.00 for a pair of anything. So we will do the second best thing and buy from the local thrift stores. At least that way we are not contributing to the problem.

    • have you read “Overdressed”? her coverage of the history of the garment industry in America is fascinating – not just how it declined but how our consumption of things has evolved over the last 100 years. our families used to be bigger but our houses were smaller. we owned less things, including clothes. she does a lot of comparison pricing – by which i mean, what things cost then but in today’s dollars. people were willing to pay a lot more for things 60 years ago but they bought fewer things and the things they bought lasted for years. the meaning of the word “quality” in terms of clothing has changed from something that would last for years to something that will last 5 washings. that made me think A LOT. if jeans that cost $139.00 would last 10-15 years, it would be a good investment. the question is, would they? but yes, better yet, if you can get those $139 jeans at a thrift shop that support charities in developing countries, then it’s even better!

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