By ALYSHA HARKINS
Like many of you, I know the difficulties of looking good on a budget. Up until May last year I was travelling and working in Spain as an English teacher and while rich in experience, it was hardly a lifestyle I would call lucrative. I quickly learned to love the affordable “fast fashion” from outlets like Zara, H&M and Mango for my clothing. Cute, good quality clothes at super cheap prices … Great right?! The thought of where my clothes came from and who actually made them never really crossed my mind. That is until April 24th, 2013.
On that day, 1,129 people lost their lives when Rana Plaza collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. This tragedy shone a spotlight on the appalling conditions and infrastructure these “sweat shop” factory workers, mostly women, have to endure. The clothes I took for granted suddenly had a very real face behind them and a cost I had never before considered. I was stunned to discover about 70% of my wardrobe bore the label ‘Made In Bangladesh’. I felt like I was part of the problem and was determined on my return to Australia to become part of the solution. I just needed to figure out how.
Not long after I got home, I was chatting with a friend, Gilliane Burford, who was also enormously conflicted about her buying habits. One of her greatest joys in life is buying clothes for her rapidly growing grandkids. At the time, like many others, I was boycotting the stores that make joys like this available, and Gill’s daughter was urging her to do the same. “But boycotting”, Gill pointed out, “only serves in placing these workers’ livelihoods in jeopardy.” She made a point. When I asked her if she had any better ideas, I was intrigued when she said yes.
Gill had watched an episode of Four Corners entitled ‘Fashion Victims’. The episode revealed incredibly low wages, extremely long hours, and workers who feared for their lives in some of the most dangerous factories in the world. Mention was made that most shoppers would be happy to pay a little more for these items if they thought that mark-up would end up in the worker’s pockets and not the store’s profits. The reality is though, it probably wouldn’t. The penny dropped for Gill. What if there was a way to make sure that extra dollar or two did go straight back to the people? And MADEgram was born.