We all know the answer but choose to ignore it. That is until the recent highly publicised collapse of the Rana Plaza factory on the outskirts of Dhaka in Bangladesh on April 24, which killed a total of 1,127 by the time they finally called off the search and rescue. It is a tragedy that such events continually occur and each time we seem to come back to the same crossroads. The question is will things actually change this time?
Arguments have been going back and forth between newsprint, magazines, and cyberspace about the pros and cons of cheap labour. Are we conflicted in thinking that cheap labour is one that we should avoid when it provides struggling countries with a platform to rise up from the poverty that they are stuck in?
This industry provides a rung on the ladder for the first generation to leave destitute, jobless areas and thus earn a wage to educate as well as feed their children who in turn climb the ladder to higher paid employment following education.
These are the opportunities that fast fashion can give to impoverished countries, but is that reason enough to continue allowing major companies to exploit the human rights of cheap garment workers with placement in unsafe working environments?
Clearly there is a desperate need for the recently implemented Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord to be strictly enforced. In a country that is just beginning to rise up from the iron-tight clench of poverty, standards of living are different and hence standards of safety are lower.
There are laws in place but in a country where standards are so low, that reform is difficult to implement, sustain, and monitor. Change in safety needs to be enforced by the companies themselves but they also need to help instil that as a basic idea in the minds of the people, help them help themselves.
In the meantime perhaps what we need is an ideological shift in how we think of fashion and how it serves both the buyer and the maker. Boycotting shops like Penneys, The Gap and others that have clothing produced in Bangladesh and other countries where cheap garment labour is available may not be the answer. These companies, however, need to feel that stricter measures are required among the factories they use. It needs to be known that this is not going to go unnoticed. We need to change our thinking now before it’s too late, not just for us, for garment workers worldwide, and our ever-expanding global society.
Ireland, it is time we re-evaluate our style and shopping approach. What we should be thinking of is how we can change the way we dress, stepping closer towards the fashion forward thinking of the capitals. In New York, London, Milan, and Paris “Street Style” is taking over every fashion photographer and bloggers lens. There has been a shift in ideology. It is no longer necessarily “who you are wearing” but “how you styled it”. Mixing vintage, thrift, high street and designer is currently what the fashion scene is all about. Street style is a mix of your personality, current trends, print, colour, and pzazz.
You can’t turn on a radio without it blasting Macklemore’s enormous hit song Thrift Shop with the lyrics; “I am stuntin’ and flossin’ and Savin’ my money and I’m hella happy that’s a bargain.”
Stores like Good Will and Salvation Army in the US are frequented as much as any of the high street stores by the New York crowd.
There is a definite lack of vintage and thrift in Ireland, mostly due to the fact that the Irish thrift shops are limited in their selection. Perhaps they are limited due to the selection of lower end fashions that are being donated, and the throw away idealism that is propagated by the ability to buy a pair of brand new shoes for €4. The main draw to thrift shops are exuberant vintage styles that can be altered to fit in with recurring fashion themes. Vintage shops are definitely getting bigger and hitting on the right types of trends. This is where we can not only avoid “bulk buying” of unethically sourced “cheap fashion” but also give a nod to the environment.
Saving up to buy luxury designer goods has been something that was aimed at an older demographic but perhaps it should be something that younger people start thinking about. The investment pieces of the fashion world, pieces that will transcend seasons, the Chanel quilted purse, a Cartier infinity bracelet, or a leather jacket, a year of forgoing buying hundreds of cheap items could eventually morph into a wardrobe that any fashionista would be proud of, and, when the owner is finally done with each piece, no longer tossing it in a bin, but donating it to a thrift shop to be cherished by another. With shops like TK Maxx and sites like Outnet.com designer items are more affordable and available. We are now able to mix up our shopping tastes.
We spend our money on things we can buy for instant gratification but now that we are aware of the cost in terms of human life, is it something that will give us the same shopping buzz? The fashion clique are a selfish lot, we worry about what we are wearing and if it works, over what it stands for, where it came from and whether it is environmentally friendly. Perhaps it is time we cut that out, start to think about the picture at large, and expand our minds.
As I sat here writing this article, I took a break to examine my own wardrobe. I, like any Irish girl, have numerous Penneys items, yet having spent the last few years working in fashion in New York my closet is also filled up with designer, vintage, and thrift. One dress that has seen me featured on style blogs during fashion week is a men’s XXL printed shirt that I paid five bucks for. I belt it, throw a statement necklace on and, there, I am done, with a fiver. It’s about how you look at things. It took me a while, but I no longer see a men’s oversized shirt or a dress with bad sleeves, if you open your eyes and look at the print, the shape, even the material you may be able to find something really beautiful and interesting. Become friends with your local tailor, or take up sewing. Thrifting and altering should go hand in hand, that is part of the excitement, you can make each item truly unique, yours and yours alone. I like the fact that my wardrobe contains items that no one else is going to be wearing. It is different, it is me, and I love it.
Change is good, different is good, progression is good, shift is good. That is what fashion is about, it is cultural, it is creative. The way we shop and interact with fashion should reflect our individual ideals, ethics, and morals, as well as style, and sensibilities.