April 24th 2013, a factory known as the Rana Plaza building in Savar, Bangladesh collapsed killing 1134 workers and injuring hundreds. This was considered as the deadliest disaster in the history of the garment industry and also the deadliest accidental structural failure in modern human history.
A day before the collapse, cracks appeared on the poorly constructed building, shaking the structure enough that the workers fled. An engineer who had been called to inspect the structure warned that it was unsafe but the owners of the building ordered the workers to the building the next morning. No sooner had the generator switched turned on than the building collapsed during the early morning rush hour. The building’s owner Mr. Sohel Rana and other factory owners were charged with culpable homicide.
The Rana Plaza disaster has focused global attention on unsafe conditions in the garment industry in Bangladesh, which is the world’s second-leading exporter of clothing, trailing only China. Companies that had their clothes manufactured in the building included Walmart, Mango, Primark, The children’s place and many others. Bangladesh has more than 5,000 garment factories, handling orders for nearly all of the world’s top brands and retailers. It has become an export powerhouse largely by delivering lower costs, in part by having the lowest wages in the world for garment workers.
Last week April 24th, was the first anniversary of the tragedy, which was declared as the Fashion Revolution day. It is an internationally coordinated day of commemoration and action. Fashion retailers all over the world are pledging to ensure that a disaster the scale of Rana Plaza never happens again.
In Kenya, KikoRomeo founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ann McCreath, Sunny Dolat and other fashion industry insiders lead the Fashion Revolution campaign. Ms McCreath indicated that the consumers would be asked to wear their clothes inside out to demonstrate support for transparency across the fashion supply chain. Participants were also being asked to locate the label on their garment to find out where their clothes were made and to contact the brand via social media using #insideout.
It was a successful campaign but this begs the question, is it enough? With the rise of fast fashion globally and the cut-throat competition among retailers such as HM, Primark, and Zara, how safe are the people making these garments?
According to Lucy Seige of the Guardian, “Many consumers who think they love fashion are in love with a facsimile, fast fashion: a merchandising model that blurs the distinction between garments (basic wardrobe staples with long lead times) and fashion (more complex pieces with short lead times) and is super-responsive to changing trends.”
The enthusiasm for fast fashion has not wavered since the disaster. The need for the hottest trend has the factories manufacturing clothes like dam spewing water.
On a positive note, the Bangladesh Safety Accord was enacted. This is a legally binding contract between brands, retailers and trade unions in Bangladesh that makes independent safety inspections of 1,000 factories and public reporting on them mandatory. More than 160 companies around the world have signed the agreement making it a historical moment for the campaign.
Roshie Anne is KenyanVibe.com’s Fashion Editor and is also an up and coming fashion designer living in the US. She also shares her style inspiration and fashion tips on her blog ANNECONVENTIONAL