What a spring it has been for news. With everything from a terrorist attack in Boston to a new pope in Rome (along with an old pope in Rome), it has been news overload.
I must confess, the day they locked up Boston and searched for the second bomber, I was riveted to the news channels. But soon, it’s off to the next “breaking news.”
I’d like to make a pitch for one news event that should remain in our consciousness but is quickly receding even as I write this — April’s horrifying building collapse in Bangladesh.
More than 1,000 people were killed, many of them trapped amid rubble screaming for help, and some even hacked away their own limbs in an effort to free themselves. Appallingly, officials and owners had been warned that the building was unsafe. Most of those people — many women — were garment workers, and some of us may now be wearing clothes sewed by them.
Immediately, there were outcries against the big-name companies whose clothes are produced in Bangladesh. The garment industry, according to a BBC story, accounts for almost 80 percent of Bangladesh’s annual exports and provides employment for about 4 million. This was not the first shocking disaster in the garment industry there, and each time there has been a fire or a collapse someone suggests things will change.
For those of us who want to be responsible consumers, part of the problem lies in the issue’s complexity. Some blame the government, which could enforce better building and safety codes. Many blame the clothing companies who do not demand decent conditions and pay for their laborers. The companies, in turn, pass the blame on to subcontractors, as if that absolves the big names of responsibility.
Finally, many blame you and me — the Western consumer who wants closets full of clothes, all at a bargain.
What can we do? First of all, let’s remember our sisters and brothers who were forced to labor in a crumbling building despite its imminent demise. Our initial response might be, “I’ll never buy anything with a Bangladeshi label again,” but that isn’t fair to the folks who depend on that industry for their livelihood — and if Bangladesh is targeted, companies may just move the problem to another developing country.
The issue will be solved when we demand clothing manufacturers unify in their determination to promote better working conditions in all factories, despite the tiny cost increase that may mean to us.
Last year, a book called “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion,” by Elizabeth Cline took us to task for overshopping at rock bottom retailers. We all know kids today who shop almost as if clothes were disposable, as they nearly are at some cheap outlets. A “fashion repeat” must be avoided in a school wardrobe.
But it’s not just kids.
People shop thoughtlessly, out of boredom, wanting to score a “find,” not necessarily a need. Bad for us, and bad for the planet, says Cline.
Remember when your grandmother bought a winter coat to last for years? Remember when a classic black dress lasted over the decades? Who shops like that now? And who demands that kind of quality and is willing to pay for it?
Let’s examine our closets. Expunge what we don’t need, what doesn’t fit, what was ridiculously trendy and now looks merely ridiculous. Let’s regret that impulse buy that fell apart after a wash or two. Let’s research websites that address the Bangladeshi disaster and promote “green” clothes. Let’s be more conscious consumers.
Let’s shop smarter and use less.