Compass of Purpose Podcast

Hello, welcome to my second episode in the slow fashion series. Today we are going to talk about compass of purpose. My name is kavya and I work with the brand called the house of Akshar, we are the pioneers of 360degree sustainable clothing in India.

We have to agree that Fashion goes fast. 50 years ago women had only two dresses. Today this does not hold true as there are 52 seasons in fashion; one season for each week of the year.

The reality is that you go shopping one week and the following one you are already out of date, as there will be something new in the shops again. From the consumers’ perspective, we can easily have a wardrobe full of clothes and still feel like you have nothing to wear.

But have we ever thought about the real impact of the fashion industry? Who produces them and how? How connected are we really to other humans in regards to clothing?

Multinational companies arrive in countries such as India, China Bangladesh Sri Lanka or Cambodia, where the workforce is already very cheap. Then, they ask local businesses and factories to get even cheaper production so they can offer more competent prices. 

Here’s an example: Brand X sells their T-shirts for $5, but the brand Y sells them for $4; so, brand X will come next and say “Hey, brand Y is selling them for $4, we need them cheaper”.  The business owners in underdeveloped countries are always finding themselves in the situation of squeezing their prices.

If the country doesn’t accept these terms, they are risking the industry to leave and be poorer. Underdeveloped countries want the business so badly there’s no other option.

Remember. There will always be a venture that claims they can do what you do bigger, better, faster, and cheaper.

Clothing production has helped spur growth in developing economies, no doubt, but a closer look reveals a number of social challenges. For instance:

  • 40 million people are making our clothes today, and 80 percent of apparel is made by young women between the ages of 18 and 24.

  • Garment workers, primarily women, in Bangladesh make about $96 per month that is just over 3 dollars a day. The government’s wage board suggested that a garment worker needs 3.5 times that amount in order to live a “decent life with basic facilities.”

  • A 2018 U. S department of Labour report found evidence of forced and child labor in the fashion industry in Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey, Vietnam and other countries.

The Fast Fashion impact is HUGE. Around 40 million people are working at the garment factory, from which 4 million people are located in Bangladesh alone. Here, more than 5,000 factories produce for western brands.

local businesses have to cut corners in management and safety to reach the requested threshold, which has lead disasters such as the one happened in 2013 in Rana Plaza  

The collapse of Rana Plaza brought worldwide attention to deathtrap workplaces within the garment industry.

Rana Plaza, the collapsed eight-story commercial building located in Dhaka's outskirt Savar, is the painful symbol of the grave tragedy encountered by garment workers.

On 24 April 2013, the Rana Plaza building came crashing down, killing 1,134 people and leaving thousands more injured. People all across the world looked on in shock and horror as media reports poured in revealing the true extent of the human toll. There were harrowing stories of survival, of people who had no choice but to amputate their own limbs in order to be freed from the rubble and survive.

No amount of money can make up for the loss of a loved one or the resulting physical and emotional scars inflicted on those who survived such a tragedy. 

 There’s been few more such as Ali Enterprises, with 289 dead. Or Tazreem Fashion factory, where 112 more people died. It seems that working under these conditions has become something accepted and common in underdeveloped countries.

 As Covid-19 sweeps across the world, labor organisers and activists have shared that fashion brands are mass canceling orders already produced or in production, without considering the devastating impact of unpaid wages to the women on the factory floor. These are the same women who have kept them profitable for years.

In Bangladesh, some days ago marked the seven year anniversary of Rana Plaza, the deadliest industry disaster of our time.

At that time the industry sprung into action and building safety improvements were made. "Never again" was the refrain from fashion brands.

Yet here we are seven years later, with garment makers once again left hungry and insecure as Walmart, Gap, and Primark and others refuse to pay for orders already produced or in production.

The parallels created by Covid-19 have been eerie: Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association's President, Dr. Rubana Huq, has appealed to international buyers. She says that with $3 billion dollars worth of orders canceled or paused by brands, garment makers will literally be on the streets, resulting in massive social unrest.

A journalist for a local television channel stated how the Rana Plaza disaster could have been averted if not for production pressures to make clothing cheaply and quickly. 

When asked why the Bangladeshis appear to pay so little mind to the site of the deadliest structural failure in history, he answered, "Brands have invested a lot to make the label an image of safety. If there is a lot of focus on Rana Plaza, it's not good for business."

Yet as soon as the Covid-19 pandemic hit, many of the same brands that were implicated in the Rana Plaza collapse, including Primark and Walmart, cancelled orders already produces or in production, causing a severe liquidity crunch for factories that in turn are unable to pay the makers of our clothes. Women have been protesting on the streets of Dhaka, without an ability to safely distance. Many are getting reduced pay while others have not been paid at all. These are women without savings, access to healthcare or food security.

Even seven years after Rana Plaza, garment makers live in substandard conditions and make poverty wages. The coronavirus pandemic has taught us that when business constricts for brands and retailers, it becomes a question of life or death for the millions of women who make our clothes.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit us all hard. As we veer toward economic collapse, worry about our health, jobs and savings, this is also a time for a reset when it comes to buying cheap and disposable clothes that don't tell the full story of the alarming cost on human lives and our planet. 

A recent study conducted by Unilever found that a third of today’s consumers choose to buy from brands that exercise positive environmental or social principles. The study focused on how concerns for sustainability affect shopping habits and was conducted in 5 countries, and reached 20,000 participants.

It’s no longer enough for companies to share the same old clichés about why their product is superior. Instead, you need to create a connection with your audience, and give them something to hold onto that goes beyond price points and packaging.

Increasingly, today’s consumers are more inclined to look beyond the label and ask the question, what makes a fashion brand ethical? The digital age has made it incredibly easy for consumers to find out whether or not a brand possesses moral credentials. All it takes is a quick Google search.

It is crucial for brand to prove that they are conscience, transparent and sustainable. As millennial shopping habits are changing, even they have very little disposable income, they are very conscious of what they spend it on. It’s not only the look or the label they care about but the whole story. It makes them feel good that they did something responsible and sustainable, which is a huge thing in their minds. People really are asking “Am I really sure where my T-shirt has come for, has someone suffered for creating this.”

The purpose of a brand is the “why” behind your existence. With your values, it defines the soul of your organisation, and engages your audience emotionally through a series of shared beliefs, solved problems, and inherent meaning.

Our philosophy is simple and straightforward, albeit not entirely altruistic - we DO want to live longer and on a greener planet.

Now is the time to strengthen our social fabric. Companies must lobby to increase social protections for the less privileged — a living wage, health care and other forms of insurance that European citizens take for granted — to increase societal resilience. Writing checks each time a crisis hits is a bad idea.  

The 12 principles that form the basis of business ethics are: honesty, integrity, promise-keeping, loyalty, fairness, caring and compassion, respect, law abiding, excellence, leadership, morale and accountability.

In the real world, it’s not so straightforward. It’s not always clear what’s right or wrong. It’s often subjective. Good people can take bad actions. Most decisions are made blind to the ethics of the situation. We’re so focused on the business task and meeting our business goals that we don’t see the ethical big picture, and our ability to behave ethically is impaired.

As everyday shoppers, we have the power during this moment of reset to demand better labor and environmental protections. We have the power to vote in elections, but also to vote with our voices and our money for the brands that did not turn their backs on makers.

Let us not forget the world's most vulnerable people during this crisis.

Rapid consumption of apparel and the need to deliver on short fashion cycles stresses production resources, often resulting in supply chains that put profits ahead of human welfare.

Workers should be rewarded instead of exploited

Without human capital, cheap labor, cheap female labor, the fashion industry would be far off generating such large profits. 

This is the food for thought!

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