I Have a Clear Idea of What I Don’t Want my Clothes to Say About Me

I have just read a commentary by Dhana Inc. founder Shamini Dhana featured on Triple Pundit entitled ‘Wear What You Stand For: Uniting Humanity Through Fashion’.

The Fableists believe that Dhana is absolutely right to be promoting a more conscious approach to fashion. It’s time we all listen and take notice of what the sustainable fashion movement has been banging on about for decades. But how can we get people to change? Appealing to hearts and minds is winning over consumers by the thousands but it’s not enough. We need millions to pay attention in order to see change in the way that clothes are made, bought, consumed and disposed of.

Dhana’s line, “an unconscious judgment call is made, a perception created at some level, within the first 40 seconds of physically meeting someone new” really strikes to the heart of the matter. We need to start to appeal to the vanity of the masses.

I’m not entirely sure what I want my clothes to say about me, but I am pretty clear on some of the superficial things I don’t want my clothes to say about me: cheap, fake, and common are just a few that spring to mind. Those are things that I would not want said about me on a deeper level either, by the way. Yet, the vast majority of clothes that are bought on this planet say these three very things about the buyer.

Cheap: The companies that produce most clothes make them as cheaply as they possibly can. This means cutting corners at every turn; quality, employment practices, safety standards, ecological considerations, waste disposal and contents are just a few examples of ways that companies can cut costs.

Fake: Often, designer items are copied and sold for a fraction of the price. While many can argue that so-called ‘designer’ items are overpriced, that is often because they pay the craftspeople they employ fairly, with benefits and living wages. They also produce limited edition quantities of items, making them more valuable. Producers of ‘knock off’ items are exploiting our desire for name-branded, designer items and using sweatshop labour in order to produce imitation items that are low quality. Is the badge really that important?

Common: In order to keep prices low, fashion companies produce endless quantities of the same item and sell them all over the world. On any given day, you can be certain that somewhere, several thousand people are wearing the exact same top as you are. No two people are the same. We are like 7 million unique and magnificent snowflakes. Why do we all strive to be the same?

I don’tknow why anyone would want their clothes to give the impression they they are cheap, fake or common. We need to go out of our way to choose quality, authenticity and originality. Wouldn’t you rather leave that impression on everyone you meet? You only have 40 seconds.




Rainbow Collective’s Documentary ‘Tears in the Fabric’ Helps Raise Funds for Rana Plaza Victims

raisingforrana bannerRaising For Rana is a not-for-profit initiative in association with charity organisations including War on Want and Traid. It is in place to raise awareness and raise funds for the victims of the Rana Plaza collapse. A fundraising event will take place on the 24th April 2014; exactly one year on from the disaster. The event will feature a film premiere and charity auction.

This event is organised by Rainbow Collective, a unique production company, formed as a social enterprise and committed to raising awareness on issues of human and childrens’ rights through powerful cinematic documentaries. Filmmakers Hannan Majid and Richard York have collaborated with Amnesty International, The Consortium For Street Children, War On Want, ActionAid and many others.

The Fableists spoke to Richard and Hannan about Raising for Rana.

raisingThe Fableists > Your latest documentary film, ‘Tears in the Fabric’ will premiere on April 24th. Can you tell us the significance of the date you’ve chosen?

Rainbow Collective > April the 24th 2014 is the one year anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, so we thought it would be the ideal date on which to premiere “Tears in the Fabric.”

Last year, a couple of weeks after the disaster, we ran a fundraiser for the families of the victims and screened our earlier film “The Machinists” as part of the event. We wanted to build on that for the 1 year anniversary.

The Fableists > You’ve shot in Bangladesh about the garment trade in the past. Tell us about your previous work on this topic.

Rainbow Collective > We’ve actually shot 2 other films on or around the subject of garment workers in Bangladesh.

In 2010 we made “The Machinists” for the Al Jazeera channel, which was a 45 minute observational doc following the lives of 3 garment working families, with an emphasis on the women workers. The film also followed the head of a garment workers trade union, the NGWF, and his fight to secure a better life for the workers. The film was successful on its broadcast and we were very pleased to be able to give it an extended life by offering it to campaigners, pressure groups and such like in order to raise awareness and funds for female garment workers in Bangladesh and beyond.

