Fast Fashion Should be a thing of the Past
Warning: Any text written in red is a precursor to some sensitive photos that may be triggering to some. Please be cautious.
Cancel culture, the practice of calling celebrities and companies out on some objectively questionable actions and behaviors, is this recent trend in today’s day in age. Millennials and Gen Z are probably the most educated generations of all time, and this comes at a cost. Consumers are informing themselves on the actions and policies enacted behind closed doors, and they aren’t afraid to expose the most profitable, intern-connected, powerful businesses on the planet.
Business transparency has become prioritized more than ever, and this can jeopardize the prosperity of even the largest of corporations, including fashion retailers. The most prominent fashion retailers in the world have come under fire in recent years for their unethical labor policies.
I first heard of the Fashion Revolution in college while researching, for my own personal vendetta, ways to be more sustainable. The Fashion Revolution combats the systematic obsession with fast fashion and its frequently exploits of its labor workers. Fast fashion is cheap clothing produced rapidly to adhere to rapidly growing consumer trends. Think, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, etc.
One of the major countries victimized by fast fashion is Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is a tiny country bordered on both sides by India, and borders part of Myanmar, lining the Bay of Bengal. It’s the 8th most populous country with a population of almost 165 million people. It’s also considered one of the poorest regions of the world with poverty rates above 30%. It’s also home to one of the largest apparel exports.
If you read the tags on your favorite, most-worn pieces, and find that it reads, “Made in Bangladesh”, you may be contributing to the ongoing injustice and potential humanitarian crisis.
Let’s chat about the concepts of fast fashion and sweatshops because the two correlate. Boy, do they correlate!
Many people assume most products made in China are made in sweatshops, which led to the establishment of sweatshop as a taboo term in the United States. A sweatshop is a socially unacceptable and often illegal, workplace environment that operates under poor working conditions, child labor, unfair wages and non-existent worker benefits.
This all relates to fast fashion because in a thriving economy, retailers are pressured to upkeep mass seasonal product demands at reduced, affordable costs. In the name of profit, retailers will cut costs through the exploitation of cheap labor domestically or abroad, or the use of synthetic, toxic materials. Fashion items are manufacturing rapidly but with diminished quality.
A few years ago, you may have heard about a disastrous factory collapse in Bangladesh’s capital city of Dhaka. A few media outlets broadcasted the accident, but it wasn’t long before it was tuned out by white media across the globe. If you haven’t heard about the horrific factory collapse in Dhaka, then you were affected by white-washed media.
I guess Bangladesh was too remote or too brown for anyone to care too much.
On April 24, 2013, a garment factory in Rana Plaza, which housed five garment factories, collapsed due to poor structural conditions. The expanding fractures and fissures in the walls were reported numerous times, but ignored by the factory owners. Locals businesses on the lower floors were dismissed from work that week due to the safety hazards, but the garment employees were threatened with job loss if absent.
Inevitably, the factory collapsed, killing more than 1,300 people and injuring more than 2,500. Survivors with severe injuries were permanently disabled, which hindered their ability to hold a job moving forward.
It was later “identified at least 29 global brands that had recent or current orders with at least one of the five garment factories in the Rana Plaza building, including Benetton (Italy), Bonmarche (UK), Cato Fashions (USA), The Children’s Place (USA), El Corte Ingles (Spain), Joe Fresh (Loblaws, Canada), Kik (Germany), Mango (Spain), Matalan (UK), Primark (UK/Ireland) and Texman (Denmark)”(Rana Plaza). To this day, these companies have not been held accountable. It is estimated the compensation for the victims is around $30 million.
Warning: Below are some triggering photos that may be distressing or disturbing to some. Please be cautious.
There is an explosive documentary on the topic of fast fashion called, The True Cost. It exposes the harsh realities behind some of the world’s most popular and profitable retailers in the world. The exploitation of garment workers we’ve heard over the years is true– but it’s not just China or Bangladesh.
Sweatshops exist in Vietnam, Pakistan, Cambodia, India, Haiti, Honduras and yes, even the United States.
Here’s how this systematic oppression works.
Major retailers seek cheap labor in developing countries so they sell the garments at desirable prices consumers want. Government officials and managers of these garment factories, are pressured to keep their own costs low to maintain the stream of business from these high-profile companies. These developing countries are eager and desperate for a stream of income from anywhere, but they sacrifice their moral compass for a paycheck to prioritize and sustain themselves first.
This can result in unsafe working conditions, strenuous hours and inconsistent paychecks. “In the absence of a well-functioning labour inspection system and of appropriate enforcement mechanisms, decent work and life in dignity are still far from reality for the vast majority of workers in the garment industry and their families” (The Rana Plaza Accident and its aftermath).
