My career in retail began and ended with a small town Just Jeans. I was eighteen years old, selling bootcuts and skinny-legs, trying to pull together enough money to make the move to the big smoke.
For most people a high school job usually meant you fell into either the fast food or retail industries, and unfortunately the only shops in my town were of the Just Jeans, Supre and Target-Country variety. The Centro Mall has added a Glassons and Cotton On over the years, but it's safe to say that Just Jeans denim still forms the foundation of general small town attire.
My career ended because I pretty terrible at selling jeans, but I did learn a few things along the way about the very personal relationship between the ubiquitous trousers and their owners. Denim, except when worn with joggers, is generally pretty stylish. We are incredibly picky about our jeans, highly unlikely to order them online and willing to spend money on a good pair. When we find "the ones" we keep them forever and dressed up or down, you'd be hard pressed to find an Aussie wardrobe without a set of denim jeans. Even after Britney and Justin, the double-denim trend surprisingly hasn't gone out of fashion.
So great is our love for the fabric that around the world denim jeans represent an estimated $60 billion of the global market for retailers, and there are 5 billion pairs of jeans produced each year.
If you were to go out and buy a pair of jeans today, chances are they will have been dyed, cut, sewed and riveted by a woman in either China or Bangladesh. It is a booming industry full of young, urbanising workers and it is estimated that over four million people are employed as garment workers within Bangladesh.
I've read countless articles about what cut, fit and style of jeans would be best for me and yet I struggle to find information about where my jeans are being made. It's even trickier to find out who made them. Or what treatment they (the jeans) and they (the worker) have undergone.
You might not be that into denim. You probably don't shop at Just Jeans or haven't in a very long time even if you did. But there are 246 Just Jeans stores across Australia and New Zealand, so from the small town Centro to Sydney's Pitt Street Mall someone is shopping there. They are one of the biggest denim retailers in the country and I know they're still making a killing out of it in my home town.
The company that owns Just Jeans also owns Jayjays, Dotti's, Peter Alexander and Portmans amongst many others. They have just over 1,000 outlets altogether and are selling clothing to a pretty large percent of the Australian population. They own 50% of Jeanswest too so The Just Group are responsible for hundreds of thousands of people both making and buying their clothing.
And The Just Group produces their denim in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh has a long history of health and safety issues with at least 1,800 fatalities in garment factory fires and collapses since 2005 alone. In 2013 the most notorious of these, the Rana Plaza factory collapsed, killed 1,300 people and injuring thousands. The Rana Plaza tragedy is the worst disaster in the garment industry's history but it is not an isolated incident with another factory fire in Bangladesh taking place as recently as January of this year.
Rana Plaza was unique though in that it gained enough international attention to prompt brands, organisations and unions to react, and so the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord was designed as a comprehensive and independent agreement to make garment factories in Bangladesh safer working places. The Accord is transparent as well as practical, including mandatory, independent inspections of buildings, mandatory repairs and renovations financed by brands and increased access to workers unions for all factory staff. It is a binding contract to make these commitments enforceable, the bare minimum we would expect from any type of employment here in Australia.
Over 100 international brands and retailers have signed this Accord. It's one of the most important international agreements that addresses the basic needs and human rights of four million people.
For the last two years Oxfam Australia has pressured ten of our country's largest garment manufacturers to sign up. However Best and Less and the Just Group are still refusing to sign. With the second anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse this April 24thOxfam Australia is on a mission to get these companies to sign.
Today Oxfam Australia launched their nation-wide #heartbreakers campaign, to ask The Just Group to stop breaking our denim-loving hearts and start protecting the rights of their workers.
Head to the Oxfam Australia Facebook page to share the #heartbreakers image and be a part of the movement. We know that so far the Just Group has been happy to ignore the stories of their workers. It's a bit harder to ignore a nation of denim loving, full hearted, consumer Australians.
Share the image below to your wall, tag @justjeans #heartbreakers and show your support for all the denim lovers as well as for the people who make it.
If you're interested in more information check out the Oxfam Australia website.
Don't forget to also check in and hear about ethical and sustainable fashion at the Clean Cut Future Talks seminar this Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Sydney.
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