NPR/Bangladesh: Fast Fashion, let's talk about this...

factory collapse in Bangladesh

It's been a few years since I have spoken about his on my blog, but today I had to pull over on the road while listening to this interview.. it's SO interesting, and I wish I had written this book! If you are having a hard time with understanding why my prices are so high, Elizabeth Cline, who wrote the book 'Overdressed - The Shockingly High Price of Cheap Clothing' has clarified everything for you. In her conversation with Terry Gross at NPR (click here to get the full interview) she discusses the fast fashion cycle, how it works and why it really should no longer work, why we need to wake up and realize how this cheap clothing is happening. This story comes to the forefront because of the tragedy in Bangladesh, where over 700 workers were killed while working in clothing factories. And because of which Disney has closed it's operations in Bangladesh - people are saying that this may be the end of Fast Fashion, or at least the beginning of the end.

We all have a part in this because, let's be honest, we've all bought that cheap t-shirt. Even if you haven't, that t-shirt with your kids school logo on it was probably made in one of those factories. This interview does a good job of telling the whole story, linking all of the problems from human issues to environmental issues (and I think that in Elizabeth Cline's book it is made completely clear!). In my lifetime in the fashion business I am completely aware of these issues and I know that they are true, it's also why the collections in my store are NOT from this world. I only work with people I trust, who work closely with their factories and it's about being a part of a family and working together to make a nice product for the correct price, and paying people correctly for their work.

The industry as a whole is working on being accountable for their product, and it will be very interesting to see what that looks like, maybe a kind of rating (as in the food industry) or a tracking system to show where your garment goes in it's production process. Where you could walk into a store and know from the tag that it is fair-trade or living-wage clothing. One of the most startling things I learned in this interview is that there are no longer quotas on imported garments. When I worked in the Fashion industry I remember the quotas used to 'cap' the amount of garments that could come into the country. Since these quotas were dropped in 2005, it correlates to when most of the factories in New York City and Los Angeles became obsolete and started to close down. They could not compete with the cheap labor in China and Bangladesh and other places.

There is also the environmental issue. It doesn't take a huge imagination to realize that the dyes used in clothing is a HUGE polluter of rivers and lakes. When I worked in Italy I was in Biella, where many of the top yarn producers are located. Biella is located in the foothills of the Swiss Mountains. They were located there because the water there is cleanest, as it runs down to Florence, etc. the water becomes more polluted and the fabrics and yarns produced there are of a lower quality, and as you go down to the south of Italy, even more... cheap. It's tragic but this is just the way it was set up and has been used for a very, VERY long time, and I am pretty sure that this is probably the first time you have heard it described this way.

It wasn't always this way, in the 1950's - 100% of clothing was produced in the United States, then by the 1990's it became about 50%. Today 2% of our clothing is made in the USA, this is all due to trade liberalization. When asked if Mrs. Cline thought that this would be the turning point in the cheap labor/fast fashion cycle, thankfully her answer is yes. She feels that the cycle has started, the conversation is there and there is a hope that this is all going to come to an end.

hear the full interview with Elizabeth Cline by Terry Gross on NPR (5/2/13)
read even more here - in The Nation - The Case for Ethical Fashion by Elizabeth Cline