It’s almost a year since Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza clothing factory collapsed, killing more than 1,000 people. To mark the event, the Guardian has released a powerful interactive exploring life in Dhaka’s factories and the journeys our clothes make from factories to shop floors.
The shirt on your back: the human cost of the Bangladeshi garment industry combines compelling video footage with photography, infographics and written editorial. It’s a thought-provoking look at both the impact of the fast fashion industry, and the tragic events that took place on April 24 last year.
The interactive is divided into six sections: it opens with a video showing the frantic pace of daily life in Dhaka and goes on to introduce three factory workers who survived the collapse. Editorial and infographics also explain the growing demand for cheap labour that has led to hundreds of factories being built illegally or without planning permission and the daily pressures factory workers face.
Full-screen video footage of the collapse includes some harrowing scenes of bodies being pulled from the wreckage, interspersed with survivors’ accounts of searching for their friends and family. At each stage of the feature, viewers are reminded how little a factory worker has earned, and how much retailers have made, in the time they have been reading.
The piece ends with a look at the aftermath of the collapse and international reactions to it, as well as how survivors’ lives have changed since. Readers are also invited to comment on issues raised on the Guardian’s website, or share photos of their clothes and details of where they were made on its user generated content platform, Witness.
Thirteen staff have been working on the interactive since October. Footage was shot by director Lindsay Poulton and director of photography David Levene, who travelled to Dhaka in November.
Francesca Panetta, executive producer and special projects editor at the Guardian, says: “As well as being a major news event, this story seemed to fit the interactive treatment very well – it’s complex and there’s a lot of detail, but it’s also very visual.
“Covering it in this way allowed us to add some historical context and a look at where we are now, as well as some more nuanced details. Of course, there are a lot of challenges with this format…as you need a large team with very different skills and it uses new technology that has to be tested and refined,” she adds.
The responsive platform is the same one used by the Guardian to mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech last August, and the interactive was designed by Daan Louter. The muted colours and simple graphics reflect the feature’s sombre tone, without distracting from Levene and Poulton’s photography.
Panetta says it was also important to ensure the design is intuitive and that viewers are aware of their progress throughout. “It had to be clear so people didn’t feel lost and knew where they were in the story and how long [it] was going to take,” she says.
At 20 minutes, it’s a long piece and one that demands undivided attention, but the mix of content and varied narrative structure ensures it doesn’t lose pace. “With any kind of narrative, you need to think about the momentum of the piece and whether you should be using writing, film or sound,” explains Panetta.
“It’s important not to lose that linear continuity or tension, so you have to really think about where to switch from text to video. We also used cinematic techniques with sound and music to provide some added continuity,” she says. Music composed for the piece is based on location recordings made in Dhaka, and Poulton says it is designed to grow from the sounds of the city.
It’s a moving interactive, and one of the Guardian’s best to date. The mix of audio, video and written copy is much more immersive than any of these mediums could be alone, and the layered narrative provides a look at the clothing industry and its impact on Bangladesh’s economy, as well as an insight into factory life.
See the full piece for yourself here.