STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
When well over 1,000 people died in a factory collapse in Bangladesh earlier this year, many consumers in the United States were outraged to learn about the dangerous working conditions in overseas garment factories.
The shock was shared by consumers in Spain, home to some of the world's biggest low-cost fashion retailers. And from Madrid, Lauren Frayer sent us this story.
LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: This is Madrid's posh Gran Via, the Spanish equivalent of New York's Fifth Avenue; where the biggest names in fast fashion - Zara, Mango, H&M - have flagship stores. Throngs of shoppers and tourists pack these wide sidewalks - and then suddenly, stop dead in their tracks.
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FRAYER: Three glamorous models dressed up in the latest fashions are sprawled face-down on the pavement, buried in rubble, their high-heels askew. Tourists gasp. Some take photos. A crowd forms. And one woman hangs back, observing from afar.
YOLANDA DOMINGUEZ: My name is Yolanda Dominguez, and I am a visual artist.
FRAYER: The models are alive and well - part of Dominguez's latest art project, called "Fashion Victims." It's a commentary on the real victims of the fashion industry - more than 1,100 people who died in the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. Dominguez describes the crowd's reaction to her work.
DOMINGUEZ: Most people was - taking photos. Few people stop; one of them very worried, with tears in her eyes. And others looked up, thinking that they had fallen from a floor. But many people also directly related Bangladesh. Even the police - they asked if it was a protest for Bangladesh. And they thought it was very good, the policemen.
FRAYER: Clothing and purchase orders from the Spanish retailers Mango and El Corte Ingles were found in the rubble of the Rana Plaza factory. Within weeks, Spanish companies signed unprecedented fire- and building-safety agreements for their factories there.
PATRICIA BARRERA: (Foreign language spoken)
FRAYER: I want to see proof that companies are following the rules and doing right by their workers in Third World countries, says one shopper - Patricia Barrera - outside H&M. I'd even be willing to pay more, though I think the companies could afford it themselves.
Complying with such safety demands means some serious due diligence on the part of retailers, who often don't know which sub-subcontractors they're employing. Philip Moscoso is a fashion industry expert at Spain's IESE Business School.
PHILIP MOSCOSO: You may be working with a company which then - and this happens in Bangladesh but happens, also, in China and other countries - itself subcontracts to even other people.
DOMINGUEZ: Nevertheless, Moscoso calls the Rana Plaza disaster a wake-up call that could lead to the creation of fair-trade labels for certain fashion lines.
MOSCOSO: They start to have both kind of customers at the end of the day: those which are willing to pay a bit more and having the brand of fair trade; and those which somehow, just rather like to think that they can trust when companies say that they fulfill that.
FRAYER: It could take years for fast fashion to become fair-trade fashion. Consumers are outraged right now about the deaths at Rana Plaza. But with $5 fashions and Spain's economic crisis, will they still be in three years?
The artist Yolanda Dominguez wants people to stay angry and keep up the pressure on retailers. She's produced a video of her "Fashion Victims" project...
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FRAYER: ...mixing scenes of high fashion with sirens from the tragedy in Bangladesh. And she hopes to re-create her art installation in shopping venues around the world.
For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.
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