Weighing the Cost: Shoppers grapple with the aftermath of Bangladesh

The deadly factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed an estimated 1,129 workers has left consumers shaken. Over a month after the tragedy, how are North American shoppers reacting to the ‘Made in Bangladesh’ label?

Garments worker in Bangladesh

Garments worker in Bangladesh

Clarissa Fidler, 25, loves J.Crew and Gap. A graduate student at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, she loves the brands for their trendy interpretation of All-American style. But the discovery that both companies produce garments in factories in Bangladesh has left her struggling with a different kind of buyer’s remorse.

“Sometimes as much as I’d like to buy local or not buy that H&M T-shirt, I’m more focused on my daily life, my financial and living situation,” said Fidler. “Those take over when I make my decision and I’m not necessarily proud of that but that’s the reality for me.”

The sentiment resonates across borders, too. Tanya Tomasella, 28, is a secondary school teacher from Vaughn, Ontario, who said that she favors stores such as Banana Republic and Tommy Hilfiger – brands also known to produce garments in Bangladesh.

“It hits home when you learn that companies are getting their clothes made in these areas,” said Tomasella. “You feel like you’re partially responsible and you feel guilty.”

With a booming ready-made garment manufacturing industry that’s second only to China, Bangladesh has established itself as a major player in the world of apparel exports. According to international management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, the garment industry in Bangladesh could be worth as much as $36 billion by 2020. The allure of cheap labor has wooed both high street and high-end brands from across the globe. However, the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex on April 24, which killed an estimated 1,129 workers, has once again exposed an industry fraught with government corruption, corporate neglect and violations of  labor laws and safety standards. Continue reading

Pushing the Limit

For the RIC Hornets, a Chicago-based wheelchair basketball team, their battles on the court reflect the daily off-court struggles and triumphs of ordinary men on wheels.

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The Hornets practice at St. Andrew Greek Orthodox Church (Photography by Irish Mae Silvestre)

Inside the court, the lights are almost blinding. The shouts and whoops from the basketball players bounce off the cinder block walls. They’re warming up for practice and shooting hoops. They’re moving fast, unnaturally so. A basketball sails halfway across the court but there’s no one jumping off the floor to block the shot. The men in sweat-stained vests and cut-off shirts race towards the ball en masse but there are no urgent squeaks of rubber soles against the shiny pockmarked floors.

Instead, rubber wheels glide across the floor with barely a whisper. The players are a blur of color as they whip past in custom-made wheelchairs. They’re crouching so low their shoulders are almost touching their knees. Their brows are furrowed, and their heads bob back and forth with every hard push of their giant wheels.

“Mac, you can’t give them baseline,” shouts their coach from the sidelines. “Quit giving up baseline!”

Within seconds, Juan Ortiz wheels into position and with a flip of his wrist, sends the ball sailing into the air. It slips effortlessly through the net without a sound. It’s the perfect shot.

“On fire!” roars Joey Gugliotta, grinning as he wheels across the court.

They are the RIC Hornets, a men’s wheelchair basketball team that’s part of the cross-disability wheelchair basketball programs organized by the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

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Tackling housing challenges for people with disabilities

(Published in The Red Line Project)

It’s 11 a.m. and while only a handful of people wait in the bright, airy lobby. The phone rings almost nonstop.

“Hello, this is Pat,” greeted a cheery voice. “How may I direct your call?”

It’s just a regular day for Patricia McMullan, who has worked as a receptionist at Access Living for 17 years.

For a newcomer, it’s hard to understand exactly what goes on at Access Living, located at 115 W. Chicago Ave. A four-story glass and brick structure, its gleaming façade gives little away. But a closer look reveals subtle clues: wide hallways, a mid-block ramp on the sidewalk, a six-foot poster of a paralympian basketball player and a metal engraving of the organization’s name in Braille.

It’s a place that embodies the values that it represents.

