Six years ago I ran across an article online about children who had been discovered chained to a wall, making Christmas ornaments. I was horrified, but I was also ashamed. For years I had been focused on finding the “best deals” without considering the harm my obsession caused. This eye-opening article was the beginning for me.
I quickly began learning more about the conditions of workers across the world. It is no secret that the individuals who create our clothes, electronics, furniture, etc., work in abysmal conditions. But the fashion industry is notoriously deadly.
The fashion industry’s maladies start at the very beginning. Workers who grow the textiles our clothes are made from are paid so little that families cannot afford to house, clothe, and feed themselves. This leaves little choice, but for any children to also work in the fields. The Environmental Labor Organization estimates that there are over 73 million children, as young as 5 years old, working in hazardous conditions. (1) According to the World Health Organization 70% of these children work in agriculture. Children who work in agriculture work in some of the deadliest conditions due to exposure to chemicals, dangerous work equipment, animal attacks, etc. (2)
Next comes the dying or bleaching of our fabrics. The desired result is often attained with little regard to worker safety. OSHA has found that some of the chemicals used in the making and dying of fabrics are carcinogenic, and the women that work in these industries have an increased risk of nasal and bladder cancer. Since the making of clothes has been a primarily female occupation, more women than men are suffering from these preventable hazards. (3)
Once the fabric is the right color, it heads to the factories to be cut and sewed into the clothes we wear. In 2013 a factory in Bangladesh collapsed killing more than 1,000 workers. This was the deadliest accident in garment industry history. It was caused by substandard materials, a disregard for building codes, and a willingness by the government and fashion to turn a blind eye. As a result, many companies, such as Disney, drawn to Bangladesh by the lowest wages in the world have since left the country.
Some brands such as Zara and H&M have signed an Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which has resulted in thousands of hazards being addressed. However, there have still been dozens of deaths, mainly due to fires, in Bangladesh alone. And while wages have risen, they are still half the living wage for the region. (4)
After learning of these facts, my next question was what could I do to help? I began searching for products and clothes that wouldn’t harm others. My search led me to some of my favorite brands, but once I entered the professional work-space I ran into trouble again. I needed suits, and formal work wear. The brands that I had come to love were filled with jeans, t-shirts, and day dresses.
There are not nearly as many brands offering office attire that are registered as fair trade, or are made in countries with a higher standard of worker protections. This is why I am starting this blog. So that other women like me can look professional and polished at our day jobs, while not sacrifice our ideals. This is our beginning.