On Fashion Revolution Day, Ask The Important Question: Who Made My Clothes? – Forbes
Maxine Bédat and Soraya Darabi
Two years ago today, the world’s worst garment-factory accident in history occurred in Dhaka, Bangladesh, when the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed, taking the lives of 1,129 people and injuring more than 2,500 others. While Dhaka, Bangladesh is on the other side of the world, and a place most Americans don’t ever think of visiting, the problems that led to this collapse are not just global problems: they are problems effecting us right here on American soil.
In the 1960s and 70s, America’s textile industry was booming. We were a global leader in production and more than 95% of the clothing we purchased was made stateside. Today, that number is less than 4%. With this inversion, both brands and consumers lost the connection between the clothing we put on every day – with catastrophic results.
Americans throw away about 70 lbs of clothing every year, 20% of that trash is clothing that has never even been worn. Globally, the apparel industry churns out an astounding 80 billion garments a year, that’s equal to a whole new wardrobe for every man, woman and child on the planet. Every year.
And who can blame us? The system (called Fast Fashion) is in place for us to feel nothing but instant gratification when we purchase something new, not to think about what it took for us to receive that item. With more than 95% of textile sourcing and production taking place overseas, we don’t see our rivers turn red or cobalt blue, or whatever is the latest color of the season. Our skies aren’t covered in thick smog from the inefficient factories churning out all that stuff. Our workers are paid living wages and work in safe conditions.
We take pride in the regulatory system that is in place that makes this country so great (while recognizing there is always room for improvement). We have a system in place that gives us peace of mind in knowing that when we say a product is made with sustainable raw materials, it meets the government standards required for that qualification.
Take USDA certified organic cotton as an example. Each year, a USDA-accredited certifying agent verifies that each operation complies with USDA organic regulation. This includes announced and unannounced onsite inspections, in addition to testing the cotton itself. When companies do break the law, we have a system in place that allows us to feel confident that they will be punished and brought in line with our standards.
This country’s once-flourishing textile supply chain is fighting to survive. Our company, for example, provides a second chance for work to the formerly incarcerated, creating a new subset of skilled workers, and factories which are instituting the newest production innovation to maintain the highest standards for sustainable production around the world. And the president is listening. Recently, President Obama announced The White House Supply Chain Innovation Initiative to help revitalize America’s supply chain in the textile industry. Having the White House’s support in allowing the American supply chain remain competitive, with new machinery and techniques, would be tremendous.
The issues facing the fashion industry today aren’t just a global problem, which often seems easy to turn a blind eye to. This is an American problem. Without that connection to our clothing, fashion companies lose all sense of responsibility to create and produce with integrity. And as consumers, we’re being duped. We’re being given clothing that’s made of unbreathable, flammable and many times carcinogenic fabric that is falling apart before we put them on.