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Disaster singes fashion ethics.
Two weeks on, the Rana Plaza catastrophe in Bangladesh is now the deadliest catastrophe in the history of the garment industry, with the death toll toping 1000.
The gruesome accounts of rescuers cutting off limbs from trapped workers (sometimes without anaesthesia) surely leaves a stain on brands that no new collection, celebrity endorsement or micro-trend can wash away?
It was simultaneously shocking and grimly predictable. Those who have petitioned the fashion industry to face up to its responsibilities will have felt as sick as I did when they heard a factory complex had collapsed in Dhaka. Yes, there were other types of businesses in Rana Plaza but we knew immediately that the bodies pulled from the rubble would be garment workers producing clothing for the retailers and brands we all patronise.
Because garment workers are always there, bulking up the casualty lists of the biggest industrial accidents, and setting mortality records. At this particular complex when dangerous cracks were reported, other workers were apparently sent away. Garment workers were ordered back in.
When you’re part of the Cut Make and Trim (CMT) army, as we might call the estimated 40 million producing fast fashion around the world, 3.5 million in Bangladesh alone, there’s no let up.
A makeshift factory might collapse at night as happened in 2005 in the Spectrum knitwear factory, also in the Savar district of Dhaka, leaving 62 dead. Or it might catch fire during the day as in Tazreen last November when fire escapes were locked and more than 100 died. Either way, garment workers will be trying to complete near-impossible orders.
Perhaps, though, the Rana Plaza tragedy could be a tipping point. Maybe young consumers (often considered difficult to reach) will be jolted into action against the brands they seem to worship.
“I would urge any young shopper to think about whether they believe over 500 deaths is an acceptable scenario,” says Stacey Dooley, who saw the real cost of fast fashion production, for the BBC3 series Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts. “If not, they should let the retailers know and threaten to take their money elsewhere,” she adds.