Who doesn’t love a good deal? We can’t deny that we don’t love a good sale now and then.
That prom dress that only costed $50 dollars at H&M that was a straight doppelgänger for Kendall Jenner’s Met Ball gown?
$2 t-shirt sales at Forever 21?
Fast fashion. It sounds like and essentially is like fast food; cheap, quick, and of questionable quality. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, the definition of fast fashion is the approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.
Light needs to be shed on the high cost of buying cheap from the fleetingly trendy brands as the responsibilities of a conscientious shopper in today’s consumer world.
As human beings before consumers in capitalism, it is important the know the baffling repercussions of a domino effect business and its ulterior motives we contribute to as it deteriorates our only planet and exploits those who labor to make the clothes on your backs.
The birth of fast fashion coined by Zara’s founder, Amancio Ortega Gaona, has brought some benefits as well as concerns.
It is true that, today, the fast fashion business model has created millions of jobs in garment factories. According to the non-profit organization Remake, 1 in 6 people are currently employed in the textile industry. And of course, one could continue buying from these brands to keep up with the trends, and in turn could just donate instead of dispose, to charities and recycling drives.Lastly, not all mainstream brands are ignoring the problems, reacting to the latest dissenters, H&M heavily marketed a recent campaign on “recycling” by showing commercials in 2018 of their recycling facilities of shredding old and donated clothing to make new clothes and bring “…new life to donated clothes” (H&M commercial 2018).
But though there are a lot of jobs, these millions of jobs created by these clothing corporations are inhumane and simply unethical. These workers are packed like sardines into high buildings and hazardous conditions working for 50 hour work weeks at wages that cannot cover the basic necessities.
Many also believe the clothing deficit myth, that the overproduced or donated clothes from the stores of charities or malls, will go directly to developing countries to be donated or recycled. But this is sadly not the case, according to the US EPA, in America alone, 15 billion pounds of used textile waste is generated every year and more than 11 billion of it is thrown into landfill– where it will take hundreds of years to decompose due to the cheap and unsustainable fabrics used to make them.Also, even the large fraction clothing donated is not sent to countries in need. Fast fashion companies send the leftover and donated secondhand clothing to be incinerated instead of recycled or donated. According to H&M corporate, the rest is sold to middle man companies that resell our donated clothing rejected from charities and retailers, for profit to developing countries like Kenya, where according to CBC news, purchases $22 million worth of our old clothes. And for the clothes that cannot even be sold there? Thrown into more landfill.
But we must not forget about those who make this clothing in the first place.
In 2013, a garment factory in Rana Plaza, Bangladesh, the leading capital of clothing manufacturing, a building collapsed and killed 1,100 people and injuring more than 2,500 people. It was the deadliest garment factory incident in history. These women were working in a building with locked exits and fire hazards.
These workers were endangered, eventually killed for sacrifice in pursuit of profits and production. Unfortunately this is just one example of many buildings that use illegal tactics to maximize production. By sourcing cheap labor overseas to reduce costs of apparel back at home, clothing companies forgo humane conditions for their laborers.
Recently, I asked many of my friends that were currently or recently employed, to give me an idea of how much money they made an hour . From Target to Chipotle to Starbucks, the average wage per hour was around $11.50. Moreover, by California Law, 16-19 year olds are only permitted to work 4 hours a day on school nights.
In Bangladesh, 100% of garment workers earn below the living wage at an average of 51 cents per hour and 50 hour work weeks compared to the Global Living Wage Coalition reported by the Oxford Famine Relief Committee. (OXFAM)
Most of us teenagers that are working are probably not the sole income source for our family. How could someone expect these workers that make only 5 percent of our minimum wage, for 50 hour work weeks, to support a family? By shopping from these companies, it only provides them more wealth while spending next to nothing on manufacturing.
If the exploited child laborers and teenage girls that make up 80 percent of the workforce are not enough to deter you from that 5 dollar shirt, let the effects on our environment speak for itself.
One of the greatest misconceptions about the surplus, donated clothing, and recycling drives is that all, or least most, will be sold, or given away to charities worldwide. But this is so far from the reality.
According to the US EPA, America sends approximately 25 billion pounds of textile waste to landfill. (EPA)
Today’s society has an insatiable hunger for the latest trends and the increasing use of cheap and synthetic clothing to keep up with demand, cannot be recycled or separated for new textiles. These cheap textiles take hundreds of years to decompose and only build up the landfill. The lowered standards for quality has allowed for rapid turnover rates, and now clothes are more disposable than ever.
In addition, to achieve a perfect knockoff of the latest runway looks, fast fashion uses toxic chemicals to dye vibrant colours and finishes. These toxic chemicals and carcinogens are then dumped into the neighboring streams making its way to our seafood and agriculture. (The True Cost Documentary). These chemicals are harmful to natural sources of water and to the food that is grown using that water for irrigation. Just one industry can spread its influence to so many others. This pollution not only affects those in the developing countries, but those who use imported goods from these areas.
All in all, the effects of the fast fashion businesses are not so trendy when we look at the truth behind the price and we should think twice before falling into the sales rack.
In hindsight, for how workers are treated to the crippling effects on our environment, true motives, and the destruction of valuable natural resources, fast fashion is not worth the discount no matter how cheap.
I encourage you to rethink before reaching for that shirt and asking yourself whether you really need it or you’ll only wear it once. And instead of instantly taking your clothing to the collection drive, ask your friends if they’d be willing to give it another life.
By prolonging the life of your clothing, you could be helping prolong the earth’s life or even help someone else on the other side of the world.