”Bangladesh’s garment industry is the second-largest in the world, behind China’s. It accounts for about 84% of Bangladesh’s export revenue and is so critical to the economy that sewing machine operators… were declared essential workers, exempt from a lock down” (Frayer). Unfortunately, because of the recession in the United States, consumers haven’t been purchasing as many items. This can affect the profitability of a company, sure, but that doesn’t not justify a reason to not pay these workers. Right now, more than half of the garment workers in Bangladesh are on the brink of homelessness because only about 15% were paid in full in April alone….
Sweatshops don’t alleviate poverty, but rather incites the cycle of exploitation. Due to the nonsensical wages of garment workers, they only have enough to pay for essentials, such as rent or food. Workers can be paid as little as $1/day for a 12+ hour day. In Bangladesh, the legal monthly minimum wage is about $96.
The Fashion Revolution has also introduced the #PayUp movement., originally demanding that major retailers who employ garment workers abroad, pay compensation for injuries and for the families of the deceased. In the wake of the pandemic, it additionally applies pressure to those brands to pay for whatever they ordered from Bangladeshi factories before the pandemic broke out. Why?
A March 2020 report by the Penn State Center for Global Worker Rights and the Worker Rights Consortium surveyed over 300 supplier factories in Bangladesh, and discovered that “in a majority of factories, brands had cancelled completed and in-process orders, refused to pay for sewing or fabric, and most factories had to close down and let go of workers without pay. Among the factories experiencing cancellations, 91.3% of buyers refused to pay for sewing, and about three-fourths refused to pay for fabric (#PayUp Fashion Campaign: Garment Workers Covid-19 Relief)”
This can be a tough pill to swallow. We love shopping at budget-friendly retailers that are accessible to so many of us but, the truth hurts.
Who are the worst culprits? Who are the most unethical clothing brands? Too many to list; brace yourself.
- Victoria’s Secret
- The Gap
- Urban Outfitters
- Abercrombie & Fitch
Don’t dwell on the past. Don’t toss all your favorite clothing pieces purchased from unethical brands. Be the change you want to see in the world, and incorporate simplistic modifications every few weeks.
- Begin thrifting. The most sustainable way to shop is by elongating the life of any garment. It re-purposes an older, understated piece into a trendy, vintage statement. Plus, these items are much more affordable depending on where you shop, especially if you aren’t in a position to splurge on pricier items created through innovative, environmentally-conscious methods of creation. I visit Savers for over sized jackets, and consignment shops like Plato’s Closet and Buffalo Exchange for my everyday classics.
- Donate, donate, donate! Once you have out-grown a beloved article of clothing, donate the item to shelters, or sell them for money! One man’s trash is another man’s treasure!
- Shop at smaller, local businesses or source sustainable brands. With enough research, you can find retailers who are breaching all barriers and challenging the status quo. Find the, support them, then spread the word. At Impact Everything, we support brands such as Known Supply, Cotopaxi, Tentree and more!
- Take charge! Ask you favorite retailers, #WhoMadeMyClothes? Snap a photo of yourself wearing a clothing piece with the tag sticking out, and upload to social media with the hashtag and the company’s profile.
- Write to corporate management, writing the following statement: Dear @BRANDNAME, as a concerned citizen, I demand that you #PayUp and make a public commitment to pay in full for all completed and in-production clothing orders in your supplier factories. This is money fairly owed to factories and garment workers, and the people who make your products might not survive without it.
The organization’s website offers amazing resources to take action against these major corporations profiting off of the labor of these garment workers. They are very action-oriented, and the tools are palpable for every type of activist. Please take a few minutes to check it out!
At Impact Everything, we devote a lot of time selecting which brands we choose to support in-store. We value ethical transparency, and demand it from all our partners. Learn about the causes we endorse and the brands who live out our mission.
Frayer, Lauren. “For Bangladesh’s Struggling Garment Workers, Hunger Is A Bigger Worry Than Pandemic.” NPR, NPR, 5 June 2020, www.npr.org/2020/06/05/869486297/for-bangladeshs-struggling-garment-workers-hunger-is-a-bigger-worry-than-pandemi.
#PayUp Fashion Campaign: Garment Workers Covid-19 Relief. www.supportgarmentworkers.org/payup-fashion.
“Rana Plaza.” Clean Clothes Campaign, 21 Jan. 2020, cleanclothes.org/campaigns/past/rana-plaza.
The Rana Plaza Accident and Its Aftermath. 21 Dec. 2017, www.ilo.org/global/topics/geip/WCMS_614394/lang–en/index.htm.