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Do you know who makes your clothes?

From the people who design our clothes to the garment workers who make them, the fashion industry is a global machine that relies on billions of people.

 

The apparel and textiles industry is huge. It ranks as the 4th largest industry in the world with a total global workforce of 3.45 billion people in 2021 alone. 

Many of the people who make our clothes live in developing countries. 60% of the world's clothing exports are manufactured in developing nations, mainly in Asia. 

 

This creates many challenges and tensions that are unique to the fashion industry. 

  • Where do your clothes come from?

  • Who exactly is making them? 

  • What goes on behind the scenes?

 

Read on to find out more.

Image: NurPhoto

Garment Workers

It's no secret that a lot of our clothes are made in countries like China, Bangladesh and India.

Often in these countries and other developing nations, garment workers - or the people that make our clothes - are paid less than a living wage, working in factories with poor conditions. 

The majority of garment workers are women.

 

According to Labour Behind the Label, approximately 80% of the world's garment workers are women. These women provide low cost labour and are often afraid to speak out due to gender-based violence.

 

Garment workers often don't earn enough to cover basic living expenses such as food, rent, medical bills and education for their children. Yet, they are a vital part of the fashion industry.

Low wages, flexible contracts (or no contract at all) and poor working conditions are all part of a garment worker's daily life. 

Image: What She Makes campaign, Oxfam.

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Rana Plaza

A decade ago, the Rana Plaza factory building in Bangladesh collapsed. 

It was the worst ever industrial incident in the garment industry's history. 

The eight-story building housed shops, a bank and five garment factories. On 23rd April 2013, large cracks in the building were discovered, with the bank and shops on the lower floors immediately closing their doors. 

On 24th April, garment workers employed by the factories on the upper floors of the Rana Plaza building were ordered to return to work, despite concerns about the building's structural integrity. 

 

Hours later, the building collapsed. According to Clean Clothes Campaign, 1,134 people were killed and nearly 2,600 people were injured. 

This drew global attention to the lack of transparency in fashion's supply chain.

The Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh was subsequently created and signed on 15th May 2013.

This ensured protection for garment workers.

 

Image: Munir Uz Zaman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Whose Design Is It Anyway?

Have you ever experienced déjà vu while shopping online for new clothes? If you've ever felt like you've come across a design you've seen before, well, that might be more than just a coincidence!

 

We know that fast fashion is problematic for lots of reasons, but one of these reasons is the outright copying and imitation of designs.

 

Often, these designs are taken from small business owners and indie fashion designers. But, it's not just fashion designers.

 

Digital artists, illustrators and painters have also had their work slapped on all types of products from phone cases to sweaters.

Designers and artists can spend hours to months perfecting one piece of work, and not all of them can afford to take legal action. 

This might come as a bit of a shock to those who love a bargain, but one of the biggest known culprits of this is fast fashion mega-giant, Shein.

According to Ethically Dressed, as of March 2023, there are over 30 businesses that we know of that have had their designs ripped off by Shein. 

Go here to see the full list. 

Shein's low prices are possible due to cutting down on the cost of human labour, as well as using cheap materials (that are also not great for the environment). 

Image: Ethically Dressed

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Where to next?

Learn more about the fashion industry with a free list of resources.

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