Will the Rana Plaza Factory Collapse in Bangladesh Have an Impact on Fashion Consumers?

Bangladeshi relatives of a dead worker in Dhaka building collapse

More than 600 garment workers died in the Rana Plaza collapse on April 24, 2013 in a commercial area near Dhaka, Bangladesh.  With most companies distancing themselves and denying responsibility (e.g. Walmart and Benetton) or blaming the government in Bangladesh and/or the subcontractors who run the garment factories, it is doubtful that customers who purchase inexpensive clothing will personally connect their consumption practices to the death of workers in Bangladesh.  There are too many links in the supply chain for consumers to feel any personal responsibility. The production process is complex and far removed.  Holding companies such as Loblaw are names that are unrecognizable to consumers.  If a customer learns that the Joe Fresh brand is owned by Loblaw they will also come to know that the company maintains that it adheres to the highest standards of ethical sourcing.  The problem resides in  Bangladesh.  Bangladesh fails to provide its garment workers with acceptable working conditions. As consumers hear the names of brands they own and are familiar with: Gap, Mango, Tommy Hilfiger, they are less likely to take responsibility and are more likely to see the problem as part of a system that even the brands themselves are not likely to be able to control.

Where then is the origin of the problem, or at least the driving force behind the deplorable and deadly conditions millions of garment workers face daily?  Fashion in the age of turbo-capitalism and hyper-consumption is no longer a seasonal, controlled system.  Today it requires that a constant influx of new styles from multiple brands at a variety of price points be available to an ever-expanding global audience. The desire for newness and for choice on the part of consumers accelerates the cycle of change in fashion and calls for increased speed in design, production and distribution of goods.  Animated by new marketing technologies brands put forward not only offerings of clothing but desired lifestyles in which identities become anchored.

For factories such as those housed in Rana Plaza in Bangladesh and elsewhere, the demand for a faster turnaround time at the lowest possible price drives wages down and makes choices such as closing down for needed repairs seem impossible. Three levels were illegally added on according to an article by Jason Notte in MSN Money. Until attitudes and the social values that inform these attitudes shift, unfortunate situations like this one will only be small bleeps in an otherwise unstoppable forward moving force, steamrolling ahead.

Only two major brands, PVH Corporation (which owns Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein) and the German retailer Tchibo were willing to sign a fire and building safety agreement to help protect workers according to an article by Steve Greenhouse in the New York Times.  In this same article, Galen G. Weston, Loblaw’s chairman, points to a “deafening silence” from the apparel industry. A dialogue around this issue is possible but it is quite unlikely to be one that concerns a large global audience of fashion consumers. Rather we can expect to hear from a variety of small groups if we listen carefully and seek out these voices.


Steve Greenhouse


MSN Money


Photo from Guardian



Brooklyn Unplugged Tours Provides Interactive Cultural Tours of Brooklyn Neighborhoods


Jeffrey (Yehuda) Stirewalt is a recent Brooklyn College graduate who majored in Finance and Business Management.  He is a veteran of  Ted Liebowitz’s Liebowitz Entrepreneurship Program

 where students learn first hand about starting a business.  Brooklyn Unplugged Tours specializes in interactive cultural tours of Brooklyn. I took the Flatbush Caribbean Food and Culture Adventure tour.  Depending on the group, tours can meet in Manhattan at Union Square and begin with a subway ride to the destination or they can meet at the destination.  Four participants met Jeffrey in front of the Flatbush Caton Market near the Church Avenue stop on the B train for a 4 hour tour.  The trip took about 45 minutes from the Upper West Side of Manhattan. jeffrey 2You won’t miss Jeffrey in his Brooklyn Unplugged t-shirt and clipboard.

The tour costs $39 per person.  Private tours are $40 per hour and you can even request one with Brooklyn’s own borough historian Ron Schweiger.  According to the website private tours are never too small or too large. They can be arranged for 1 or for 100+.  What is really special about Brooklyn Unplugged Tours is that it is not a pre-packaged and scripted tour.  Rather, it is more a walk through a neighborhood with a knowledgeable local.  We met merchants at the Caton Market merchant and stopped and talked to people in street, introduced to us by Jeffrey, a third generation Brooklynite.  When I asked if we could stop in one of the clothing stores Jeffrey agreed seeing that other group members were receptive to the idea. dresses 2dresses

We visited plenty of sites including the old Dutch Reformed Church first built by Governor Stuyvesant in 1654.  Now called the Flatbush Reformed Church the last building was constructed between 1793 and 1798. Dutch Reform church

We visited the site of the soon to be restored Loew’s Kings Theater where we learned both Barbra Streisand and Sylvester Stallone worked.  Here is a picture taken by David Handchuh of the Daily News. Loew's Kings theater David Handchuh And a rendering of the new interior from the Brooklyn Borough President’s office. Rendering from Brooklyn Borough President's office

We visited Erasmus High School, Erasmus High School       Erasmus High School Old BuildingErasmus High School Old Building 2       Erasmus High School grounds  attended by both Streisand and Stallone.

The day ended with a Jamaican 2013-05-03 14.51.10lunch.

As with every experience, Jeffrey took the time to explain the meaning of things to the group. lunchJeffrey restaurant 6       Jeffrey restaurant 8

I really recommend this tour.  I’m looking forward to the Russian Brighton Beach Cultural tour.

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