The factory collapse that killed more than 1,100 people in Bangladesh this April is by no means the first tragedy to strike the garment industry in recent years—but it does look like the culmination of an ongoing PR challenge that could reshape the way major clothing brands market their products. The earliest evidence of this change comes on social media, where companies that had operations in the factory have already begun responding to the demands of consumers and labor activists.
The New York Times reports that many businesses and industry groups now plan to follow the food industry’s example by offering the public more detailed information about how and where their clothes are made. H&M and Zara have agreed to sign a new “factory safety accord,” and major names like Disney, Nike, and Walmart may follow with campaigns designed to appropriate the “green,” “organic,” and “fair trade” themes favored by food and household goods marketers in recent years. The purpose of this material, of course, will be to highlight the brands’ corporate social responsibility efforts and distance them from horrific accidents like the one in Bangladesh.
It’s nothing new for fashion: upstarts like American Apparel began using their own “fair trade” practices as key selling points some time ago. Yet, despite AA’s success, retailers like Maggie’s Organics and Everlane (tagline “Luxury Basics. Radical Transparency.”) remain few and far between.
Not for long.