Widening the Lens of Crisis

I must admit, during this time I’ve been swept up in the individualist mentality that is bountiful in American culture, and business.

How is Rizzo’s going to make it through to the other side, how will Rizzo’s pay fixed costs, what needs to be downsized or eliminated, how am I going to make my way as a small biz owner?

I’ve literally toiled and teared over these queries, swimming in fear, what-ifs, and have nots.

I’ve talked about these topics on end with those in my sphere.

Then in a completely uncalculated way, in fact through an accidental Podcast listen to Rana Ayyub on the Business of Fashion, I shifted my attention to what is going on, in this industry, on a global scale. And it needs to be talked about.

It is no secret, yet often overlooked, that the fashion industry is built on the backs of garment workers and artisans in places such as South and Southeastern Asia. From major fashion houses to fast-fashion outlets and everywhere in between, the industry of dress depends on these unsung heroes. It is because of them that we can both relish and adorn ourselves in some of the most beautiful embroidery and woven textiles. It is because of them that low-income folks worldwide can afford new clothes for their growing children.

These are the daily wage folks who are paid under a livable wage and depend on those daily wages to simply eat. To EAT folks. In places where there isn’t access to food banks, pay what you can restaurants, or sliding scale farm shares.

These very folks, who are the foundation of the fashion industry, are massively impacted through factory closures, order cancellations, non-payment for completed orders, and national shutdowns without proper basic need preparations.

When we open our closets and drawers here in the west, whether our closet is filled with new or vintage, we are seeing the talents, influences, hard labor, and skilled work of these garment workers who are in crisis- who cannot social distance because it is a privilege to do so - who have no access to food for their families - who have zero to very limited access to proper health care.

While we feel good working from home in the latest or time-tested fashions, thousands who have sacrificed for these very fashions are seriously suffering.

This awareness has brought upon my own shift from a narrow individualist perspective to one of collectivism. To look at the supply chain, industry, and complexes I’m am a part of and invested in and see it for more than just “how am I gonna make it?”

Individualism is part of the problem. We’ve, I’ve, got to zoom out. How are we gonna make it? How are they gonna make it? These are necessary queries in necessary times.

I don’t have a solution. But I’m looking and educating myself. I’m listening and reading Rana Ayyub, who really sparked much of this inquiry and exploring the work of the Clean Clothes Campaign and International Labor Rights Forum. I’m gaining awareness of which brands and suppliers are making good on their word to these workers and who are engaged in unethical practices, and spending my money wisely with those who are in integrity.

The Penn State Center for Global Workers rights shares, “All parties are feeling the extreme burden caused by COVID-19. However, not all parties are equally situated to find the liquidity needed to cover their expenses. As shops, outlets, and malls are ordered shut, retailers and brands are taking an enormous hit to their bottom line and cash reserves. However, the hit on supplier factories, who generally operate on paper-thin margins and have far less access to capital than their customers, is that much more extreme. And the burden on workers – who very rarely earn enough to accumulate any savings and who still need to put food on the table and possibly cover unforeseen health expenses – is enormous.”

So here we are and I’m talking about it. And I encourage you to read and talk about it too.

If your a vintage seller and/or collector, you already have an intuitive connection to the importance of slow fashion tenants, sustainable and ethical garment practices, and human rights within the fashion industry. Don’t pull your face mask over your eyes and not see what is happening in the larger fashion world right now.

If we have any hope for a renaissance of the fashion world post-COVID-19, we will rely on these very garment workers and artisans who are in crisis and suffering. Let’s find ways to look beyond independence and toward interdependence; let’s collectively find ways to support, raise awareness, heal, and advocate for equity.

And if you’re like me, you want some facts. I’ve included some resources below to get you started. Please share some with your communities in return. Let’s think globally, let’s act collectively.