This year for Fashion Revolution Day, the Brooklyn Fashion and Design Accelerator and sustainable lifestyle site Zady, commemorated the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse at an event that had a dual agenda: Remembering the past and examining strategies for the future.
Opening the event Friday, Debera Johnson, BF+DA executive director and academic director of sustainability at Pratt, presented an alarming statistic, proving that the issues surrounding the Rana Plaza tragedy that killed more than 1,100 people are still relevant and pressing. Today, she said, of the roughly 6,000 factories in Bangladesh, only 2,000 are registered and there are twice as many unregistered “shadow” factories that aren’t being regulated.
Traceability was the theme for the evening as the event began with a screening of the film, Traceable, a documentary that follows young designer Laura Siegel as she sources product for her line in the month leading up to her 2012 premiere at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. After premiering her collection, Siegel returns to India to visit the local craftspeople who worked on her textiles and passes around an iPad with runway images from her NYFW show. The workers look on with amusement and wonder at these models, thousands of miles away, at one of fashion’s most exclusive events, made-up in scarlet lipstick and dressed in the couture made from their fabrics.
The screening was followed by a discussion that centered on themes from the film and the progress in the industry since 2013. Soraya Darabi, co-founder of Zady, moderated a panel with the film’s director Jennifer Sharpe, Natalie Grillon, COO and co-founder of JUST, a mobile app that helps brands and consumers connect to the places and people behind their garments’ construction, and Timo Rissanen, an assistant professor of fashion design and sustainability at Parsons.
Grillon, explained in a discussion following the screening that it was after hearing about Rana Plaza that she had a personal revelation about the lack of transparency in the supply chain.
“You realize that the story gets lost immediately when the cotton gets sold on in the supply chain,” Grillon said. “The farmers have no idea where their cotton ends up, and the consumer, on the other end of the spectrum, has no idea that their cotton came from such an incredible place.”
In instituting change, Rissanen added that we must consider what values we are promoting with fast fashion. If you buy a $10 or $15 pair of jeans, he said, “It does raise the question of what values are we promoting? You know, ripping people off from even making a basic living with the choices that we make.” He continued, “If you are needing to hire space at Manhattan Mini Storage to house your stuff, you might ask yourself questions about what needs is that stuff satisfying?”
The panel members acknowledged that the movement toward transparency may not make its way throughout the American population right away, but eventually it will. Grillon said the organic food movement is a good model for apparel. “It started with farmer’s markets, and then it moved on to Whole Foods, and now Walmart actually has organic food in many of its stores.”
Eventually, panel members agreed, traceability will make its way into the mainstream. Important information is already being made public through projects like The Story of Stuff and JUST, and through studies by organizations like Greenpeace. Grillon pointed out that someday soon, the consumer will be comparing two items: One that has information on its supply chain and one that doesn’t. When this happens, people won’t want to buy anonymous apparel anymore.
“Fashion should be ethical. There shouldn’t be ethical fashion and fashion. There should be unethical fashion and fashion,” Grillon said.