I’ll never forget the first time that I visited a factory. It was in 2013 (the same year as the collapse of Rana Plaza) and I was with a group of Under Armour co-workers traveling in Central America. Little did I know that one of the most pivotal and impactful moments of my life was about to happen. One of Under Armour’s factory partners had taken me under his wing and offered to put me on the factory floor for several hours. What exactly does being ‘put on the factory floor’ mean?
I sweated, toiled and bullishly learned how to thread a sewing machine (it took me over 1/2 an hour) and sewed my first t-shirt amongst hundreds of garment workers while sweat poured down my neck and back and I silently cursed myself for not taking Spanish and making a joke out of my high school’s home economics sewing class.
After taking hours to get the Quality Assurance manager’s approval for ONE T-SHIRT, I remember thinking in the car heading back to our hotel, that I would never ever take for granted the amount of work that is put into the clothing that I wear everyday and that I had an obligation to share with others the story of the people who made their clothes. Looking back, I probably should have jumped ship and started the work that I am doing now but I didn’t know that moments like those are what define you and give you the option of sticking to the status quo or bucking the system and chasing what you believe in. I know now though.
Shortly after my first factory trip, the world was gripped by the collapse of Rana Plaza, an apparel factory in Bangladesh producing for many well known apparel brands. 1,138 people died and another 2,500 were injured, making it the fourth largest industrial disaster in history. The victims were mostly young women. Organizations such as Fashion Revolution were born from this tragedy to raise awareness of the social and environmental impact of the textile industry.
You might be saying, enough, Brianna, I get it, I get it. We’re all busy and we don’t always have a moment to stop what we’re doing and make sure that our purchases aren’t negatively impacting the people and the planet. I have bills, kids, demanding job, you name it. I’m going to challenge you for a moment with one of my favorite quotes.
“Never ever doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Meade
Each day, we have the opportunity to wake-up and be the change. It’s not just about making the most sustainable option (all though that doesn’t hurt!) it’s about making the connection that there was a farmer that grew the hemp that was harvested and a person who processed and manufactured that hemp for your hemp towel. It’s about realizing there are people and ecosystems that are behind the towels, clothes, shoes, purses, food, cars, etc., that we use everyday. We can’t just leave it up to legislation, thoughtful business leaders, or worse, incidents like Rana Plaza to set the expectation of transparency, fair labor standards and environmental impact of the products we use. It’s up to you, it’s up to me, it’s up to us.
That’s why I ask you to join me in taking a moment of silence for not only the Bangladeshi workers but for all of the people, animals and ecosystems that are the true heroes behind the products that we wear and use.