Show-goers looking to attend Nautica's spring 2014 runway show at Lincoln Center yesterday were greeted by more than just the normal crowd of photogs and well-dressed editors: A coalition made up of fashion models, U.S. labor rights organizations, and Kalpona Akter, a leading Bangladeshi labor rights advocate, were on hand to protest the brand for failing to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety.
Nautica's parent company VF--who also owns companies like Jansport and Vans--is one of the largest American companies currently using Bangladeshi factories. They've rejected the Accord, which was already signed by more than 60 global brands (including Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein parent company PVH), in favor of the American-based Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. The American plan has been criticized by labor and consumer groups alike because it is not legally-binding, and therefore retailers face no real repercussions should they fail to meet the goals set.
Leading the models present was Sara Ziff. Ziff, an ardent activist in the fashion community, already has plenty on her plate, as the founder and director of Model Alliance. But for her, the fashion industry as a whole is the next frontier in the labor rights movement, for models and garment workers. So now she's speaking up against these companies--even if some, like Nautica, once employed her.
"I have worked for a lot of brands over the course of my career that manufacture their clothes in Bangladesh, but to be honest it wasn't something I was thinking about a few years back," Ziff confessed.
"When I traveled to Bangladesh last summer, I realized that I didn't want to be complicit in allowing these abuses and these deaths to continue."
Ziff wasn't alone. She brought a handful of fashion models to support the cause, including the gorgeous Alison Nix. Ziff recruited Nix by bringing her to a meeting with Kalpona Akter. "Kalpona brought a young worker who was 24 years old, and she shared her personal story about what happened in the [Bangladesh factory] fire," Nix told me.
"I couldn't help but notice that I was 24 years old, and that on that same day I found out how much I was getting paid for a big job. I realized that my job is not just this wonderful job," she continued. "There's a lot that goes into it, behind the scenes, that I never thought about and I felt terrible."
It was pointed out that none of the companies who used the factories in the collapsed Rana Plaza have paid any restitution to the families of the deceased. At the end of the day, everyone present agreed that each and every company in the fashion industry (not to mention the government) should be held accountable for the tragedies and should finance the changes necessary to make the garment industry a safer work environment.
"These disasters are preventable," Ziff told me. "Making clothes is not an inherently dangerous job."
"I just want to see everyone sign it so I can work without having to take into consideration the death and the tragedy that goes into making these clothes," Nix added. "There's an abundance of wealth in the industry, so why can't we have fair treatment for workers?"