Our other film, “Mass-e-Bhat” is a feature length doc, supported by Channel 4 Britdoc Foundation, recounting the life of a young man in Bangladesh’s largest slum. Through the telling of his story and his travels from the rural villages to the rubbish tips and garment factories of Dhaka, the audience is shown a series of short observational stories about young people living in those situations in the country’s present.

Through the story of 1 person’s life, “Mass-e-Bhat”, which is to be released this summer, really gives a comprehensive overview of the wider social factors, which keep the garment factories full of workers fresh from the villages.

The Fableists > Do you have a personal connection to this cause and how did you get involved?

Rainbow Collective > Hannan’s family are originally from Bangladesh and he still has many relatives there. Some of them work in the garments trade; through some family and friend connections we were able to gain access to begin filming “Mass-e-Bhat” in 2008.

Our social enterprise production company, Rainbow Collective, was always set up as a way to produce films which could serve wider purposes beyond traditional distribution, so we began to connect the scenes which we were filming with campaigns via a wide range of grass-roots and international NGOs.

The more we’ve campaigned on the issue, the more stories have presented themselves which we are keen to highlight. Unfortunately these stories of late have involved workers losing their lives whether in Tazreen Fire or Rana Plaza. Which made us more determined to highlight these issues.

The Fableists > Richard and Hannan, you are both filmmakers and have worked together for many years. How long have you been working together and how did you meet?

Rainbow Collective > We met at the Northern Film School in Leeds in 2002. We both had different skills and specialisms but after graduation we had the opportunity to co-direct a feature length documentary in South Africa, “AmaZulu: The Children of Heaven”.

The film went on to receive cinema distribution in South Africa and also to be used as a tool by the South African government to encourage and inspire head teachers in KwaZulu Natal province.

This established the model upon which we’ve based the last 10 years of our working relationship – making character led, cinematic documentaries which can be used over the years for to promote social change.

The Fableists > While working on ‘Tears in the Fabric’, you filmed in Savar, Bangladesh, where the Rana Plaza building was. What has happened to the site over the past year?

Rainbow Collective > The whole town of Savar seems to be under a cloud, even a year on from the disaster. The site itself has mostly been cleared now and has become a kind of dark green swamp in between 2 other buildings. As we see in “Tears in the Fabric” though, the rubble, machinery and everything else caught up in the collapse was transported away from the site and dumped in huge piles, right beside the neighborhoods where many of the victims and their families live, just down the road from the site.raising 2

According to locals, when they first dumped the stuff there, the smell of decaying bodies was so strong nobody could go near it and anybody trying to investigate the dumping ground would be beaten by the police. The site is now strewn with a combination of the garments that the locals were producing for western brands and the clothes which the workers themselves were wearing when the building collapsed. In all of our time filming together, it was certainly the most challenging and disturbing environment we’ve found ourselves in.

The Fableists > With this film, you were eager to tell the story of the people affected by the building collapse, rather than the brands involved. Why was this important to you?

Rainbow Collective > Over the past year, there’s been a number of documentaries and journalistic reports focusing on the big-name brands and their responsibility for the disaster. While these films are very important in raising public awareness, we felt that there was a real lack of voices from the people who were affected most – the victims themselves and their families. It sometimes seems that western audiences only really believe a report or a current affairs doc if it’s fronted by a well spoken, well educated western journalist and often, even when they do have a local person being interviewed, their voice is dubbed over by an English interpreter, rather than subtitled.

In the case of Rana Plaza, we agree that the brands should be shown up for their role in the disaster, but we also want the people who were most affected to have the chance to be heard as well, rather than to become yet more faceless statistics in a political debate. For this reason, we also interviewed around 20 victims and bereaved family members as part of an online resource site to be used by academics, journalists and campaigners in years to come.

riasing 3The Fableists > Your documentary follows a grandmother in Savar who has been affected by the Rana Plaza disaster. Can you tell us a bit about her?

