By Claire Rush
It’s summer – the season of sunshine, holidays, ice cream and lazy days with friends.
It’s also a great opportunity to refresh our wardrobes for all those picnics, parties and date nights. Any excuse for a shopping spree, eh?
I’m writing this on the plane as I head off on holiday. For me, a holiday is a great excuse to have a good old shop. You too? So last week, I hit Primark and some other high street shops…
Maxi dress for £10? Sure!
Floral top for £5? Yes please!
Funky necklace for £1? Why not!
I love coming home from town with new outfits and full bags – it gives me a post-shopping Cloud 9 feeling.
Well, I was quickly brought down to earth… by a hand-stitched label on a Primark floral dress.
‘Forced to work exhausting hours’, the label read.
Ok, it wasn’t on my dress but it was hand-stitched onto a dress that was purchased by 25 year old Rebecca Gallagher last week. You can read more about it here.
Nevertheless, this is actually a message for us all.
Someone in another part of the world carefully stitched this message hoping that we’d read it… and do something to help.
Being forced to work long hours isn’t fair. Being forced to accept very little money for that work is also not fair. It’s an injustice.
Unfortunately these working conditions are daily life for many people around the world in far-away places like India and Bangladesh. They’re forced to accept poor pay because they don’t have a choice. If they don’t accept these conditions, they don’t eat, they can’t afford a home or to pay for medicine for their family. Not much of a choice is it?
It’s a bit hard to swallow; the price other people pay for our fashion choices. How much did someone actually earn for the bright and colourful maxi dress that I paid a bargain £10 for? If you do the maths, probably not very much.
A long time ago, a very wise man called William Wilberforce said ‘You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.’ You and I know now the cost of some of our fashion choices; we’re not the real fashion victims.
One of my friends Charlotte is really passionate about ethical clothing. She says ‘Nobody should suffer to make my wardrobe. If people in the UK were forced to work in sweatshops for little or no pay for long hours and no bathroom breaks we’d be in uproar. So why should it be ok for that to happen in Vietnam, Cambodia or India, just because we can’t see those people?’
I asked Charlotte what can we do about it and here are some of her simple suggestions:
- Make a decision to care – we need to decide whether we actually truly care that people are hurt in the clothing industry. The reality is that most people don’t, as long as they get nice clothes for cheap prices they’re prepared to overlook everything else. The most important thing is that we’re willing to choose people over fashion
- Be informed – read the news, Google your favourite brand and look at the labels on your clothes to see where they’re made. You can check how well high street shops treat their workers and where your clothes are made on the Ethical Consumer website – http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/buyersguides/clothing/clothesshops.aspx
- Use your voice – join the #MakeFashionFree campaign at www.stopthetraffik.org/campaign/fashion. By using our collective voice we can push for change in the way our clothes are produced. Not everybody is called to be a full-time activist but this campaign allows us to do our bit in our own little corner of the world simply by tweeting the question on social media to our favourite shops: where do my clothes comes from?
Charlotte added a really good point… ‘This should be a positive campaign. It isn’t about boycotting Primark and Topshop. It’s about telling them we really want to shop with you and support our economy, but we want to know that we’re shopping wisely and you’re treating employees in a fair way.’
I don’t want anyone to be a victim of my fashion choices. I’m going to stop and think before I buy items. I’m going to research where my clothes are made. I’m going to show others that I care.
The question is, do you value people over fashion?
Let’s work together to stop people being fashion victims.