By David Dietz, Modavanti
Fast fashion has become the hundred-billion dollar industry it is today on a very simple premise: As consumers, on face value, we will always chose the similarly styled $10 T-shirt over the $25 T-shirt. We’d be stupid not to if that were the whole story. But that simple premise, one that H&M, Zara and others have so expertly milked, doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s unfortunately not that cut and dry.
If that $10 shirt had a label saying it would only last three or four washes compared to the $25 shirt that would last a year plus, would that savings still be as appealing? Probably less so since you’d need to buy another dozen shirts to last you the year. Then what if you learned that that $10 T-shirt used dozens of more cancer causing pesticides than its $25 counterpart? Uh oh… Finally on top of it all, a sign above the rack read: “Your $10 shirt was made by garment workers toiling in slave like conditions so you pocket those ‘savings.’” Yikes.
You’ll never find a $10 T-shirt on Modavanti, the sustainable fashion startup I founded. You’ll find a lot of cool brands with incredible stories, but if you are looking for a $10 tee or even a $20 shirt we’re not for you. And that’s something we’re damn proud of. In this modern era of fast fashion and a race to the bottom, we’re never going to compete on that price level, and we don’t want to, because that $10 tee you’re looking for was made by seamstresses working in slave labor conditions. Mostly women and girls as young as 12 with no rights or voice at all — women and girls who make $38 a month so that we can save a few dollars on a T-shirt.
That’s the horrible reality about most of the clothing we wear. In 1950, more than 90 percent of our clothes Americans made were produced here at home. Today only 2 percent of all textile manufacturing worldwide is done in the U.S. Yet as consumers we hardly notice — until something tragic happens. Like what happened a year ago, when 1,133 people were killed and over 2,500 were injured when the Rana Plaza factory complex collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh.
There were obvious warning signs about the building’s structural integrity which were ignored by local managers under pressure from major big-box retailers to meet quotas and satisfy a western crave for inexpensive, disposable clothing. But Rana Plaza wasn’t the first tragic incident and won’t be the last. Last year, the Bangladeshi garment industry produced roughly $23 billion in exports to the West, and yet according to Oxfam International, the 4 million mostly women garment workers are forced to live on half of what Oxfam deems a living wage.
As we remember the victims of one of the fashion industry’s worst disasters, it is time to say enough is enough. It is time to come together to continue to raise our voices and demand change. It is time to stand up and say: “Yes, we know where are clothes were made; we know who made them; and we know what they were made of.” True fashion is a force to be reckoned with. It is an art form, a craft; it is beauty in motion. And it will mean even more because we all can turn fashion into a force for good.
Social and environmental catastrophes in our fashion supply chains are still happening all around the world. But there are a lot of incredible brands that are making a difference — brands that are using fashion as a force for good. Brands like Nakate which works with Ugandan women with HIV to create beautiful jewelry and reinvests much of their profits into helping the women earn more than a living wage to be able to afford necessary medicine. Brands like Popinjay, which employs women in Pakistan who face severe gender discrimination to give them a sense of hope and increased dignity. Brands like Indigenous. which has empowered thousands of artisans in Peru and helped elevate them from poverty.
These are the new faces and leaders in fashion. Brands that know the story of how their clothes are made and are proud of those stories. Brands that believe in a transparent and fair supply chain. Brands that are using fashion as a force for good. Fifteen years ago organic food was for hippies. Then we had a food revolution. Five years ago hummers and other gas-guzzlers dominated our roads, now were in the midst of an electric car revolution. Last year, over 1,000 garment workers needlessly lost their lives so we could have $10 T-shirts. It’s time for a fashion revolution.
Join the revolution and look good, feel good and do good in what you wear.
David Dietz is the founder and CEO of Modavanti, an online fashion destination for the new generation of socially conscious consumers.