Today marks the 106th Anniversary of the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. On March 25th in 1911, 146 garment workers lost their lives. Most of the workers were young immigrant women. Many of them teenagers. The fire did not kill all of the women–exits and stairwell had been blocked by the company owners to prevent workers from taking breaks and from stealing. Sadly, many died trying to escaped by jumping from windows and balconies.
This tragedy brought poor working conditions in New York into focus. Investigations were opened into factory conditions. Activists and unions pushed for improvements in working conditions and for setting standards. This led to workplace reforms which soon took hold throughout the US.
Ethical working conditions have come a long way in the United States. Unfortunately, they have not come far enough. In the today’s remembrance, signs made from shirts draped with sashes became powerful symbols of the lives lost. 146 white flowers were laid at the site of the fire as each of the victim’s names and ages were read aloud. When they were finished, they read an additional list of names. These were to honor of victims of recent deaths that were caused by accidents at construction sites.
I’ve been studying sustainability at FIT. My classes have been eye opening, (and quite frankly depressing) about the fashion industry. We learned that up until the 1970s, over 90% of clothes sold in America were made in the US. These days, less than 5% are made here.
Profit and the want for trendy, fast fashion have driven the industry in search of cheaper labor overseas, where working conditions are often sub-standard. In 2013, the Rana Plaza building collapse took the lives of 1,135 garment workers in Bangladesh. Sadly, some very well-known American brands produced garments there.
We are consumers of products from an increasingly global marketplace. I would encourage you to take a look at the labels on your clothes, the stickers on your fruit, the made in statements on your electronic devises. Ask yourself, who made these? Often times, supply chain information is not made transparent. Let’s honor those young women lost in the Triangle fire, those lost in the Bangladesh building collapse and so many others subjected to dangerous working conditions. Seek out brands that support ethical working conditions and monitor the standards of their supply chains.