The recent factory collapses in Bangladesh and Cambodia should really be setting off warning signals in every Western consumers' minds, but from the looks of things, no one's ready to change their spending habits any time soon.
Here's the problem in a nutshell:
International chains are constantly on the hunt for high profit-margins (not that I blame them for that, it's their prerogative)
Consumers have become used to ever-cheaper prices available on the markets at their favorite high-street shops
The economy's recent nosedive has made consumers even more penny-pinching in their spending habits
No one is very happy to start consuming less, so the demand is that the chain retailers offer the same products at ever-dropping prices
So here's what we have as a result - over 900 dead factory-workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia, all within 1 month.
In all honesty, I think there's something inherently wrong with this setup. What we're basically saying is that the value of a life in the West is higher than the value of a life in the East. Now I have a problem with that, and when you think about it, you ought to as well.
So what's the solution? Well it's definitely not a simple one. We've all grown used to spending less and getting more, but this is an absolutely toxic and certainly non-sustainable cycle here.
The solution lies in Western consumers' habits. We need to stop consuming and start investing. Your grandmother didn't buy herself a new dress every week, did she? Quite frankly, she wore her dresses for years and mended them when something wore out. Now, what exactly is wrong with that?
Frankly, I think most of our grandparents had much more style than you or I do today. So how can you start changing your habits? Granted, it's probably something that's going to take a while for you to adjust to, but there are a couple of steps you can take to put yourself on a healthier shopping-path:
BUY LESS STUFF. Seriously, you'll be able to save yourself more money and it's actually not that difficult. Go through your closet and really take a look at what's there. Do you honestly need another tank-top, skirt, pair of jeans, whatever? Probably not.
Spoil Yourself. Allow yourself an indulgent purchase once per season - an expensive belt, purse, shoes, sweater, whatever. Just make sure that it's made from quality materials (take a look at our 8 Steps to Discovering Your Own Sense of Style article for more tips here) and preferably, not made in a 3rd-world country
Learn how to fix it yourself. If you have an article of clothing that you're happy with, but suddenly gets a tear, stain, whatever, learn how to fix it! There are tons of articles out there on the Interwebs that can show you exactly what you need to know.
Buy Local. Chances are, when you do go shopping, your local designer isn't making their goods overseas, but actually in your own neighborhood. While prices may be marginally more expensive than your favorite chain, you can feel all warm&fuzzy about supporting your local economy and usually, local designers pay a little more attention to detail which means - better quality!
Now obviously, there's a lot more to these issues than just what we see on the surface. What your goal ought to be is to send a message to these chain-store retailers - if they know that consumers are willing to spend a little more on their clothes, it makes it a lot easier for them to be able to invest in better working-conditions for their factories.