Fairly Fashionable? Making a Difference after Rana Plaza

Fairly Fashionable? Making a Difference after Rana Plaza

24th April 2014 was the one year anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh, where 1133 people lost their lives, and over 2,500 were injured when the overcrowded and unsafe building they were working in collapsed. They were sewing garments to be sold in the West. Companies who have admitted they had recent or trial orders at Rana Plaza at the time of the accident include Bon Marche, Matalan and Primark (UK/Ireland); Cato Fashions, Walmart and The Children’s Place (USA); and Mango and Benetton (Europe) (for the complete list see here).

At the time of the accident, and again at the anniversary (and many times in between) I was sad, I was angry, and I wanted to help make things change – but how? I want to do something, but I’m not sure what to do. I’m not really a consumer. I don’t buy many new clothes. It’s already pretty obvious to me that if I can go into a store and buy a brand new pair of jeans for less than £15 – a store that is paying rent for a premium high street position, that has staff it will be paying the minimum UK wage of £6.31/hour, that has fixtures and fitting rooms and lighting and heating to pay, that has sturdy paper bags to pack my goods into, that has transported its goods across the globe to line its shelves – then somewhere along the way, someone is being screwed… and it’s likely to be the worker who made them.

I’m not the only one to be outraged by the Rana Plaza tragedy, or course. But whilst I’m lamenting what I could or should be doing, or where I’d even start, there are people with their heads already down, getting on with changing the world and making it a better place.

FairlyFashionable banner

One such inspiring project is the Fairly Fashionable? challenge, organised by Fair Trade Freo and the WA Fair Trade Collective, two local Fair Trade groups. It was an event organised by a group of volunteers who wanted to bring focus to the fashion and garment industry and promote Fair Trade. On the anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy, designers received a piece of donated Fair Trade fabric, and had 14 days to create a garment or fashion accessory that incorporated the fabric. They could use their own fabrics to complete the work provided they were recycled, upcycled or ethically sourced.

Last Friday, the eve of World Fair Trade Day, was the Fairly Fashionable? finale: a public fashion show showcasing the designs, as well as talks on ethical fashion. It challenged both the designers and the audience to ask the questions: where are our clothes made? How are they made? Under what conditions? How does their design and manufacture impact the environmental, social and environmental sustainability of people and the the planet?


The turnout was incredible, far more than the organizers were expecting and there were as many people standing as sitting. The designs were hugely creative. The event certainly got me thinking. Not just about Fair Trade, but also about the power we all have to make a difference, not just as individuals but also as groups and communities. It was hugely inspiring to see what the organizers had achieved in just two months (I can’t believe they pulled the whole thing off in just two months!), and how many people they had brought together to share their vision.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~Margaret Mead.

15 Responses to Fairly Fashionable? Making a Difference after Rana Plaza

  1. Lovely read. Sounds like a fantastic event and great to to see designers getting on board in putting ethical fashion in the spotlight. I feel the more coverage ethical sustainable fashion gets the more consumers will start thinking about what they are buying which can then lead them to pressure companies to tighten up their act on the whole supply chain.. Read another post relating to ethical fashion recently and it’s very good (although UK based) http://moralfibres.co.uk/how-to-buy-ethical-fashion-on-a-budget/

    • Thanks! I agree totally – the more mainstream ethical fashion becomes, the better for everyone. I really hope disposable fast fashion becomes a thing of the past – and events like this inspire me that change will come.

      Thanks for the blog link too – off to read it now : )

  2. Oh, I wish I had known about this event! I have made the Year of Ethical Fashion pledge (on facebook) from the Meet Me at Mikes blog. So far I have managed to stay ethical and have even educated some of my friends about the issue. The final outfits look fantastic!

    • That always happens to me – hearing about something the day AFTER it happens!

      Apparently the outfits are on display at the MANY building in Fremantle until Sunday 18th (end of this week). So you’ve got time to check them out. I’m going to go back down and have another look : )

  3. Lindsay, this gave me an idea. I have a long sleeved t-shirt I love which was purchased used. I have worn it past it’s life as the cuffs and collar are all threadbare and have fallen apart. Instead of cutting it up for a rag I will use a summer shirt as a pattern and redesign the top for the warmer months ahead. Of course I will be left with the sleeves, but I’m sure I can come up with something to make and use them up as well.

    • You are so creative! Creative and practical. Good luck with the new project. PS I really must learn how to use a sewing machine : )

        • Yes, I’ve wanted a sewing machine for years…but not enough to actually get round to getting one. Space is one issue that we had (not any more!) and also if I get one I want to have the time to really learn how to use it, so it doesn’t become “stuff” in the bottom of the cupboard.

          I will get there! If you keep up with your inspiring posts I’ll have to Lois, I’m far too jealous of all the creative things you do! : p

          • Don’t be jealous, I feel often that I am not nearly as creative as others showing their work, but we all have our strengths.

            Since you have more space you might want to look at inexpensive antique shops that carry the slightly older models in a cabinet. We have one shop nearby that sells them for $10

            • Haha, I meant jealous in a good way! Jealous in a I-need-to-get-myself-a-sewing-machine-as-Lois-is having-far-too-much-fun-with-one-and-I’m-missing-out kind of way!

              It’s a good thing because you’re pushing me towards action! (albeit slowly…)

              My goal is to get one before Christmas. And it will definitely be second hand : ) I didn’t even know you could get them in cabinets…

              • Happy to be your inspiration. :-) I do have a new project for my machine. I have a long sleeved t-shirt that is tattered on the collar and sleeves I’m going to use a summer shirt as a pattern and transform this shirt into a tank.

  4. I love that this event used Fair Trade fabric as well as highlighting the issues with clothing manufacturing. I find it really hard to find out ethical info on fabric, do you know of any links/sources?

    • I don’t really, no – it’s something I’m only just starting to look into more. I can tell you the 19 businesses that donated fabric for the challenge so you could see if any have websites or links to more information: Afribeads, Anjel Ms, Better World Arts, Earth’s Grove, Ethica, Fabric of Life, Fair Go Trading, Joyful Fair, Khmer Creations, Lillypilly Silk, Malambo, Many Thread Project, New Internationalist, Nurturing Threads – Tabitha Foundation, One Colour, rrepp, Siham Craftlink, u-chus and WEFTshop. I hope that helps!

  5. Thanks for that! I’ve had a quick look through all those organisations and while none of them sell fabric retail, some of them manufacture clothes etc. from fair trade fabric they’ve sourced so I wonder if that’s how the fabric for the event you went to was donated.

    I can’t imagine there’s much money in selling fair-trade fabric, which is why you can get so many value added items made from it instead. For the time being, the closest I could see was Lilly Pilly Silk boutique who will be launching a store for quilters soon, or buying larger items like bedspreads, table cloths and the like to make something from them.

    • Glad it helped! Yes, I remember some of the fabric was donated in the form of bedspreads and pillow cases/cushion covers and made into dresses!

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