Photos by Dan Cutrona
Can you stop fast fashion with a T-shirt? Probably not, but it’s a start. When Rana Plaza came tumbling down in Bangladesh in April, those of us in the sustainable fashion milieu—including the very editor tweaking my story—felt a growing sense of powerlessness and despair. As the number of deaths continued to mount and haunting images of young women sticking out of the rubble filled our screens, we exchanged emails, howled on our Facebook pages, and collectively hung our heads. How much worse could fashion get in terms of people and planet? Why do profits always trump basic human rights and safety? That’s when I decided to create this T-shirt.
The idea behind the shirt was simple: Riff off Experimental Jetset’s “John & Paul & Ringo & George” tee but use the names of South Asia’s most recent garment-factory disasters. These were the Spectrum building collapse, which killed 64 workers near Dhaka in 2005; the Ali Enterprises fire in Pakistan, which left at least 289 people dead in September 2012; the Tazreen Fashions fire, which claimed 112 lives in Bangladesh this past November; and, of course, the Rana Plaza implosion with its 1,127 fatalities.
The idea behind the shirt was simple: Riff off Experimental Jetset’s “John & Paul & Ringo & George” tee but use the names of South Asia’s most recent garment-factory disasters.
I knew the shirt wouldn’t make sense to most people. Not everyone is going to ask, “What do those names mean?” when they spot you wearing it. But words have power, and the canny and curious might pause and try to figure out what these particular ones have in common.
I met Eric Henry from TS Designs in Burlington, N.C., when I was in Manhattan recently. I was immediately wooed by his story of “dirt to shirt” manufacturing. His company is a perfect example of how garment production can be both socially and environmentally responsible. Not only are all of his shirts made from homegrown organic cotton, but his company also pioneered a screen-printing technique, known as “Rehance,” that uses water-based inks in lieu of PVC-based—and highly toxic—plastisol. In addition, each shirt includes a tracking number that unlocks information about who made your shirt.
With Henry’s help, the #StopFastFashion campaign began to come together. But the “Spectrum & Ali & Tazreen & Rana” tees are more than something you wear. Those four names alone are responsible for at least 1,618 deaths and twice as many injuries. Linked together, they’re also a call to action, a statement that workers worldwide deserve better.
Even better? 100 percent of proceeds from the shirts will go to the Clean Clothes Campaign, one of the leading nonprofits dedicated to improving working conditions and supporting the empowerment of workers in the global garment and sportswear industries.
Can a T-shirt stop fast fashion? We’ll see.