Review: This World – Clothes to Die for
Survivor in documentary: This World – Clothes to Die For
Last week, BBC 2’s ‘This World’ documentary series focused on the Rana Plaza disaster that occurred last year in Bangladesh. There has been a lot of talk in the news and the media at large about the incident but none have captured the real story behind the story quite like this documentary has. It captivatingly revealed the stories of the workers caught in the collapse of the building.
The film began with the haunting cries of the poor workers trapped in the aftermath of the collapsed building, which then, in direct contrast, led to clips of young western fashion consumers and presumably YouTube Fashion Haul sensations, displaying an array of bags and garments from their favourite retailers; likely to have been made by those workers featured in this same documentary.
The concept of parallel lives is one in which your physical life is led in direct contrast to your non- physical life. In the context of this story it means that the victims and survivors’ lives of this tragedy were vividly very real and our lives in the West are their parallel, non- physical lives in which we live in gluttony and excess. An exaggeration, perhaps, but one which needs contemplation.
Shopna, one of the survivors featured in the documentary naively said: “These girls who wear these will remember us one day”, which poignantly puts into perspective how we can easily ignore the true cost of our clothes for the sake of fashion.
Ten minutes into the documentary we are introduced to the man responsible for the tragedy, known more as a bully to the workers than their boss. The villain of this horrid tale, Sohel Rana, a wealthy politician and business man overestimated his power and the level of his common sense it seems, by building three more storeys on top of a badly structured five storey building. Five factories occupied the space. Rana’s garment factory business was growing fast but because he faced fierce competition from other suppliers he enforced faster rates of production by raising the workers hourly targets. The working conditions therefore became more of pressure cooker waiting to let off steam.
At the polar opposite end of the Bangladeshi system are the UK garment manufacturing legislations to ensure at least minimum wages are met, health and safety checks are carried out and that those supplying retailers are audited on a consistent basis. The Kitty Ferreira brand’s ethos is to use British only manufacturing not only for quality of goods and to give back to the economy, but more importantly to ensure a safe and sustainable best practice. Kitty Ferreira want to make sure that the working conditions in which its garments are produced meet regulations. Something that sadly cannot be said for many other designers and retailers in the UK fashion industry.
The documentary goes on to reveal the levels of corruption in the Bangladeshi garment industry, their media and their government. Rana is confronted by the media following the first showings of the cracks in the building and made to give an interview in which he appears very drunk and agitated. He of course denied anything was wrong with the building and offered to bribe the journalists to prevent them from reporting this news as it would harm his business. Needless to say the news of the building cracking went out that night, but sadly it was to no avail. Out of fear of loss of wages, the garment workers returned to the Plaza the next day and were forced into the building, which inevitably collapsed that same morning.
The Rana Plaza tragedy has been described as the biggest industrial disaster of the 21st century. It would be naive to think that working conditions in a developing country like Bangladesh would change overnight but the event has served as a sobering reality check for the fashion industry here in the West.
The big retailers involved in the tragedy have donated millions of pounds to the victims and their families. Will this change their practices? I hope so as they are better positioned to change things than small independent designers and retailers.
In the Kitty Ferreira camp the crusade for ethical and sustainable fashion practices continues, by using upcycled materials, dyeing fabric using natural resources and creating genuinely amazing and wearable pieces.
Harrowing details of the tragedy are too much to bear but are a necessary evil that needs to be told. These young men and women deserve to have their story told and I hope all those YouTube Fashion Vloggers were watching this documentary and will remember the workers who made their clothes to die for.