Clothes To Die For

BBC/Quicksilver Media/Taslima Akhter

BBC/Quicksilver Media/Taslima Akhter

‘Clothes To Die For’ is a documentary on BBC2 about the people affected by Rana Plaza, we spoke to Zara Hayes the film’s director, about why she decided to make the film, the importance of education and what she thinks about the label ‘Made in Bangladesh’.

If you tuned in last night to BBC2 and saw the documentary please join us today at 12.30pm for a Tweetchat – it would be great to hear your thoughts, opinions and questions about the film and the wider issues it presents. Please join the conversation with #ClothesToDieFor and follow us @sustfash

Why did you decide to make a documentary about Rana Plaza?
Rana Plaza is the largest industrial disaster of the 21st century and one of the biggest industrial tragedies ever.  It is such an important story to tell and I felt a huge sense of responsibility.  I thought a film that told the story of the people affected by Rana Plaza had the potential to say something bigger about globalization, Bangladesh’s history, female empowerment in Bangladesh and the global fashion industry.

Producer Sarah Hamilton helped me find many of the people who feature in the documentary and we felt very strongly that we had to let people who had experienced the collapse tell their own stories, in their own words.

From your interviews how do you think garment workers feel about the clothes that they are making?
This was fascinating to me – what do Bangladeshi men and women think when they’re sewing hot pants, skinny jeans and camisole tops? Do they ever feel like trying the clothes on? Are they interested in western fashion? The answer is yes – many of the young girls told me that they used to love the clothes they made for western consumers and they would imagine the people who would wear them one day.  One of my favourite memories is when Alamgir, a male garment worker, remembers that he once made a pair of trousers that were so large he couldn’t believe they were for a human as he’d never seen someone that tall in Bangladesh!

Choosing the subjects for this sort of film is difficult, what did the people you interviewed want to see changed?
I think the biggest thing I took from the workers is that they’d like their voices to be heard.  They are full of ideas and opinions about how to do things better.  I think, like most people in the world, they want to be able to earn a living wage and work hard in a job that they feel proud to have, in a system they believe to be fair, and to be able to provide for their families.

From your research and time spent in Bangladesh what are the changes that are taking place in the industry there?
It is naïve to think that things can change overnight, especially in a developing country where the challenges extend beyond this particular industry. That said, I do feel that awareness is the first stage in making real change happen, and the collapse of Rana Plaza has been a clarion call for the global fashion industry to do better, to work with places like Bangladesh to create safer, more sustainable production processes. The world’s attention was focused on Bangladesh on 24th April 2013.  The challenge is translating the international outcry that was seen into something meaningful for the industry.

Significant steps are already being taken – the minimum wage for garment workers was doubled in Bangladesh in the wake of the Rana Plaza, though at around £40 a month that’s still one of the lowest in the world. Most western companies have now pledged to inspect the structures of the factories that make their clothes (for more information visit the Bangladesh Accord and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety).

Clearly providing information is important for a documentary maker, how important do you think education is in changing the way the fashion industry operates?
I feel we need to be as aware of what we wear as we are of the food that we eat.  I think it’s important to show people the human stories behind the clothes they wear every day, and once there’s an association with the “labour” involved, i.e. the people actually sewing our clothes, then we may start to feel differently about it all.

How do you think we can change the perception of what ‘Made in Bangladesh’ means to people in the UK?
I think that the label has potentially become infamous because of the recent tragedies, but I think there’s a real opportunity to turn that narrative around into something positive. Bangladesh’s garment industry has transformed the country’s economy and it now represents around 80% of the country’s exports and employs millions of people.  It would be a disaster for Bangladesh to lose this industry. Surely the best thing that everyone can do is to work to forge a longer-term relationship with Bangladeshi suppliers to grow and expand the industry and take it to the next level.

I got the sense from talking to factory owners that key to this is for Bangladesh to be able to move up the global value chain and to start developing the skills base needed to produce higher value fashion goods. The international demand for fashion is only going to increase, so Bangladesh wants to retain its position as being an attractive place for brands to turn to. In the UK, I think that we should work to make Made in Bangladesh something to be proud of.

Clothes To Die For will be shown on BBC 2 tonight at 21.00.