The cost of fashion conjures up images of dollar signs and posh boutiques in the minds of many. Designer duds are costly financially and also in a far darker way. The fashion and textile manufacturing industry can be exploitative, cutthroat and even deadly. This is not a new or unheard of issue, and it as plagued the industry for hundreds of years, especially those at the very bottom of the command chain: garment workers.
In 1911, a large garment factory in New York called the Triangle Shirtwaist Company employed many women, the majority of whom were ages 13-23, to sew and manufacture shirts. The Asch Building was nestled between Greene Street and Washington Place and one Saturday evening, this intersection became a scene of carnage. A fire began on the 8th floor of the 10 story building and the piles of fabric scraps on the floor quickly ignited, becoming a full-fledged inferno. Management had locked many of the doors in the factory to prevent and of the 275 girls from taking breaks or stealing shirtwaists, the fire escape was so flimsy that it collapsed and the only precautions were 27 buckets of water placed strategically throughout the building. As girls rushed to escape the fire, they were pushed down the elevator shaft or trapped behind doors that only opened inward could not handle the onslaught of bodies. Desperately, teenage girls jumped, aflame, from 9th story windows to their deaths. 146 young women died that evening; bodies littered the streets and were found melted to lockers and in the bottom of the elevator shaft.
That was more than 100 years ago, yet, safety in garment factories is still not sufficient. In 2013, the deadliest accident in the history of the industry occurred in Bangladesh. Supervisors urged the workers at the factory, who are paid only 38 cents an hour, to continue to go to work despite the fact that the building was unsafe and unstable. The owner deliberately ignored building codes in order to cram more workers into his building. He added unstable upper floors and extra power generators which ultimately caused the building to collapse. More than 1000 lives were lost merely to manufacture clothing at the lowest possible cost for the highest possible profit. Fashion should never be paid for in blood. Outraged at this incident, Ismail Ferdous and Nathan Fitch (both photojournalists) began a campaign called Cost of Fashion. This project raises awareness for human rights in the industry and is asking all of the clothing brands that used the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh to pay compensation to the workers and their families. This campaign is using media and photojournalism to compel people to change the deplorable conditions that garment workers must endure. For more information, visit