The cost of clothing

Tomorrow, it will be exactly a year since the Rana Plaza clothing factory in Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1129 of the workers inside and leaving many more injured.

Groups around the world will be gathering to remember those who died and to protest against a global fashion industry that continues to trivialize and endanger the lives of factory workers.

Some clothing companies have signed an Accord on Factory and Building Safety in Bangladesh, but others have refused, citing liability concerns and instead agreeing to improve conditions but on less stringent terms. And, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign, only a third of the money needed by survivors and victims’ families has been paid, with many companies yet to pay any compensation at all.

It seems clear to me that the only way to prevent more accidents of the same nature, we, as consumers, must take a stand. Ultimately, if we don’t buy from companies whose practices fall short of our ethical demands, then they can’t continue to profit from those practices.

By changing the way we buy and treat our clothes, we can change the system for the better. Here are a few things we can do:

Choose carefully. Buy good quality, ethically-sourced clothes. Although the immediate price is higher, buying clothes with better quality seams and fabric will mean you buy fewer items of clothing and save money in the long run. Also, buying something you really really like means you’re more likely to look after it properly and make it last longer.

Don’t worry about ‘trends‘. The fashion industry coaxes more sales out of a saturated market by telling us we must keep up with the latest, constantly changing trends. In reality, finding clothes that fit and suit you is the easiest way to that rather furtive notion known as  ‘style’.

Buy secondhand. So much cheap, good quality and perfectly wearable clothing can easily be found on the secondhand market, from charity shops to upmarket vintage stores.

Take care of clothes. Properly cleaning, storing and mending clothes can hugely prolong their lives. Darning is really easy and, as Tom of Holland points out with his Visible Mending Programme, a mended patch can be worn as a badge of honour.

Buy handmade. Alongside the global fashion industry, there’s a growing global handmade market. Websites like Etsy make it easy to buy handmade clothing direct from the maker, and this means you can often request a particular size, colour or design. You can also find designer makers closer to home at local craft fairs and markets.

Make it yourself. Making your own clothing does require some time and equipment, but is pretty addictive once you get started. You can make clothes exactly how you want them to be, they’ll be completely unique, and it feels wonderful to wear something you’ve made yourself. It’s also really easy to get started – there are lots of excellent online tutorials and books for beginners, and many groups like our collective Craft Guerrilla who host workshops and craft nights.


If you’re in London tomorrow, join us on Oxford Street to mark the anniversary of the Rana Plaza tragedy. You can find more information on the event’s facebook page.

This interactive documentary by the Guardian newspaper tells the story of the Rana Plaza factory disaster and what has happened since. The Shirt on Your Back