What Price Fashion?
October 13, 2013
On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City. There were 147 fatalities; most were women. David Von Drehle, in his book, Triangle: The Fire That Changed America, chronicles the events leading up to and after the tragedy. He states, "[T]his book is one more attempt to open up to the horror of the Triangle fire, to gaze intently and unflinchingly at it, and to settle on the facts and their meaning.” Von Drehle, who lives in the Kansas City area, carefully and compassionately reveals the stories of those who lost their lives. He paints a painful picture of the high price greed can exact. Until 2013, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was considered one of the deadliest garment factory accidents in history.
On April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza factory building in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed. It housed several garment factories. The final death toll was 1,129 people. These factories were producing apparel for major European and American brands. A subsequent investigation determined that the use of substandard materials and inadequate enforcement of building codes led to the disaster.
Overdressed, by Elizabeth L. Cline, provides an overview of our obsession with what she calls “fast fashion.” In the last 15 years, clothing prices have continued to fall because of our incessant desire for the latest fashion at bargain prices. Because we pay so little for our clothing, we buy lots of it. Often, we merely throw away the garments we no longer wear. Sadly, our quest for inexpensive apparel has resulted in the majority of fabric and clothing now being produced overseas. Cline documents how the demand for cheap fashion has moved its manufacturing from China to Bangladesh. "Bangladesh’s garment industry is a slipshod, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants affair…factories are being built where they shouldn’t be and in a dangerously haphazard fashion."
The Triangle garment factory fire fills me with sadness. I am haunted by the horrific death toll in Bangladesh. "Make, Alter, and Mend" is the title of chapter 8 in Overdressed. It was here that this book became a quest. I realized that I am a contributor to the demand for “fast fashion.” I don’t need that many clothes. I recently bought a sewing machine and made a pair of pajamas. They cost about $200, which includes the price of the machine. The next garment I sew will be cheaper. I need to take the time to mend or alter what I have. I went to a consignment shop and made some purchases. I plan on returning. Changing my attitude and behavior is hard but not impossible. The solution starts with me.