Slow Fashion: Help Fight For Garment Workers’ Rights by Supporting the Maquila Solidarity Network

Slow Fashion: Help Fight For Garment Workers’ Rights by Supporting the Maquila Solidarity Network

Last year I attended an amazing event where I got to learn more about fast and slow fashion, watch The True Cost Documentary, and learn how to support the Maquila Solidarity Network which fights for garment workers’ rights. The event I attended was held in Kelowna, British Columbia and was put on by Julianne McLaren. If you haven’t seen The True Cost documentary, and aren’t sure what the problems are with fast fashion, I highly suggest you watch the documentary here.

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What are the Main Problems with Fast Fashion?

Fast Fashion
Fast Fashion

One of the biggest problems is that fast fashion retailers exploit their manufacturers in developing countries. Workers (usually women and often children too) make clothes in often horrible conditions, for very little pay and many workers have died in factory collapses. One of the more well-known factory collapses was the Rana Plaza collapse of 2013 in Bangladesh. It killed 1,134 garment workers. Again, many facilities are simply not built well and threaten the lives of the people who make our clothes. The True Cost Documentary talks a lot about these and other issues and hardships facing fast fashion garment workers today.

The other problem with fast fashion is how it impacts the environment. Did you know that the average American throws out 37 kilograms of textiles every year? Added up that is an insane amount of clothing being sent to landfills. What’s more is that fabrics like polyester are actually made of plastic so once they reach a landfill they never break down. We buy way more clothes than we used to 20 years ago, and we don’t use our clothes for nearly as long.

Slow Fashion: What is the Maquila Solidarity Network?


The following is a quote from the Maquila Solidarity Network website:

“The Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN) is a labour and women’s rights organization that supports the efforts of workers in global supply chains to win improved wages and working conditions and greater respect for their rights.

MSN works with women’s and labour rights organizations, primarily in Central America and Mexico, on cases of worker rights violations and on joint projects and initiatives focused on systemic issues in the garment industry.

At the international level, MSN collaborates with the Clean Clothes Campaign and other counterpart organizations on labour rights issues in global supply chains, including increased transparency and public access to information on where and under what conditions apparel and other textile products are made.  As a witness signatory to the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, we support the Accord’s efforts to improve worker safety in garment factories in that country.”

For a full list of the types of work that MSN does, click here.

How You Can Help Support the Maquila Solidarity Network by Donation

There are two ways you can support the Maquila Solidarity Network. First of all, you can donate directly to the Maquila Solidarity Network by visiting this page of the MSN website. You can choose to make a one time donation or you can donate monthly. You can even donate in someone’s name as a gift.

How You Can Help Support the Maquila Solidarity Network by Hosting an Event


Another way to help support MSN is to host a fundraising event. The whole reason I found out about MSN was because I was invited to a fundraising event by Julianne McLaren. Julianne is very passionate about the slow fashion movement and so she put on a very successful event. She rented a small movie theatre and held a showing of The True Cost Documentary. After we all watched the documentary and had snacks, she talked to us about how the Maquila Solidarity Network is helping protect the rights of garment workers in Central America and Mexico. She also gave everyone a list of where to buy fair trade clothing in our city and online. Everyone donated to MSN and it was a very inspiring event. I interviewed Julianne about the event and this is what she had to say:

1.  How did you first learn about the harmfulness of fast fashion? Was it from watching the True Cost or did you watch it to further inform yourself?
Julianne: “I first learned about the harmfulness of fast fashion through teaching grade 6 Social Studies. We were learning about globalization and trade, which led to investigating trans-national corporations and the use of sweat shops. While preparing for my lessons I read a bunch of articles written by under-cover reporters who experienced first hand what it is like to work in a sweat shop. I was deeply disturbed by the horrific work conditions. I didn’t watch The True Cost until about a year later.”
2. How long have you been buying only fair trade clothing? 
Julianne: “I have been buying Fair Trade clothing since I learned about sweat shops with my students [since] February 2017.”
3. What would you say to someone who thinks buying fair trade is just too expensive?
Julianne: “Like anything in life that costs money, it comes down to priorities. It’s amazing how when an expense is important to an individual, suddenly they find a way to make it happen, even if it means re-organizing the budget or cutting something out.  To follow through on any major lifestyle change, including buying fair trade, people must be self-motivated and feel passionate about the issue. If they don’t feel a sense of passion or urgency, then it is easy to come up with excuses. All we can do is educate people on the true cost of fast fashion and hope that they feel moved to respond. If someone is open to the idea and feels unsure about the additional expense, I would encourage them with the fact that it is possible to buy fair trade clothing with the same clothing budget, provided that they alter their spending habits by buying less clothing overall. Buying second hand is also an option.”
4. What made you want to hold a showing of The True Cost?
Julianne: “About a year after I started buying Fair Trade clothing, I watched the documentary with my mom and felt impacted all over again, with a new determination to educate others on the issue. The True Cost is moving because you hear from real people who are impacted by our choices. Our brains our far more likely to register empathy for the people affected if we hear their stories and see their faces. I think the major reason that fast fashion continues as it does is that people are so far removed from the suffering it causes that they are either completely clueless of their part in the problem or they just don’t think about it.  I am convinced that more people would be motivated to shop ethically if they understood the consequences that fast fashion has on people and the planet and are given an alternative. Therefore, in order for Fair Trade clothing to become the norm, the general public must be made aware of the consequences of cheap clothes, and see the suffering for themselves. Thus education is an important first step in making real change. Since most people don’t have the opportunity of visiting a sweat shop in person, a film is the next closest thing.”
5. How did you find out about the Maquila Network and what made their organization stand out to you?
Julianne: “I wanted to do something to help those impacted by sweatshops, and I had it in my head to possibly sponsor another child whose parent worked in a garment industry. My husband and I were both googling organizations and he came across the Maquila Solidarity Network. Though they don’t do child sponsorship, I was impressed that they work directly to support garment workers in their efforts to achieve greater working conditions. I spoke with the head of the organization over Zoom, and was impressed that she regularly visits Mexico and Central America and meets with the garment workers in order to find out the best way of supporting them. “
6. What suggestions do you have to other people wanting to hold True Cost screenings and similar fundraisers? 
Julianne: “Start talking about it as much as possible with other people. Community and connections are key to planning events. Often it is that “friend of a friend” who has the resources you need. Though I planned my event mostly on my own, if you know someone who would be excited about planning it with you, that would help take some of the pressure off.
The hardest part, and most important, is finding a free or inexpensive venue. Churches can be great options; I recently found out that our local library hosts community events, so that could be a good option.
Another suggestion is to make a long list of everything you need to do and everyone you plan on talking to, and then just work through it, one step at a time. It can seem overwhelming at first, especially if it is something you are doing in your free time on top of a full time job. What I did, is I committed to doing just one thing on my list, just once a week on my weekend. It made it manageable, and I wasn’t left scrambling at the last minute to plan everything at once.
I found that despite all of the time and money I put into making posters, my posters didn’t actually bring in a single person. It seems people are de-sensitized to posters. I found that the best way to get people to come is through word of mouth and Facebook. That’s where community comes in again. The more opportunities to tell people about the event, the better. If I were to do it again, instead of posters, I would print up small business cards and then hand them to people as I talked to them about it. Another benefit of planning an event with a partner or small group is that it would greatly expand your circle of influence.”

Slow Fashion: Where to Buy Fair Trade Clothing

Julianne McLaren runs a Facebook group called, ‘Fair Trade Clothing: Hope for Garment Workers’ on Facebook. It has a focus on where to find Fair Trade Clothing in Kelowna, BC, Canada. You can also do a quick Google search to see where fair trade clothing stores are located in your own city. Another way to find fair trade clothing, is to download the Good on You app to your phone. You can look up your favorite brands and see if they have good ratings on how they treat their garment workers. You can also see if they have good environmental ratings as well.

Fairtrade clothing brands to buy from online:

Slow Fashion: Where to Buy Used Clothing

Another way to participate in the slow fashion movement, is to buy clothing that is pre-loved. This way, you are not exploiting garment workers and you are keeping clothing out of landfills. You can do a quick Google search on your computer to find out where thrift shops are located in your city. If your city doesn’t have many thrift or consignment shops, you can also buy used clothing online at some of the places mentioned below. The nice thing about these websites is that you can sell your used clothing there too.

Online thrift and consignment shops:

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