Hey there Decoders !
Thanks for actually making it to the website to check out the blog, really appreciate it and please feel free to comment or message us with your opinions on the matters being discussed and also feedback on how to make it better.
The day is finally here, the first of JRAA CHATS and believe me when I say there is a lot of tea to spill. As some of you may know, fashion has been a passion of mine since I was 4, many of you here watched the journey I’ve taken through my professional life, from studying this industry in uni through design and business for 5 years of my life, being front of house, back of house, I’ve worked for some of Australia’s biggest brands, meeting with renown designers in London, having my own show at Mercedes Benz Fashion week Australia, being a part of fast fashion and Luxury fashion. I feel that it is important to share and hopefully educate, challenge your minds, about this industry; about how vital our habits are, the impact we contribute as consumers and creatives, the understanding of this system in society and culture and getting to know how this industry interconnects with all that we do. I may not know everything, but I am a lover of learning, research and investigation.
It is important to know that my filter is waring very thin and my tolerance is reaching an all-time low, I’ll keep it as light hearted as I can buuuut I’m not making any promises #sorrynotsorry. This is due to the fact that these issues are becoming more concerning and at the end of the day, lives are being gravely affected and it’s just not fair and shouldn’t be happening in a progressive modern world.
Here we go!...Last week I asked you guys to have a little look into your wardrobes (huge thank you to everyone who replied, really appreciate it) and find out where your clothes were made. By law, this information should be on wearable items you own. On the most part, China and Bangladesh are the most common locations for garment and textile manufacturing. But has anyone ever bothered to ask the question, why?
It seems to be common knowledge and such a norm to expect that, not just our apparel, but shoes, accessories, cosmetics, tradie tools, phones, medical PPE, cutlery, gym equipment, pot plants and so much more come from China. This was of course, thanks to the beginning of globalisation, government reform and trade agreements.
Free trade agreements such as NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement – thank you Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton*) and ChAFTA (China Australia Free trade agreement) have made it much more cost effective for a business to send their manufacturing offshore.
Manufacturing in Asia began to hit the U.S industry hard post WW II due to the trade-not-aid policy implemented by President Truman, putting low tariffs in place which opened the gate to low cost labour abroad as oppose to local industries. Over the decades to come, tariffs were increased to discourage importing but, even with the extremely high tariffs, it was still a lower cost to bare than manufacturing at home. I’m talking about the U.S.A here but, the thing is, even though these actions took place there, America has always been seen, in modern history right through to today, as an international superpower. Therefore, the rest of the world shortly followed.
The 90s is what the fashion industry has called “the birth of fast fashion”. Prior to this, 70% of clothing in the USA was made in the USA, the same was seen here in Australia and in Europe, where first world countries had their very own textile and garment manufacturing industries. In 1993, Bill Clinton signed the NAFTA agreement, and everything changed. Because of this, many brands in these countries folded, couldn’t keep up with their competitors who tapped into the Asian manufacturing system and began production overseas. – you can’t beat them, join them.
China has been the top ranking country for manufacturing in the world, Bangladesh is a close second, and India is not too far behind with other Asian countries to follow after (according to the World Trade Organisation). Why Asia? It’s simple, low labour costs. The language of business is money. If they can cut a cost somewhere, they will in order to gain as much profit as they can. Duh! who doesn’t like money?
The problem here is that, in these countries garment workers, fabric weavers, crop farmers (your fabric needs to come from somewhere) have little to no rights. This is because their local governments do not have many policies in place and or have a corrupt system. For example: The Rana Plaza collapse.
On April 24th, 2013 1,138 garment workers perished in an 8 story Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh. And 2,000 were left injured, one of the world’s deadliest industrial disasters. The scene of the aftermath was bodies wrapped in rolls of fabric, the very same people who warned officials and local news the day before of the poor and unsafe conditions they were working in. The Building was originally 6 stories and to, obviously take on more work and thus make more profit, the owner approved an extra 2 illegally built stories. Due to the nature of construction, the poor foundation it was already situated on and the extremely heavy machinery plus all the garment workers, it collapsed. Many well-known brands such as JC Penny who were manufactured there made little comment on this issue, and also gave near to nothing in compensation. Relatives of the dead had to prove their relations, which is difficult as many garment workers are considered to be impoverished people with no documents. So, compensation was rarely given, as well as to the injured survivors. Many who survived had lost their ability to work, due to the fact that they had lost their limbs in the accident. They also had to prove they had worked in that building, again, because of lack of documentation, it was very difficult to prove. Many stories emerged post the accident of children being pulled out of school to work in place of their injured and disabled parents or family members.
The extremely unfortunate thing about manufacturing in countries like these, is that there is lack of rights in the workplace, lack of health and safety regulations and lack of compensation if one cannot work. Ultimately, it is extremely easy to manipulate workers and cases such as sexual assault and rape, injuries and death are common. It is also a situation of work vs no work. Owners of these factories have the ultimate power to fire someone on the spot if they feel like it or take away their pay without reason. This is why fast fashion brands tap into countries like these, because their dollar that they pay for their order, goes a very long way. The brands pay a low price and get an immense return back. Only 4% of what you pay for your clothing goes to the garment workers (that doesn’t actually mean 1 garment per garment worker, it could mean a few garment workers).
Bangladeshi government will never fix this issue because 85% of its nation’s GDP is generated from the textile and garment manufacturing industry.
China’s minimum wage is $520 AUD a month. If you do the maths, workers would earn $3.25 per hour if they work the standard 5 days a week, 8 hour a day system but we all know they don’t. Bangladesh is lower. I understand that their standard of living and their currency is worth less than ours, but they are still considered to be living right on, if not lower of the poverty line.
The latest issue that these workers face is the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the fact that there has been little demand since March 2020, fashion brands are refusing to pay for the orders they have placed. The reason they are doing this is, is because;
1. They are not making the target they expected.
2. Holding inventory is costly. (they haven’t sold their current stock so they can’t take in more)
3. That product will now be out of date fashions.
4. They’ve prioritised their employees in first world nations.
Remember that, in these nations, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid – job seeker and job keeper does not exist here.
On the flipside, there are brands who are forcing their factories to work through the pandemic. Because the factories are located in dense cities, they are deemed high risk locations and many sources have emerged of garment workers being infected and still working.
I think that should be all for now guys, if you made it until the end, thank you so much for reading lol ! to be honest this isn’t actually everything I wanted to talk about, I’ll continue in the next blog.
Please let me know what you think, here in the comments or privately if you wish. Feedback is always appreciated and if there are any topics you want me to talk about, let me know too!
Much love, JRAA