This week will mark three years since the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh on April 24, 2013, an event known as the deadliest in the history of the garment industry. The tragedy took the lives of more than 1,100 garment workers, brought the consequences of fast fashion to a global audience and put the fashion industry's fundamental supply chain issues under the microscope and into the public conversation.
And although the fashion industry may have only scratched the surface to solving its supply chain issues, leading companies and brands are taking action against four major areas to make a positive social and environmental impact.
1. Putting worker safety first: No event brought the safety of workers to the world's attention like the Rana Plaza collapse. As a result, the Rana Plaza Donors Trust Fund was formed to compensate victims, and met its $30 million target in 2015 with the help of major companies. Last year brands including Nike, H&M, Timberland* and Target* also joined together to launch a Social and Labor Convergence Project to develop industry-wide standards for supply chain assessments.
2. Empowering the economic sustainability of workers: While fair wages are at the forefront of ensuring the resiliency of garment workers worldwide— it's also about investing in their overall wellbeing. Given that 80 percent of garment workers are women, Gap Inc. is on a mission to educate one million females by offering training in leadership, financial literacy and legal literacy through its PACE program. Other companies like Benetton, Levi's and Nordstrom are also playing a role in empowering and enhancing the wellbeing of women around the world.
3. Marketing sustainable collections: In an effort to reduce environmental impact and showcase sustainability commitments, companies are launching collections made more responsibly. From H&M's Conscious Exclusive Collection, made of recycled or organic materials, to Levi's Water<Less Jeans, using up to 96 percent less water, companies are inviting consumers to explore sustainably-made clothes. Although some brands have been met with challenges along the way, more and more companies, like Zara, ASOS and Marks & Spencer, are committing to finding alternative materials to change the course of the fashion industry.
4. Taking back the fast-fashion culture: To reverse the notorious wastefulness of fast fashion, companies are embracing the take-back trend. Today, recycling bins are popping up in stores like Forever 21, American Eagle Outfitters and The North Face to make recycling accessible for consumers. This year, H&M became the first fashion company to take its garment collection initiative worldwide with the launch of World Recycle Week. Some business models encourage sharing, like those of Rent the Runway and Yerdle, while other companies offer repair programs, all with the purpose of inviting consumers to extend their garment's life cycle.
Ultimately, the Rana Plaza collapse shed light on the systemic issues within the fashion industry, inciting meaningful conversations and efforts aimed to bring about an industry-wide change. This marks the next stage of enlightenment for the fashion industry, one where fashion brands put sustainability first and others, like Zady, exist to establish the supply chain of the future, creating impact far beyond one program or collection.
-Catalina Quintana, Account Executive, CR Strategy