I was 9 years old when the political first became personal. Swayed by stories of kids not much older than me stitching together soccer balls and sneakers, my sister, mom, and I made a pact to never wear Nike. In a sea of Air Jordans, I held my own in uncool shoes* against neoliberal arguments I could tell were bullshit years before I hit puberty.
Sixteen years later, I found myself sneaking stories about sustainable fashion into Grist. Why clothing? Why this issue, so often associated with vanity, and not another, more worthy topic? What about the local food movement? Or the multifaceted battles over renewable and dirty energy? The world is burning, and you want to write about jeans? Really?
Clothing is a giant, wasteful industry in need of serious reform. Just growing enough cotton for a T-shirt swallows up anywhere from 700 to 2,000 gallons of water. Then there’s the other end of that shirt’s life cycle: Americans threw out 11.1 million tons of textiles in 2010.
There’s good news, too. An army of millennials are fighting to shake up, reinvent, and reinvigorate the way we do fashion. Major brands are already gearing up to go green (or greenwash like mad). And there’s a growing backlash to business-as-usual. "We're having conversations about clothing that people were having about food 15 years ago," Elizabeth Cline, author of Overdressed, a book on the social and environmental costs of fashion, tells NPR.
That’s all important, but it wasn’t until I tried to write about the recent collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory building in Bangladesh that I made the connection as to why this stuff matters so much to me. By last count, more than 1,000 people have died in Rana Plaza, making it the most deadly accident the garment industry has ever seen.
One-thousand. For comparison, the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire, which spurred safety and labor laws across the U.S., killed 146. Last November, 117 people died in the Tazreen Factory fire in Bangladesh. And while they were still pulling bodies out of Rana Plaza’s rubble, another Bangladesh factory went up in flames on Thursday, killing eight.