The True Costs of the Fashion Industry
Bangladesh hires workers for a maximum of 2 dollars an hour so that they can almost kill themselves while sewing someone’s dress.
In the past few years, more than a few factory incidents (like the catastrophe in Rana Plaza) have left thousands of people dead from unsafe working conditions including the collapse of buildings, exposure to harmful chemicals and other toxicities.
It turns out that these infamous factories have even got a name — sweatshops.
The end of life doesn’t stop there.
Due to such chemical exposures and unsafe working conditions, women give birth to children who have extreme mental disabilities and even reach complete mental retardation or have physical deformities.
As they’re so underpaid, they have no money to treat their children and simply wait for them to die from their disease.
Some women are too afraid to bring their children to such unsafe factories, that they send them away to other families or family members and come visit twice a year.
// Materialism is Everything
In the documentary The Real Cost, Tansy Honskins, the author of ‘Stitched up’ explains:
“In Capitalism, every company wants more profit than its competitors. This is what pushes minimum wage lower and lower.
Labor workers in these sweatshops have no collective rights, trade union rights, or pensions… this is why the fashion industry is located in Bangladesh.”
A psychology teacher interviewed in the documentary made another scary point:
“The issue here is that our economy is based on materialism and these kinds of values. Therefore, it takes part of the fuel that it needs to survive…and it comes at a very high price.”
America’s entire economic system stands on consumerism. This means that whatever the cost may be, the only way for America not to have another epic economic breakdown is to expand the scary world of materialism.
Behind the scenes, what this means is Bangladesh is more unsafe conditions, exposure to harmful chemicals, having unhealthy babies and suffering in silence.
What’s maybe worse than this, is that the fashion industry has brought issues much closer to home.
An agricultural family growing cotton was interviewed in the documentary. They explained that they live in the middle of millions of acres of cotton which are fully sprayed with harsh chemicals to make them grow faster and in bigger numbers.
They didn’t realize it would take such a heavy toll on them when the woman working on these lands discovered her husband was diagnosed with stage IV brain tumor at age 47.
When they went to a known brain surgeon to remove the tumor, the doctor highlighted the type of tumor was commonly seen in men between the ages 45–65 that worked in agricultural or oil industries.
Though the woman in the documentary could not vouch that the harsh chemicals used to grow the cotton was a direct cause, she knew it was no coincidence.
Her husband died at age 50.
In addition to this terrible tragedy, about 250,000 farmers commit suicide every year. Statistically, this number had drastically increased by 400% in the last few years.
Weird? Random? I think not.
// Back to Making the Sweater
Making any piece of clothing and making lots of it is hard work. It means waking up in the early hours of the morning, engaging in very demanding labor for 14 hours, and going back home to take care of other responsibilities.
…and then doing it again. Forever.
Shima, one of the labor workers (who probably made your shirt) was a touching character. Throughout the documentary, she was smiling and laughing along with her daughter, explaining to the viewers what life was like in Bangladesh.
At one point, though, she started crying.
“I don’t want anyone wearing anything that is produced by our blood.”
In other words, she experienced so much death and hardship through the making of clothes that she simply wants change.
Another young woman, just like Shima, explained:
“The government doesn’t care how poor we are. We just want a proper salary to make a living with dignity.”
This young woman took part in a protest that wounded 40 and killed innocent people. What the protest was for?
All because the labor workers were fighting to make 160 U.S. dollars a month.
People make this on a daily basis.
If you really think about it, owners of luxurious fashion brands (endorsing this chaos) make that every minute.
// We Need Change
The bottom line of this phenomenal documentary is to raise awareness and to scream out the simple reality that we need change.
This change starts with the consumer.
We need to stop spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need. We also need to stop camping outside malls on Black Fridays to only enter stores like ungrateful bots to buy items that will not bring us anywhere closer to fulfillment.
It is beyond me that a day after Thanksgiving when we celebrate the things we are thankful and appreciative for, we can almost punch people in the face because we want the nearest sale item.
We need to understand that the system is tricking us into false advertising and marketing on things by tying them to human experiences.
Perfumes, shoes, lingerie and the likes all come with messages that will solve our problems: looking better, getting attention, finding happiness.
The most important “things” in life are not things.
They are experiences.
The ones that make our hearts flutter when we make a real change in improving the world.
Whether it’s by fundraising, volunteering and building a powerful movement for the sake of humanity.
…This finally begs the question:
Will we continue to turn a blind eye behind who is making our clothes? Or will this be a turning point?
It all starts with you.