A Being On Earth

14th January 2021

We’re looking into the lives of garment workers in developing countries, augmenting a collective consciousness surrounding the human rights. Take Action and stay informed. 

Words Hannah McIntosh / In-HAUS Art Director
Photography Anita Grey and Munir Uz Zaman

“We cannot look at our land as a commodity, to be marketed with and traded on but instead as the very basis of our life, as mother earth” a quote beautifully articulated by Vandana Shiva, Indian scholar and environmental activist. 

I heard this very quote whilst watching the 2016 documentary The True Cost by Andrew Morgan. I decided to watch it again and it affirmed the imperative to deal with the ‘perfectively engineered nightmare’ that is capitalism and its branch of fast fashion. It also profoundly embedded the necessity to conserve lives and the environment in which they live in in developing domains. Whilst I am not able to cover the entire scope of content the documentary did in just this single text, I encourage you to carry on educating yourself, talk with your peers and advocate for human and environmental sustain beyond this page.

As a society who is consumed by a ‘need for the new’ we have built fast fashion to distribute product quickly and not look back. We create more fashion seasons than necessary to gain profit at the expense of millions of garment workers.
85% of garment workers that make up the 40 million worldwide figure reside in Bangladesh. The effect of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in 2013 still rings in the ears of residents in Dhaka as it killed over 1,000 skilled workers most of whom were women. Tirelessly creating every stitch and seam of your t-shirt with their nimble fingers, pressing the pedal till their feet are sore in a boiling factory, coming out with only 3 dollars’ minimum wage.
Unfortunately, the lack of substantial change demonstrated here can be seen as a fitting example of ‘ignorance is bliss’. What could’ve looked like a scene out of a cinematic dystopian in the eyes of the western world was a reality for those living in and around Dhaka. Young factory worker Shima Akhter was only twenty-three at the time the documentary was made. Shima is one of millions of women working in garment factories that have breached the constitution of basic human rights.
Shima and her young daughter Nadia are shown walking hand in hand along the streets of Bangladesh to her workplace, as Shima was forced to bring her child to the factory reaped with harmful chemicals. Whilst it’s instinct to become attached to the specific women they choose to follow in this documentary, we must also look at this through a broader lens. This is a representation of all mothers who live and protest for their rights so that perhaps one day their kin may not have to stand just as tall to be heard.

It’s crucial we are also educated about those who have become beacons of sustainable manufacturing and humanitarianism in fashion. Safia Minney is the founder of People Tree, a fair trade fashion brand. Minney worked originally with freelance designers and travelled to places like Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, India, Nepal and the Philippines. She began creating an admirable network of like-minded fair trade organisations that “put women’s development, workers’ social development and environment at the forefront of their organisation.” Minney visits a village every four years in Rajshahi, Bangladesh that are supported by fellow organisation Swallows. As we stroll through the village streets behind Minney we are told of the work she carries out in such communities. They collaborate directly with producers observing any obstacles that could provide more social and environmental benefit for these women. It was bittersweet to watch these strong women elated as they meet and converse with Minney, teaching them sewing methods and Safia becoming the eager student at times. I say it’s bitter before its sweet as I’m reminded that this very recognition has not occurred within the storm of big fashion brands. Through Minney and Swallows we are shown the virtues of human connection and sacrifice that make real change that even more desirable.

As we come together to open the discussion of conscious living, here at GREENHAUS we ask you to start with such questions. Can you begin to actively striving to preserve nature? Do you trust the brands you buy from and can there be real alternatives? Don’t be afraid to question yourself, consider the decisions you make and evolve from the old sub-conscious pattern. It’s when you mediate to manifest the new that you appreciate those who weep whilst they sew your fabric into place. 

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