Rainbow Collective > Razia Begum is a grandmother who lost her two daughters and a son in law in the disaster. She now looks after her two young grandsons and is struggling to make ends meet and to come to terms with the enormity of her loss. When her family was still alive, they all lived together in a nice house with plenty of food and the kids were in an expensive private school. Now, however, Razia and the boys have found themselves homeless and relying on the goodwill of others in order to survive. The film follows the distraught but resilient Razia, a year on from losing most of her family, as she struggles to educate her grandchildren while fighting for compensation from the brands.

The Fableists > Your subject matter is very emotional and must be very affecting to work on. How do prepare for a shoot with this kind of human story?

Rainbow Collective > We have worked on the garments topic for some time and have spent many years campaigning on this issue so the background information that we needed for a shoot like this was already there. We did as much research as we could from the UK before going out because of our regular connection with the people at the National Garment Workers Federation who were organising all the interviewees.

When shooting documentaries you have to expect the unexpected, and that happened to us many times on this shoot. The family that we were originally going to shoot with had left Savar and gone to the village on holiday and so had our back-up family. Kobir, the head of the NGWF’s Savar office, then introduced us to Razia Begum who is the main character in ‘Tears In the Fabric’.

Of course it was very emotional time for us because we had to take in many testimonials that we shot as well as spending the time with Razia Begum and seeing how the loss of two girls and a son in law has affected her. We have worked with the Bangladeshi garment-making community for a few years now and it is a subject very close to our hearts so to see the aftermath and human cost of such a disaster close up was hard. In situations like you have to be strong, our purpose of being there was to document what is happening and we hope through that we can create some positive changes that can benefit the people of Savar. Those people are talking to us for the same reason so that it was important to hold our emotions together and carry on shooting.

Many docs have appeared in the past year that have focussed on the brands who were manufacturing in the building and the consumers who buy those brands. There have been many documentaries from all over the world who have dealt with the Rana Plaza. All these documentaries have been very focused on the brands. They do this because most of the documentaries audience will probably be buying those brands. A majority of the brands on the high street in London, Paris, Madrid, Dubai, New York etc., have been making clothes in Rana Plaza. So its just regular people and its not really fair to assume that all those people should know the ethics of these brands. These brands need to really look at the way they are doing business in Bangladesh and rather than exploit the work force for as many hours and little pay as possible should be looking at how it can help develop that industry into a safe and happy work place.

The Fableists > Your premiere event on April 24th in London will feature a charity auction. Where will the funds raised go?

Rainbow Collective > In response to the Rana Plaza collapse last year we decided to screen our documentary ‘The Machinists’ which was about garment workers as part of a fundraiser to raise finances for those people who have been directly affected by Rana Plaza. Due to our strong connection with War On Want and the NGWF we were able to set up a Just Giving page where any money that was raised would go to War On Want who would then pass it on the NGWF who then would give it their members who were in or have been directly affected by Rana Plaza. Every penny goes to help garment workers themselves such Razia Begum who lost two daughters and a son in law. Whilst in Savar we were able to talk to some of the people who had received some of the money that was donated. It does make a difference, especially at a time when the brands are still debating whether or not to put to a fund to help the victims.

raising 4The Fableists > Are you still accepting donations for the charity auction and event? If so, how can companies get involved?

Rainbow Collective > Yes we are still accepting donations and compaines can get involved by emailing raisingforrana@inbox.com or visit www.raisingforrana.com.

The Fableists > How can the public bid on the items available (including some snappy clothes from The Fableists!) and when will the auction end?

Rainbow Collective > Its very easy to bid on the items. Just visit Raising For Rana website where there is a charity auction link and there are many many items to bid on. The auction will be open till 12pm on the 25th April.

The Fableists > Your goal is to create resource material so that campaigners and educators can access facts, figures as well as images and footage. Tell us why you choose to make all this available for free.

Rainbow Collective > Everything is for free because we want as many people and organisations to watch it and use the resource site. We have great partners including OpenVizor who funded this so we did not see a need to charge anyone to use the resource. The decision to make the film and resource site available for free and for the whole project to be non-profit was made very early. The documentary ‘Tears In The Fabric’ will also be available in multiple languages on its release and again the reason for this is so that it can get the widest audience possible.


