Rana Plaza Remembered

Rana Plaza, located just outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh was an eight story building that collapsed due to poor construction and lack of maintenance on April 24, 2013. Thousands of workers were housed within the walls of Rana Plaza and were forced to go to work although there was knowledge of a large crack in a column of the structure that eventually led to the collapse. One thousand-three hundred-thirty four people lost their lives in Rana Plaza and more than two thousand people were injured.

One thousand-three hundred- thirty four (1,134) people lost their lives in Rana Plaza and more than two thousand (2,000) people were injured.

 

The thousands of laborers worked for very low wages for big-name western companies such as Joe Fresh (Canada,) Carrefour (France,) Primark (UK,) J.C. Penney (U.S.,) and Zara (Spain.) As of this 2014 Forbes article some companies had paid  financial compensation to the families of the deceased, and some had not. Other large companies like Walmart and the Children’s Place (both U.S.) had paid compensation even though they did not house workers in the building at the time of the collapse, but had  at some point in the past. On top of financial compensation, those found responsible for the collapse were charged with murder back in 2015.

Even though such large North American and European clothing manufacturers are overdressedassociated with the collapse at Rana Plaza (and countless other collapses and tragedies,) consumers often fall deaf to such news. Personally, I first learned of Rana Plaza a few months after the tragedy via an NPR interview by Terry Gross with author Elizabeth Cline speaking about her highly recommended book on the Fast Fashion industry, “Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.”

My shopping habits have changed drastically since hearing that interview and reading the book (I haven’t shopped at or even entered a large clothing chain since summer 2014.) You can read about my lifestyle changes in previous blog posts which outline hosting clothing swaps, a great alternative to supporting Fast Fashion.

Swap in full Swing

 

I don’t write this post to be self-righteous or to encourage readers to shift their shopping habits as drastically as I have, but rather to inform consumers, because we are all consumers, of a tragedy that they may not be aware of. The collapse at Rana Plaza happened just three years ago,but I’d bet that many shoppers have never heard of it. You can dig and dig and dig and find many other similar stories of ill-treated, cheaply hired labor in developing countries. Laborers whose stories are not shared enough and who may even sacrifice their lives in poor working conditions for a cheap price tag in a department store. Bangladeshi workers work for a fraction of the cost of other laborers elsewhere and are often forced to work 12 hour days in unsafe conditions. The lives of laborers are the hidden costs of cheap clothing that we blindly consume.

It’s never fun to be the bearer of bad news, and I often feel that I’m a “Debbie Downer” because I share tragic news with friends and readers, but if we never know the truth then we’ll never change our ways, and if we, the consumers never change our spending habits then we’ll never shift the way of production. Whether you decide to go to a second hand shop this weekend instead of a mall or department store, or share this link or story with a friend, every little bit helps and adds up eventually. But we have a lot of sharing and changing to do to defeat the Fast Fashion industry.

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Third Clothing Swap Success!

This past weekend I hosted my third community clothing swap here in Busan. The idea was exactly the same as the last two that I’ve hosted, all are welcome, donate what you can or come empty handed, walk away with as much as you like. The reasons why I don’t require donations by all are: 1. There’s an excess of clothing left behind by expat teachers whom have moved on from Korea and 2. My hope is that people will find clothing through this sustainable manner rather than by supporting Fast Fashion.

Although this swap was very similar to my past two, there were a few minor differences I made after learning some lessons from the previous ones. Here’s what was different.

  • More Strict Donation Requirements –
    About half of what was left over from the swap.

    About half of what was left over from the swap.

    At the last swap I got swamped with left over donations. A handful of friends and I took hours to sort through the piles and piles of clothes, placing them in either a massive garbage bag (we filled three,) a bag to be taken to a second hand shop (there were about 10,) or a pile to be sold at a market. This time I asked that people bring only high quality, no stains, no intimates. Initially I had faith that an outline like that wouldn’t be needed, but I turned out to be wrong. At this swap the clothes were in nicer condition and there weren’t as many to sort through in the end.

  • Change of Venue – The cafe where my first two swaps were held has sadly since shut down, so I moved location to a foreign-run bar in Gwangan – HQ. It was fun to have the swap at a bar. When I contacted them I referenced having a girls brunch day and they complied with a mimosa special during the time of the swap. Just like the last two swaps, purchase of a drink was suggested in lieu of an entrance fee.
  • Sneak Attack Ethics Lecture – Ok, so that might be misleading, but I did give a short five minute talk about my reasons for hosting swaps. At the very first swap I incorporated a talk about the fashion industry and sustainability (or rather lack of sustainability) which was scheduled to happen right before the swap began. A few people attended and were interested, but a lot of people didn’t come early for it, so this time I didn’t tell anyone I was going to do it, I just requested a mic from the bar and stood on my soap box at the height of the swap. I’m not sure how well received it was, but I hope that I reached a few people.

