Five years ago today, the bodies of 1,138 garment factory workers were found amongst the rubble of what was once a commercial complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh known as The Rana Plaza Collapse. The tragedy, enabled by political corruption and fueled by corporate greed, is the deadliest garment factory collapse in history. In addition to the death toll, there was more than 2,500 workers injured, most of who were women and children.
(image by http://www.made.uk.com/blog/rana-plaza-a-year-on/)
For the first time ever, this tragedy-shed light into a very real global problem - that fashion can be deadly. In response to the disaster and the international conversation around the social impact, two designers from the UK, Carry Somers and Orsola de Castro, founded Fashion Revolution.
Fashion Revolution is a non-profit organization committed to enacting genuine change and encouraging transparency in the fashion industry. The organization has designated the anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh as Fashion Revolution Week where millions of people around the world call on brands to answer the question, “Who Made My Clothes,” by using the #whomademyclothes via social media.
There has been progress made, but the same issues that caused the plaza collapse five years still exist today. Last year alone, there were 426 garment workers die in a total of 321 workplace incidents. We can’t stop our work until people stop dying in factories, and on an even more basic level, start being treated fairly. Consumers may be more critical and brands more conscious, but a genuine long-term change means continual engagement in our efforts and in long-term systemic change.
Want to know more ways to get involved? From altering your buying habits to writing your policymaker, click the link below for a more comprehensive list of ways to support this organization and the movement towards a more transparent future in fashion.
The Super Bowl isn’t just a big day for sports fanatics. It’s a big day for the retail industry in general. Why? According to the National Retail Federation, whether it’s food for a party you’re attending or hosting, decorations for your place of celebration or the purchase of a new team t-shirt for good luck - consumers spent $15.3 billion dollars in preparation for yesterday's events alone.
We also can’t forget that the National Football League prints and prepares shirts, hats and other team memorabilia for both sides. That’s right. There are millions of dollars in merchandise that reads, “Patriots 2018 Super Bowl Champs” being shipped overseas as you read this.
As in any other major sporting event, there are eager fans that want to get their hands on championship merchandise as quickly as possible. In turn, there are also eager retailers ready to capitalize on said fans. Thus, merchandise is prepared for either team’s outcome in order to ensure that no time is wasted developing winning apparel upon the completion of the event.
The league stopped recalling and destroying licensed merchandise from the losing Super Bowl team in 1996. Instead, they now work with a non-profit to send the goods to parts of developing countries like Nigeria, Kenya, Nicaragua, Armenia and El Salvador. The unwanted shirts go to places that need them and the partner non-profit gets a hefty giving in kind donation to help them meet their fundraising efforts. Seems like a pretty good situation, right? Not always. Let me provide some context for Western clothes that end up in other parts of the world.
In Kenya, locals refer to these items as, “clothes of dead white people.” In Mozambique, they are often called, “clothing of calamity.” Here’s why:
They Diminish Local Business
It’s actually a common misconception that non-profits and aid organizations distribute second-hand clothing freely in the developing world. Once these discarded clothes hit East African shores, they are often sold to local vendors or “hawkers” so they can also re-sell them at extremely low prices in their marketplace. An article by the HuffPost stated that, “A pair of used jeans can be as little as $1.50 in the Gikomba Market, East Africa’s biggest secondhand clothing market in Nairobi, Kenya.”
This is about 5-6% of a traditional local piece of apparel. Local makers and Artisans are feeling the blow of these low prices and are forced to slash pricing in order to stay competitive in the market.
They Fill up Local Landfills
Like any good retailer, the in-country vendors inevitably must update their merchandise in order to attract new customers. When the textiles have been picked over or are finally waning in sales, guess where they go to finally retire? You guessed it - the local landfill. They don’t get to ship them off to another country like the U.S. does.
(A vendor sells secondhand clothes at a stall in the busy Gikomba market)
According to an article by Balance, more than 15 million tons of textile trash are generated each year by Americans. That’s roughly 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles per person, per year. That is an astounding number when you think about what ends up getting shipped overseas! It’s part of the reason why the EAC decided to put a ban on used clothes imports from the U.S. You can read the full article here. Not to mention, a full landfill impairs public health, pollutes the environment and threatens to drown some of the world’s poorest countries in toxicity.
This is a product of the waste crisis that we’re experiencing because of the throw-away culture we’ve embodied. With the ever enticing low cost of fast fashion, manufacturers are producing more, consumers are buying more, and we're throwing away more than ever before.