Get involved by bidding on items in the charity auction, or making a donation, as all proceeds will go directly to those affected by the Rana Plaza disaster. Visit the film’s page via the Raising for Rana site to find out more about the project.


Time for clothing brands to pay up!

pay up biggerFor Rana Plaza survivors, compensation is long overdue.

Today, Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) alongside workers and trade unions in Bangladesh and around the world launch a major campaign calling on all clothing brands who source from Bangladesh to immediately pay into the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund, which is collecting voluntary donations on behalf of the Rana Plaza Arrangement, and is overseen by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The Pay Up! campaign comes just two months before the first anniversary of the catastrophic collapse of Rana Plaza, which killed 1,138 people and injured over 2,000 more. The campaign aims to ensure that come April 24th the survivors and victims families are not still waiting for compensation.

CCC is calling on major international brands Benetton, KiK and Children’s Place, in particular, who all had orders at one of the five factories in Rana Plaza at the time of the collapse or in the recent past, to make significant contributions in order to ensure payments can begin.

US$40 million is required to ensure all those injured and the families of those killed are fairly compensated for loss of income and medical expenses. The fund is open to all companies, donors and individuals who wish to express their solidarity and compassion.

To date clothing brands El Corte Ingles, Mascot, Mango, Inditex and Loblaw have all publicly committed to the Donor Trust Fund.

“Numerous reports over the past ten months have highlighted the ongoing plight of the victims of Rana Plaza and their families. We therefore welcome these initial contributions.” says Ineke Zeldenrust of the Clean Clothes Campaign. “Compensation efforts to date have been completely haphazard, unequal, unpredictable and non-transparent, and have left large groups of victims with nothing. The Arrangement has set up the entire operational structure, which will put an end to this unpredictability quickly and completely. All that is needed is for companies to pay up. The collapse of Rana Plaza is symptomatic of an industry wide problem, and we encourage the entire industry to make generous contributions.” adds Zeldenrust.

Nearly all the victims of the Rana Plaza collapse were garment workers who had been ordered back into the unsafe building by factory bosses.

Shila Begum a sewing operator in one of the factories who was trapped when the building collapsed described the decision to go in. “No one wanted to enter the building that day … [but] I still went back in. If enough people hit you, you do what they say. You could see the tension in people’s eyes.” Shortly after arriving at her machine the electricity went off and the generator switched on “The floor gave way… my hand got stuck and I thought I would die.”

After being trapped for most of the day under the building Shila was eventually rescued, but her crush injuries were such that she had to have a hysterectomy, and her arm is in constant pain and she is unable to work. The trauma of the day remains with her. “I don’t know if I will ever be able to step into a factory again.”

In Dhaka, garment workers and their unions will be creating a human chain, and holding a press conference demanding the early settlement of the compensation claims. Hameeda Hossein of SNF (the Bangladesh Worker’s Safety Forum) says “After the Rana building collapsed the whole world watched for weeks while the injured and dead were pulled out of the ruins. Now is the time for all of us to act and ensure US$40 million is donated before April 24th”.

The Rana Plaza Arrangement is a groundbreaking collaborative framework to ensure that the losses of the survivors and victims can be paid.

The operational structure has been developed by the former Executive Head of the United Nations Compensation Commission, working with the Bangladesh Ministry of Labour and ILO experts. Some of the most credible labour- and civil society organisations will be involved in the claims processing and post-award services and counselling. Medical assessments will be undertaken by qualified local doctors at the Centre for Rehabilitation of the Paralysed (CRP). A team of independent local and international claims commissioners has been identified to determine the awards. The German development agency GIZ has agreed to undertake the administrative costs of the operation.

Roy Ramesh Chandra, President of the United Federation of Garment Workers & Secretary General of IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC) said ”This is an unprecedented step and allows, brands, the government, the employers organisations and unions to work together to ensure a just outcome for the victims of Rana Plaza.”

Ten months after the worse industrial disaster to hit the garment industry, there can be no further excuses. Brands can show that they can be part of the solution if they pay up now!

You can read more about this campaign here.

Raising for Rana, which is being put on in association with charities Traid and War on Want, will take place on April 24th, the anniversary of the Rana Plaza building collapse. As part of the fundraiser, Raising for Rana are holding a charity auction, which will include some of The Fableists clothing. Please find out more here. 

