A tragedy 6 years ago sparked a Fashion Revolution – and my new career

Rana Collapse; Protesters asking "Who made my clothes?"

Julie Godshall is a Noonday Collection Ambassador & Coaching Leader.

April 24, 2013 will forever be a day to mourn.

Six years ago today, in Bangladesh, 1,134 people died when the the Rana Plaza Building collapsed. Thousands more were injured.

I remember reading about the tragedy, and how one detail stood out most of all: this death toll was entirely preventable. Just a day earlier, the building had been evacuated over safety concerns. The upper floors had been built without a permit, using substandard materials, and were beginning to crack.

Still, the managers of garment factories inside insisted that employees return to work on the 24th. The workers complied, afraid they’d suffer harsh consequences, such as losing a month’s pay, if they refused.

The building collapsed just before 9 a.m.

Rana building collapse
Rijans/Flicr Today is the sixth anniversary of the Rana Plaza Building collapse, pictured here, which killed 1,134 people and injured thousands more.

April 24, 2013 was the definition of tragedy. But it also sparked important questions and changes.

For me, it led to to changes in my consumer habits, and eventually, to a whole new career.

The Rana building collapse highlighted a worldwide crisis, one that disproportionately affects women. According to Fashion Revolution, many of the world’s 75 million garment workers – 80% of whom are women between 18 and 35 – do not earn a living wage, and/or do not have the right to organize into unions, take medical leave, and more. They work in unsafe and abusive settings. This is in addition to the immense environmental harm of fast fashion.

That day sparked the Fashion Revolution movement toward greater transparency from fashion brands, demanding that they commit to higher standards and hold their suppliers accountable to abiding by those standards.

It also sparked questions that I wanted to dig into: What brands were these clothes for? Do they know how the workers behind their products are exploited, or do they pressure their suppliers and turn a blind eye to the actual result of that pressure?

Those questions led me to understand the problem was far bigger than I’d imagined – but they also led me to solutions and a new vision for changing the world through how we shop.

I began to research about fashion alternatives such a fair trade brands. Eventually, I entered that space myself as an entrepreneur with Noonday Collection.

As moms and entrepreneurs, we make a lot of consumer and business decisions. How can we tap into our potential to create social change through these decisions? In particular, how can we further the cause of women, near and far, in how we support other businesses and run our own?

That day six years ago sealed in my mind some important truths, which inspired my entire business journey and the solutions I try to bring to the world:

  • Global poverty and inequality arise from a lack of access to opportunity for good wages in safe conditions. People in vulnerable communities, such as the women in the fashion industry, don’t lack drive and talent. But if that drive and talent have no path to take into flourishing, they will remain vulnerable. This is at the heart of the orphan crisis, human trafficking, and more.
  • To help alleviate these issues, we must create these paths. Because when done right, business has immense power to change the world.
  • Through how we shop and how we run our businesses, we can create a world where commerce is a means of social change, not a place of exploitation. We can create paths to flourishing.

According to the President of the World Bank Group, “When we promote true equality—including equal pay for equal work—we all stand to benefit, because better educated mothers produce healthier children, and women who earn more invest more in the next generation.” (Source: World Bank)

The fashion industry is just one example of the problems that arise when business is a place of exploitation. But the good news is that you and I can do something.

So whether you’re a consumer, an entrepreneur, or both, you can contribute toward creating paths to flourishing through ethical business.

But what does “ethical business” mean?

I’ll talk more about that in an upcoming post.

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