This blog isn’t intended to dog on the NFL or make the claim that second-hand clothing in general is all bad for the developing world. I just thought this was a timely opportunity to express to our followers yet again how deep and multifaceted the fast fashion industry really is. To hopefully bring some awareness to the level of waste we're all contributing to. And how ethical fashion isn’t just about purchasing power, but consideration for where and how to discard your unwanted garments too.
Let me be honest, I never really formally followed runway fashion until recently. That’s because I never felt like I was their target audience. I didn’t work in the industry in any capacity and I wasn’t a consumer who bought designer labels, so I didn’t feel the need or interest to pay attention. However, after the last few years of working in the fair trade fashion industry, I realized that fashion week was more than just identifying the latest trends and attending glamorous after-parties. It’s the economics behind runway fashion that interests me as a consumer and now as a fair trade business owner.
Runway fashion is where trends are born and then carried out into the world for small and mass-market retailers alike in order to create demand. This demand can also instigate the very thing that Trove is working to re-write, fast fashion. Fast fashion being defined as clothing that is mass-produced in an expedited manner from runway to retail to capitalize on the latest trends in order to get them to market the quickest. Because of the fast nature of the production, the people who make it and the planet often pay for that cost.
So while your shirt may only cost you $10.80, there is a much higher price being paid on the other side of the supply chain. This is really why I care about fashion week. I want to produce clothing that is on trend, responsibly made and comparatively priced to those mass retailers who are more concerned with profit than the people they are exploiting.
(Image from: The Made in America movement)
That said, as New York Fashion Week came to an end yesterday, I wanted to give you a recap of some of my favorite shows and trends. These themes will no doubt be helpful as I start to develop my Spring and Summer 18 lines for Trove. Lines that are responsibly made and people are paid a fair wage.
Marc Jacobs: Tropical
Steering from his normal chic city vibe, his Spring 18 line was full of vibrant colors and florals galore. The collection was wildly exaggerated with big pattern plays and proportions. Combine that with the drape-y, oversized ensembles and I am stoked about the moo-moos that are no doubt going to ensue next year!
(image credit: Rex Shutterstock)
Diane Von Furstenberg: Retro
(Image credit: DVF )
From bold stripes to silky silhouettes, I loved her nod towards an era that I always felt I was meant for – the 70’s! I also liked that when I looked at her pieces I could picture myself finding them at an estate sale (which is a good thing). Her incorporation of fringe in statement making places has me thinking of some fun things for the future!
(Image credit: DVF )
Alice + Olivia: Eclectic Feminine
(Image credit: Alice & Olivia )
This line really resonated with me because I felt like it embodied a lot the things I like to incorporate into my own personal style: bold colors, femininity and just embracing the transformative nature of fashion. That on any given day, season or phase I can choose the woman I want to be. I also loved seeing that the one-shoulder and ruffles trend, particularly combined, are going to have some staying power!
(Image credit: Alice & Olivia )
Gals. I have to admit, I didn’t know if we were going to pull this one off! We have been working on it behind the scenes for months and kept running into hurdles. We had samples arrive reeeeallly late in the process. We had to make adjustments to them on the fly. We had a vital person on the patternmaking side in Nepal lose a family member, thus leaving the sewing center for an extended period of time. And our photographer cancelled the night before our photoshoot! So it was with complete and utter joy and exhaustion that our Dhaka Collection launched on Monday!
But ya know, when I think about it…that’s really been the story of Trove all along. There have been hurdles every step of the way. There has always been something or someone who makes me think, “Can I actually really do this?" Starting your own business is no joke. It isn’t for the faint of heart or those who throw in the towel easily, that’s for dang sure! It literally involves problem solving and critical thinking skills and master/ninja warrior multi-tasking skills on the daily. Alas, we are still here and have managed to create another beautiful collection with some of our dear friends from Elegantees and the sewing center in Nepal!
First things first, we arrived at Parlor Beauty Bar at 7am ready for beautification. You know when you meet someone and you feel like you’ve known them for years already? That’s how I felt when I met the Founder, Charlotte. Having recently opened her doors as well, we related to each other on so many levels. We laughed at the scrappiness of our personalities, how we have little to no budget to make everything look and feel beautiful, how long days and nights have us looking haggard (hey new friend with beauty secrets) and how roping in your friends for ALL THE FAVORS is just part of it. She’s a complete gem and her one-stop styling lounge can cover any/all of your beauty needs. Please drop in and meet the ladies there – I promise you won’t be disappointed!
Next, we headed over to our location site in Austin called, Malverde. Many people haven’t heard of this hidden treasure and I don’t know how! It’s a bar and events venue directly above La Condesa and it has the most adorable outside patio with all the plants and pots and candle lit tables your little heart could ever want. I have been eyeing this spot for years trying to figure out how to take some pretty pictures of it and in it! When I determined the timing of the Dhaka launch and how it would be transitioning us into the fall season, I immediately thought of this venue’s gorgeous rust and moss wall outside and knew we had to shoot here.
