Today, the process of buying clothes has never been simpler. With just a few clicks of a button, a person can have a brand new shirt or pants on their doorstep in less than 72 hours. (Well, prior to the pandemic at least). Not to mention, certain stores such as Forever 21 and H&M sell their clothes for an extremely low price.
The process of buying new clothes is such a simple and mindless part of people’s life that they often don’t stop and question it. Sure, the label says “made in Taiwan” or “made in Bangladesh” but why should that matter? Those countries are so far away, why should people care? All that matters is that someone has a cute, new dress from H&M to wear to the semi-formal on Saturday, someone might think. What’s the harm in that?
A lot. Oh boy. A lot. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the shirt they are wearing was most likely made from someone working in a third world country who makes less than a dollar a day in extremely dangerous and life-threatening conditions. Not to mention, this mass production of clothing has a very harmful effect on the environment.
This very negative concept is called fast fashion. Fast fashion is defined as a design, manufacturing and marketing method focused on rapidly producing high volumes of clothing, according to thegoodtrade.com. This results in huge problems such as depletion of resources, reckless waste, child and unpaid labor.
The way that the fast fashion business works is fairly easy to explain. First, thousands of fast fashion scouts are employed to find, discover and copy the latest designs worn by celebrities on social media or by models on the catwalk. After these designs and prints are decided on, these patterns and textiles are sent to factories in developing countries such as Bangladesh to be made in mass qualities at a very low price by people working in the factories. This is where the trouble really begins and where the dangers of fast fashion can clearly be seen. Since a major factor of fast fashion relies on low-cost manufacturing, people making these pieces of clothing receive extremely low pay.
According to Thevou.com, a fashion and lifestyle website, 93% of fast fashion brands do not pay garment workers a living wage. The reason why so much of clothing sold in American clothing stores are made in developing countries is to keep the price of the clothing low. Since America has many regulations on labor and work standards, it would be extremely difficult for clothing to be made here at the neck-breaking pace that people have been convinced is necessary for them. Since many developing countries do not have as many of these regulations on labor, clothing can be made in an extremely fast-paced, unethical and dangerous environment. Some might even describe these working conditions as an example of modern day slavery.
In addition to creating an unethical and dangerous working environment, fast fashion also creates severe ecological problems. According to Thevou.com, consumers throw away 60% of their clothing. To provide a more visual component to how many clothes are wasted every year, imagine a giant truck full of textiles being dumped into a landfill every second. According to the documentary “The True Cost,” the clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world, second only to oil.
Learning about the horrors of fast fashion can be very discouraging. It seems that no matter how hard people try to be ethical consumers, there is always a catch or another issue that pops up. Trying to be ethical in all areas of life is like playing a game of whack-a-mole. So, what can people do to stop or at least slow down the process of fast fashion?
The first step needed is for people to educate themselves. Whether it be by watching a documentary or reading a book, there are a multitude of ways for people to learn more about the ins and outs of the fashion industry. Once a person is well read on this subject, they can apply their newly acquired knowledge the next time they shop for clothes and ask themselves why the dress at H & M is so cheap and not just ignore it.
The next step is for people to put their money where their mouth is. People can read up on fast fashion all they want, and post infographics about fast fashion on their Instagram story, but all that reading and posting means nothing if people continue to shop at stores they know have a major role in the fast fashion industry. While spreading awareness on Instagram is nice, it’s not going to change anything unless a person willing makes an effort to buy ethically.
It’s also important for people to be aware that while consumers play a part in fast fashion, the main culprits are huge corporations such as Walmart and Forever 21. As long as Walmart and Forever 21 are around, fast fashion will continue its harm. This statement isn’t meant to discourage anyone from their endeavors to be more ethical, but to keep in mind that while consumers can have an effect in slowing fast fashion, it won’t go away unless corporations begin to hold themselves accountable. Until then, it is important that people continue to educate themselves, apply what they learned and put their money where their mouth is. As Dr. Seuss once said “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”