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How multi-tasking and mobiles can be deadly

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In our multi-tasking, mobile-phone-addicted world pedestrians are putting their lives at risk by listening to their iPods, texting or talking while they walk, discovers Irish Mae Silvestre (Published in Friday magazine)

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Distracted drivers: The new killers on the road

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They’re five times more likely to crash than drink drivers and are responsible for taking an estimated 400,000 lives globally per year. So why do people think it’s OK to talk and text on their mobiles from behind the wheel? Irish Mae Silvestre reports (Published in Friday magazine) Continue reading

Leading the pack

Meet the icons who make and break the rules with the kind of aplomb that transformed them into fashion’s queen bees.

The Talent: Edith Head

Edith Head

Before the Rachel Zoes and Patricia Fields of celeb styling, there once was a woman named Edith Head. An eight time Academy Award-winning costume designer, she styled actresses such as

Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. The tiny yet feisty designer, Edna Mode, in the animation The Incredibles is believed to be a fitting tribute from her thick fringe and even thicker round glasses.

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Charlotte’s web

Charlotte Olympia’s Cindy Piano pump

It’s a moment a true shoe fanatic fondly remembers: the time when you spotted a pair of heels so beautiful it made you stop in your tracks so suddenly it nearly gave you whiplash. Now imagine that moment multiplied by a hundred — it’s that type of awe Charlotte Olympia shoes always seem to inspire.

Her fellow Cordwainders graduate, Jimmy Choo became the ‘it’ boy on the scene with his strappy sandals in the ’90s. And despite going mainstream Christian Louboutin’s red soles remain hugely popular both on sidewalks and red carpets. The legends of footwear have already made their mark and there’s room for a hot new talent. And that’s where the well-heeled Charlotte Olympia Dellal steps in. Continue reading

A bohemian rhapsody

Margherita and Angela Missoni

There’s just something about Margherita Missoni. Her wide brown eyes, deep olive complexion and boho chic style has sparked several sartorial crushes in the international fashion scene. Not only can she pull off a floor skimming knit dress with ease but she seems to possess that rare sense of je ne sais quoi that can make a turban look like the season’s hottest accessory.

But she’s more than just a pretty face. The granddaughter of Ottavio “Tai” Missoni, Margherita comes from a long line of fashion designers who have greatly changed the way we thought about knitwear.

In the hands of the Missonis, knits lost their dowdy image as they created sleek and figure flattering dresses in fine wool. Knits were no longer confined to winter wear as tunics, light sweaters and bathing suits appeared in bright bursts of colour. The stripes and zigzag prints soon became the label’s trademark, propelling the Missonis and their designs to the upper echelons of high-end fashion. Continue reading

Perfectly polished

Kara Ross

One can almost imagine the woman who accessorizes with pieces by Kara Ross. There’s a pair of dangling cobweb earrings for the fashionista with a quirky sense of humor, while the oversized clutch in a demure pale turquoise was created for the urban sophisticate.

Edgy yet timeless, natural yet polished; Kara Ross’ designs are as complex as the women who love them. And it’s a formula that the New York-based accessories designer has perfected over the years, earning her dedicated fans that include Hollywood leading ladies and one stylish First Lady.
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The Italian job

Miuccia Prada

Miuccia Prada

With a presence in Dubai’s Saks Fifth Avenue and a new boutique on the horizon, there’s much ado about Miuccia Prada, the genius behind the iconic brand

Blink and you might just miss her.

She’s one of fashion’s most influential women, the granddaughter of Milanese businessman Mario Prada and the creative force behind one of the biggest luxury labels to ever come out of Italy.

At the end of every runway show, as the last of the models exits stage right, Miuccia Prada steps out from behind the shadows dressed primly in a skirt and towering heels. With a shy smile and a small wave, she disappears within seconds.

It’s a rare celebrity who shuns the glare of the limelight but it’s just one of the things that make Miuccia Prada such an enigma.

Trendy yet timeless, sophisticated yet irreverent, the Prada label has come to reflect Miuccia Prada’s life of contrasts. First established in 1913, Mario Prada made a name for himself as a creator of handmade steamer trunks and suitcases. It wasn’t long until his pieces became a sensation among aristocrats and royalty alike. It was also his intention to pass on the business to the men in the family and the opinionated Miuccia, with her theatre background, feminist views and doctorate degree in political science, seemed like an unlikely heir. Continue reading

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