Our photographer Brandon Hill was already on-site, doing what he does - prepping, setting up, testing lighting, making everything and everyone feel calm. Meanwhile I’m a frazzled mess of eyelashes and hair that is teased so high it could talk to Jesus in the heavens at this point. Brandon and I met about a year ago over coffee and our passion for all things fair trade. At the time, he was recording a podcast and interviewing some people who worked in the fair trade space. I remember sharing with him that day my dreams of launching Trove in the next year and I’ll never forget his genuine excitement for me. If you know Brandon, you know he is smart and capable and curious - all traits that I admire and also aspire to embody. I also just like people who own who they are. Not to be sexist, but I like that he’s a straight male who loves ethical fashion. Head to Europe and you’ll find plenty of Renaissance men, but for some reason that’s rare in American culture.
(Behind the scenes photo by: Bela Coto)
Brandon actually believes in ethical fashion so much that he recently founded a company called The People Label that will connect those in the ethical goods space to digital influencers who are interested in repping more socially conscious brands. That’s a game changer for us do-gooder brands! Needless to say, I’m excited to continue working with Brandon on multiple levels. I’m also happy he agreed to do a shoot with me on less than 24 hours notice and completely knocked the photography out of the park!
Our day continued with all the hustle and bustle any shoot would. In my true transparent form, I’m not here to paint a picture of deception for you. People assume that photoshoots are all bougie and glamorous when in all reality, they are grueling hard work. Having produced Noonday Collection's photoshoot for the past four years, I'm familiar with all the hard work it takes to pull off an incredible final product. There are a multitude of little stressors that have the propensity to send you over the edge at any moment if you let them. There are fans and light reflectors being whisked around for different shots. Sweat and sometimes even tears. There are models getting cut out of dresses (true story) and hair being re-tousled and moussified into submission. In the end though, it’s almost always worth it!
(Behind the scenes photo by: Bela Coto)
And so, behold, our Dhaka Collection from Nepal! It was a collection that was inspired by the notion of being dressed up, not made up. There’s a clear distinction for these two things in today’s time. We want to be polished, but not overly done. We’re not (and not trying to be) a high-end, luxury market brand. We're trying to be fun, mostly casual, functional, responsible and affordable. And we’re here to laugh at ourselves when we get in wrong. But I think we really did get it right on this collection!
Meet Manish, the manager of the sewing center in Nepal known as Kingdom Hope Garments (KHG) that we collaborate with to create our Nepal collections.
Manish came by this job unexpectedly. The previous facility manager was threatened so much by the local traffickers, he had to flee the country – leaving Manish in charge. You see local traffickers are volatile towards any individual or organization that interferes with their work, or worse, their workers. They will go to terrifying lengths to ensure those who are trying to help remedy the trafficking problem in Nepal are threatened or harmed. Therefore, we do not want to disclose any further personal information about Manish as we want to ensure his safety in Nepal.
What we can share with you is that Manish is a cheerful and resourceful man. We have had many questions and challenges as we try and source in a new country with a new partner and he has navigated them all. Without the opportunity to travel to meet everyone in KHG yet, we have had to rely on his sourcing prowess and sense of style in helping us obtain the materials we need in order to create a collection. We have shared several late night Facebook sessions with Manish selecting fabrics from the market as he virtually shops with us!
Manish has already gone to great lengths to ensure we create pieces that we not only love, but that we know will sell in the American market. For example, one time in the weeeee hours of the morning we could not find any real Dhaka that we liked through our virtual shopping. Real Dhaka is woven on both sides by hand and exudes all the vibrancy and colors of the individual threads it’s composed of.
Printed Dhaka however is now more common in the marketplace in Nepal, because it’s cheaper and easier to produce than real Dhaka. Alas, it is only printed on one side, and to us, not as beautiful. Instead of giving up on the search and asking us to settle, without telling us, Manish hopped on a plane and started shopping in a market in the next city!
Manish is a leader not only at KHG, but within his community. At KHG, he is a sound businessman who looks for operational flaws and system efficiencies. He keeps production smooth, seamless and on time. He is our lead correspondent on all communication with the group and helps determine pricing that is fair for both the sewing center and their clients.
In his community, it’s not easy to stand up for something that could risk you and your family’s lives. With his level of talent and social acumen, he could easily work in another industry. But to be adamantly and publicly against the trafficking problems that exist within Nepal is brave, to say the least. We honor him for this and we know the women at the sewing center do to.