As London kicked off its biannual Fashion Week at Somerset House Friday morning, an entirely different scene unfolded on nearby Waterloo Bridge. Campaigners from anti-poverty group War on Want and other labor-rights organizations unfurled a 98-foot banner emblazoned with the words “Don’t Mention the Garment Workers,” a reminder of the millions who toil under grueling conditions for the fashion industry. “London Fashion Week is a glittering showcase for the fashion industry. But fashion’s dark side is kept in the shadows,” said War on Want senior campaigner Owen Espley. “The British Fashion Council would rather we all forget about those who often work long hours, on poverty pay, in unsafe conditions to produce the clothes we love.”


People can love fashion but hate sweatshops, Espley added. “[We] want a fashion week that lives up to its responsibility to all the workers who make the fashion we buy,” he said. “The time has come for London Fashion Week to mention the garment workers.”

London Fashion Week is a huge business. War on Want estimates that orders of roughly £100 million ($162 million) will be placed during the event—that’s enough to pay a month’s wages for 2.4 million Bangladeshi garment workers who earn a minimum wage of £42 ($68) per month.

Tansy Hoskins, author of Stitched Up: The Anti-Capitalist Book of Fashion wrote in a blog post on Friday that Fashion Week makes it a point to suppress the reality behind the “perfect hemlines” and “flawless makeup.”

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“Fashion Week deliberately obscures these stories, it demands you look away, that the only thing you gasp at and connect with is the runway,” she said. “It demands that you forget the billions of pounds in corporate profit, that you forget about what fashion does to the planet, that you ignore your misgivings about over consumption and that you forget about the people that stitched the clothes on your back.”

But the time to pretend that 1,138 Bangladeshi workers who died at Rana Plaza, the six Cambodians shot dead for asking for a pay raise, or the Pakistani workers who were burned alive behind locked factory doors don’t exist is over, Hoskins said.

“This is our city and we want the truth told,” she said. “It’s time to talk about the garment workers.”

+ War on Want