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The Supply Chain of a Single T-Shirt via Fair Wear Foundation

Fair Wear Foundation (FWF) is an independent, non-profit organisation that works with companies and factories to improve labour conditions for garment workers. The Fableists’ t-shirts are made by Continental Clothing (we’ll have more about them in an upcoming blog post!), which is one of FWF’s member companies.

This short film, produced by FWF isn’t new but it outlines the supply chain of a single t-shirt so well. It’s worth the 7 minutes viewing time and there are no graphic images, just the straight up facts.

Make informed choices when buying clothes and don’t turn a blind eye. Wouldn’t you reconsider if the clothes you were buying your child were made by someone else’s child?

What is a Sweatshop?

Dhaka, Bangladesh - March 2010. Garment factory in Dhaka Bangladesh in the Mohakhali area.  Dhaka counts more than 4000 factories producing for export only. This factory produced garments for the dutch company Hans Textiel. Credits: Clean Clothes Campaign

Dhaka, Bangladesh – March 2010.
Garment factory in Dhaka Bangladesh in the Mohakhali area.
Dhaka counts more than 4000 factories producing for export only.
Credits: Clean Clothes Campaign

The term ‘sweatshop’ is commonly used nowadays to describe any place with poor working conditions. The word can conjure up images of hot, dark, damp factories in developing nations but factories with poor working conditions can come in many different forms and could be right on your doorstep. Although there is no one definition, a factory is generally termed a ‘sweatshop’ if it contravenes a minimum of two labour laws set out by the International Labour Organization. These laws pertain to wages and benefits, child labour and working hours. A sweatshops can be a workplace where employees are subjected to exploitation, discrimination, poor working conditions or abuse. There are sweatshops all over the world, in every country.

Dhaka, Bangladesh - March 2010. Garment factory exterior in the Mohakhali area. Credits: Clean Clothes Campaign

Dhaka, Bangladesh – March 2010. Garment factory exterior in the Mohakhali area.
Credits: Clean Clothes Campaign

In 1998 the International Labour Organization adopted then Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Works outlining four essential principles that many of us take for granted in the workplace:

  • Freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining
  • Elimination of all forms of forced or compulsory labour
  • Effective abolition of child labour
  • Elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation

Because there is no one universal definition of a sweatshop and each country adheres to their own labour laws, it is hard to get a global perspective on how bad the sweatshop problem is. Many of the factories with the worst conditions accept work as sub-contractors and therefore might not be inspected by the company whose items are being manufactured there. Although all big companies have quality control teams and should know exactly where, how and by whom their items are being manufactured, in many cases, the company can claim that it didn’t know their items had been sub-contracted. The factory they have contracted to do the work may be farming the work out to a cheaper factory so that they can increase their mark-up. Big companies are often looking for cheaper, faster options and will move their manufacturing to a new factory, or even country in order to achieve this.

There are all kind of products made in sweatshops but some of the biggest problem items produced or grown under ‘sweatshop’ conditions are shoes, clothing, rugs, toys and crop items such as coffee, cotton and bananas.

Garment Factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh - March 2010 Credits: Clean Clothes Campaign

Garment Factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh – March 2010
Credits: Clean Clothes Campaign

In order to avoid buying sweatshop produced items, consumers need to shop wisely. Companies should be disclosing all the information about where their items are made, who is making them, where and how but until this happens, the choice lies with the consumer. Look for items which are certified by independent associations such as Fair Wear, Fair Trade and GOTS, who have social compliance criteria as part of their organic textile certification programme.

Adhere to the principle of buy less and pay slightly more. It’s a no-brainer that cheap clothes are poorly made out of the worst quality materials by someone who may not have basic rights at work. At the end of the day, paying £1 more for your t-shirt could mean that workers employed in the factories where that t-shirt is made are adults earning a living wage and treated as you would wish to be treated at work.

Garment Factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh - March 2010 Credits: Clean Clothes Campaign

Garment Factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh – March 2010
Credits: Clean Clothes Campaign

For more information check out Clean Clothes Campaign.