Swaps are really fun and easy to organize. I received a lot of feedback from attendees that they enjoy them and look forward to the next one. I hope they realize that they don’t have to wait for a large community swap to be organized; it would be super easy to host seasonal swaps with friends in your home. All you need to do is set a date, inform others, dig a bit through your closet, and swap till you drop.

Swap in full Swing

3rd Busan Clothing Swap

Join me in less than two weeks time, on August 29th from 2-4pm, for the third Busan clothing swap. I am excited to host this event, the past two were hugely successful, not only for those who attended, but in my eyes they were a success because they stopped people from buying fast fashion as well as kept some clothes out of landfills.

Below are the details for the upcoming event. See you at the swap!


Start going through your wardrobes! Coming Saturday, August 29th – Busan’s third clothing swap event. I’m excited to move locations to HQ Gwangan after the sad closing of Table Talk.

What’s a Swap? A clothing swap is a fun gathering of people looking to get rid of their gently used, undesired items in exchange for someone else’s gently used, undesired items. There is no requirement to donate clothes (I understand that some people are new and didn’t come with much,) just come and have a search through and hopefully go home with something new. This is also a good opportunity for those leaving us to get their extra pieces to other expats or Koreans.

What to Bring? **Please Read** This event is all volunteer run almost solely by myself, Kara Bemis, thankfully I have been fortunate enough to have some friends volunteer to help me on the day of the swaps to sort through clothes, with that being said- it is hard work. We must go through all the left over clothes and get them to the correct location: garbage or thrift store. Please be very selective of what to donate.

**NOTHING WITH STAINS, HOLES, NO INTIMATES.**

Use this simple rule, if you wouldn’t re-buy it like new, then it doesn’t pass the test. All seasons permitted, summer to winter. Also, by being selective, please limit the amount that you bring, if you have a suitcase full of high quality items – great! If you have two suitcases full of low quality items that saw better days, then please leave those at home (again, due to the fact that it’s hard work to sort through the left overs.)

Moving from a cafe to a bar, HQ and I are happy to announce that there shall be drink specials! Details to follow.

Make an afternoon of it, bring some friends, grab a drink, and swap till you drop. Just as before, this is a free event with a drink purchase your entrance fee, let’s support HQ who is letting us hold the event at their waterfront spot.


Directions to hq gwangan
  • Take the green subway (Line 2) to Gwangan, stop 209.
  • Take Exit 3.
  • U-turn towards Gwangali Beach, walk straight towards the beach until you reach the main road that runs along the beach. You will be in front of Lotteria/Baskin Robins.
  • Turn left at Lotteria and walk a few yards. HQ is on the fourth floor of the building with a chicken restaurant on the first floor and Cross Fit in the basement.
  • If you reached Starbucks then you went too far.

Sustainably Fill Your Closet – 6 Tips

In my last post I outlined the many negative effects of the fashion industry and how learning of them altered my shopping habits. In the past I used to shop somewhat regularly. It wasn’t often a matter of desperately needing an item, instead it was just something to do in my down time. I would check out sales and feel really excited and happy when I found what I thought was a good deal. Sometimes I would even buy something without even having any need for it, and maybe not even liking it much, therefore it might have found its way to the back of the closet, and then much later, to the thrift store.

Now I give so much more consideration to my shopping, and here’s how.

  1. Just get by: If you saw me out and about and paid attention to what I was wearing, then you would notice that my clothes are on heavy rotation. I have a relatively small amount of clothing that gets worn again and again. Specific to me, being a kindergarten ESL teacher and a yoga teacher, I am able to get away with going very casual, for example jeans and a baggy sweater. You might not have this sort of lifestyle and may find yourself requiring more variety in your wardrobe, if that’s the case, then there are ways to obtain them sustainably.
  2. Second-hand shopping: There’s still a way to have a shopping hobby, but without supporting the fashion industry, and that is to shop second-hand. Of course, second-hand shopping is more like finding a needle in a haystack at times, but when you do find that needle it feels like it’s the shiniest needle in all of the world since it probably took some time and luck to come across it. Here in Korea there are second-hand shops in most neighborhoods. This is my favorite one- The Beautiful Store. Another option would be consignment stores, which are costlier but guarantee less digging.

    Items donated for my upcoming clothing swap.

    Items donated for my upcoming clothing swap.

  3. Swap clothes with friends (and strangers): It’s common to lose interest in things that were bought long ago or that were not quite right but got purchased anyway. Instead of tossing thes things in a landfill, host or attend a clothing swap. That way you can feel satisfied with a cleaned out closet and then quickly fill it up with some fun new things.
  4. Read labels: Imagine if people read clothing tags the same way that they read nutrition labels and avoided toxic fabrics as much as they avoid GMO foods. It’s become a new habit of mine to check out where things are made and what they’re made of. Shop around and choose the more sustainable option of what you’re buying. Recently I have done this when shopping for headphones and yoga pants and feel prouder of my things even if nobody knows that they’re a bit more sustainable. Choosing something that’s better for you and for the environment can give a small sense of pride.
  5. Shop locally: If possible buy items made in your area, or at least country. That’s not very common
    in the US anymore, but can be done, American Apparel comes to mind. You could also shop on Etsy for up-cycled clothes. Here in Korea it’s much easier to do, a lot of small shops sell Made in Korea.

