In 2019, clothing has become disposable rather than something to be cherished. Welcome to the world of fast fashion, where clothes and accessories are cheap, allowing you to stay up to date in a culture where mass manufacturers are marketing more than clothing. They’re marketing trends designed to whet your desire to shop. How can fast fashion be killing the planet, and your ethics, without you, even realizing it? The irony in shopping fast fashion: the more you buy, the more you want. The more you want, the more you waste.
Perhaps the most important voice in the fast fashion industry is the voice of garment workers. The people working in sweatshops and factories around the world are the most affected by Fast Fashion, yet their voices are the last to be heard. To get a better idea of how garment workers are affected, we need to know who they are.
The workforce of this industry is 80% female (The Guardian). The International Labor Organization estimates that “170 million children are engaged in Child Labor or 11% of the global population of children.” Many of these children are recruited from rural, impoverished areas with the promise of fair wages, regular meals and an opportunity for education, but this promised reality does not exist (The Guardian & Unicef).
This trillion dollar industry does not pay workers enough money to supply for basic human needs; in other words, workers are not paid a living wage (Huffington Post UK). Girls as young as 14 work 10-14 hour days to support their families, yet they are not able to live on the sum they earn (Conscious Living). In Colombian mines, Bangladeshi factories, or Vietnam textile mills, labor standards are so low that even though apparel is the largest employer of women globally, less than 2% of these women earn a living wage, according to The Huffington Post. These women can’t even afford to buy the cheap, fast fashion they’re producing to ship overseas.
Many brands that use sweatshops believe that if we stop talking about sweatshop and child-Labour issues then they can keep using them. However, it is also sometimes unclear how many brands actually use these ‘cheap and easy’ methods of clothing making. In the last year there have been governmental strides around to world to try and abolish the use of sweatshops, but unfortunately, many still prevail through loopholes and plain illegality.
Adidas’ use of sweatshop workers was discovered when they became the official sportswear partner of the London Olympics. After this was announced, the company was investigated, and it was discovered that the company was using overseas sweatshops to create this famous brand.
Forever 21 is a brand that many customers boycotted because of their use of sweatshops. Currently, the brand is being accused of using ‘sweatshop-like factories’ on the outskirts of L.A. Cosmopolitan magazine reported in 2016 that one of the factories in L.A was paying its staff only $4 an hour.
GAP promotes ethical clothing and materials however for over a decade now has had an issue with the brands clothing being made in a Cambodian sweatshop. This kind of work in Cambodia is sometimes favored over working in the rice paddies and although the pay and conditions are bad, they are better than being in the sun all day. In 2007 GAP faced a massive backlash over video recordings showing a young boy sewing clothing for the brand, and whilst the child labor might have ended, the use of sweatshops has not.
This “ethical” and expensive brand was under fire after it was discovered that they were using ‘sweatshop-like conditions’ in the garment district of L.A. This is one of the brands that use sweatshops that is very popular with young people, but with high prices it is usually quite exciting to be able to buy from Urban Outfitters. It is often assumed that by paying a higher price, everyone involved in the clothing is being treated correctly. However, Urban Outfitters was ousted for their use of poor working conditions and wages.
Zara is one of the brands that use sweatshops in Istanbul, and their use of sweatshops came to light when ‘help’ notes were found sewn into clothing. These notes were then investigated and it was discovered that a factory in Istanbul was forced to close and left its employees without work and pay for the jobs they had already done.
What can you do to help?
Be a consensus consumer. Be aware of the impacts your purchases can make.
Volunteer! Help out in organizations that make a change!
Sign petitions. There are many petitions that fight for the lack of human rights in fast fashion. You can help make a change by signing one! Petitions can be found at https://www.change.org/
Try to make your wardrobe fast fashion free! Research clothing brands that do not utilize fast fashion.
Some brands include:
At the end of the day, we all hold a sense of responsibility to ensure that major fast-fashion retailers do their part in doing business ethically, in a way that does not hurt the voiceless and suffering.