This week marks the 5th year anniversary of the Dhaka factory collapse: on April 24, 2013, a garment factory called Rana Plaza collapsed, killing more than a 1000 workers and injuring 2500 others.
Rana Plaza had been constructed using substandard methods and materials and in violation of building permits. The owners of the factory had ignored signs of structural weakness in the building and instructed workers to continue to reporting in for duty, allegedly to meet clothing manufacturing deadlines from clients.
It is the deadliest garment factory accident in history - and in fact, one of the deadliest building collapses ever, period.
Pic: Getty Images
The collapse of Rana Plaza raised a lot of questions in the international community about the need for clothing brands to have accountability in their supply chain and the need for greater ethical regulations for the safe and humane treatment of garment workers - something that is neglected in an age of fast fashion. Factories are under pressure to deliver goods to brands:
- As quickly as possible
- As cheaply as possible.
The Dhaka factory collapse played a key part in Cloud & Victory's journey. When I was close to graduating from university, I was contemplating working on C&V full-time, at least for a while (maybe I'll do this for 6 months, I thought, but that's another story!). I began researching manufacturers and learning more about the process of printing and producing t shirts. My first concern was quality - I generally like my clothing to last for 5 years at least, and wanted tees that were made from good fabrics.
The Dhaka factory collapse happened early during this process. I found myself looking at pictures of a factory in ruins, of Bangladeshi women crying and covered in rubble and dust, and reading articles about what happened and the ill-treatment of garment workers. They were the ones making our clothes but in the world of fashion their voice was invisible.
This was the tip of the iceberg, and I found myself reading about the ethical and sustainability issues in fashion - environmental pollution, modern-day slavery, chemical and pesticide use, how garment production erodes our ecosystem and contributes to climate change.
I knew I wanted C&V to avoid being part of that cycle as much as I could. My focus shifted towards ethical, socially-responsible garment sources. It wasn't easy trying to find them - especially since I had no connections to the garment industry. Fortunately, I found one, and even better - socially-responsible factories and manufacturers also deliver higher-quality clothing. It is logical that the more care and thought is put into making something, the better it will be.
Pic: Getty Images
Committing to ethical manufacturing hasn't been easy - it costs more when you're paying everyone in the supply chain fairly and investing in their safety, and to use eco-friendly manufacturing versus cheaper, more toxic methods. People have limited resources and when you're the first dancewear brand to sell $45 versus $20 tops, it's understandable that people may be reluctant to part with their hard-earned money.
It sometimes feels like a constant struggle and I will fully admit to looking at the numbers and feeling tempted to switch to cheaper (and less transparent) manufacturers. There were so many times I questioned holding on to such lofty, seemingly impractical ideals or felt like giving up completely. But my parents have always taught me to act with integrity and stay true to my principles. C&V was a project I put my heart and soul into, and I didn't want to look back one day only to see how far I strayed from my principles for the sake of money. I stayed the course as an ethical dancewear brand.
On the flipside, there always feels like there's so much more C&V can do to become offer more compassionate balletwear - we're not a fully sustainable brand (yet!), something which is difficult to do because of the limitations of being a small business. There's so much more I would like to do, but I have to balance that against practical concerns, and be patient. One step at a time. I try to be proud of what I have done and who I've chosen to work with: the ethical factories who make and print our tees in Europe, and the local and regional factories and seamstresses I work with for our other dancewear.
Pic: Getty Images
The Dhaka factory collapse happened 5 years ago, but it still feels very present. So many of the factors that led to this tragedy still persist in the fashion industry today. Dhaka has been one of my anchor points, that's kept me committed to making ballet clothing in as ethical a way as I can, and has kept me working more and more on ways C&V can keep improving to become kinder and to treat people and our planet with the respect they deserve.
I'm grateful for the customers we have and the people who understand this ethos. (I mean, where would C&V be without you guys?) The road that is right and the road that is easy rarely intersect, but incidents like Rana Plaza remind me of the dear and irreplaceable cost of choosing what is easy over what is right.
- For more information about our ethical commitment, head over to our Ethics page.
- For more information about Rana Plaza and it's impact, check out his article
- For more information about the plight of garment workers in developing countries, check out this documentary on garment workers in Bangladesh