    Merino wool, one of my favorites.

    Merino wool, one of my favorites.

  6. Buy Natural Materials: Choosing a wool knit over acrylic will definitely cost more, unless found at a thrift store, but you get what you pay for. Spending more on high quality will mean that it will actually feel nicer to the touch (and you will be wearing it on your skin,) it will look nicer, and last longer. Other natural materials to keep an eye out for are organic cottons, silk, hemp, leather and suede.

Conscious consumerism takes more time and effort, but after practice it will develop into unconscious-concious consumerism, if that makes any sense. You will begin to be more aware of the things that you bring home with you and where and how they came to be. It really is similar to watching the breath in yoga, at first it’s not easy to give the breath full attention, but after hours and years of practice, it just begins to be the new normal. Likewise, choosing to shop more sustainably can soon become your new normal, too.
A handmade poster made by yours truly for my first swap in which I gave a short talk about shopping habits.

A handmade poster made by yours truly for my first swap in which I gave a short talk about shopping habits.

Don’t Shop, Swap!

Clothing swaps are great alternatives to shopping, and make for excuses to have a social gathering with old friends or new. They’re very easy to put together and require very little planning. Plus, everyone will hopefully go home with something new (to them) and exciting!

I first attended a clothing swap with my boyfriend’s mom where she lives in the south of France. On a fall afternoon a large group of women gathered in a friend’s home and laid out items that no longer got much use from them, to be shared and swapped with all in attendance. It was a lot of fun and a few years later I found myself hosting a swap in my expat community of Busan, South Korea. Here’s a quick how-to on hosting a clothing swap. Details are specific to an expat community, but a swap can be held anywhere.

Browsing items :)

Browsing items 🙂

  • Invites: Social media makes planning a breeze, with a few clicks and a nice photo you’re done! For my events I made the events public, open all in the community. For your friends you could make it more intimate by inviting them by phone or even send out some nice stationary, but doing things electronically saves paper and time.
  • Choose a Time: I have had a lot of success hosting swaps when the seasons are changing. People tend to pack up their shorts and tanks and pull out the sweaters in the fall, so that’s a great time to host an event, likewise spring is another great time. I encourage people to bring summer and winter clothes as people might be vacationing to warmer places, or can store the items for later.
  • Inform Your Guests:  Some people may not know what a clothing swap is, so let them know that it’s a chance to hand in unwanted clothes for others’ lightly used items. You can have your event be for ladies only, or extend it out to men or even make it a family event for children as well, as I’m sure a lot of families may have clothes that are getting too small and equally would be in need for someone else’s larger sizes! Be sure to plan the event a few weeks in the future to give people time to go through their closets. Decide if you want to include accessories and footwear and let everyone know. Be sure to tell guests that only lightly used items are appreciated.
  • People at Table Talk English Cafe, swapping away!Chose a Venue: As a very casual event you could host a swap in your living room, or on the porch in warmer months. You could make it more fun by incorporating a potluck. For a more public event, seek out a local cafe and encourage your guests to support the cafe by purchasing a drink or food. The chosen location might not even charge you rent if you let them know guests will be buying their fare.
  • Arrange Drop Off Times: Expat communities see people come and go routinely. Plan your swap to coincide with the waves of expats coming in and out. For example, here in Korea the school year begins in March, so people leave in February and newbies arrive in March- a great time to host a swap. In order to collect off of the people who are flying out, ask the cafe if you can collect a few weeks early and store there, if that’s not an option, consider storing and collecting at your place.
  • Donate the Extras: Storing all of the left overs might not be reasonable, so search your local area for a charity shop, orphanage, or women’s shelter to take the clothes that remain. Call ahead to make sure that they’ll accept what you’ll have to bring.

Hosting a swap does not require much at all and can be such a fun event. For my first swap, I held a talk at the beginning for those interested about the sustainable aspect of the swap, which might be a good idea if you want to give your event a deeper meaning.

Here is the Facebook Event link to my upcoming Swap in Busan on March 14th. The swap is open to the public. As the host I encourage anyone to come have a look through the clothes, whether you have anything to contribute or not. The reason for this is that by taking an item off of someone rather than buying it new in the shop, you save the item from the landfill and also don’t contribute to mass consumption… but that’s a whole other blog post!


 

Update, here a few photos from the Swap that was held in Busan on the 14th of March. It was a success I believe, with people walking away with mounds of clothes. I learned from this event and am hopeful that next season’s will be even more successful and run more smoothly. This past event I happened to become ill during the swap and was running a fever for most of it, thankfully some good friends stepped in and helped me out so much. Thanks ladies!