As I walk into just another store in the mall, it seems to have a luxurious sense. Music that belongs on a catwalk is blaring. The ambiance is overall upscale. Now imagine this: On the other side of the world, a nine-year-old in a sweatshop is enduring poor and unsafe conditions while creating the same clothes that you are about to purchase. For many, shopping is just another fun activity and at the same time is a privilege. But many that are providing these clothes are not making a true living wage. What most people do not know is that some of our favorite brands use sweatshop labor and have underpaid employees. The problem is not just fast fashion but how companies are treating their employees.

Large fashion retailers are exploiting their workers, and the mass media is perpetuating it. Although many believe purchasing from a fast-fashion brand gives people jobs, others understand that the demand for ethical fashion is not easy but is essential in encouraging fair trade standards.

Understanding Fast Fashion

Fast fashion can be described as cheap, trendy clothing that is coming in or out of style. Most of you might go into your closet and realize that a lot of clothes you own are from these brands. How do these brands become so successful and manage to take over our closets? Most of today’s most popular brands such as Nike, Adidas, and Gap– are amongst the many fashion brands partaking in the fast fashion industry. We are very familiar with these brands because of how convenient and affordable they are. We have to understand that we are a society engulfed by capitalism. Fast fashion is a fragment of capitalism, perpetuating the idea of profit over people.

Exploitation of Workers In the Fashion Industry

Fast fashion brands have become so popular amongst us all that we have become nescient as to how these clothes are made. Only 2 percent of clothing is made in the U.S. That being said, an exceedingly large amount is distributed to the U.S. from offshore manufacturing centers from Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and India, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association. Most companies locate themselves in developing countries, simply because it is cheaper. For so many years, fashion brands have been accused of exploiting their workers in developing countries. In Bangladesh alone, 3.5 million people, of which is 85 percent women, work in the fashion industry. Many women in the industry are subject to horrific conditions and are expected to work long hours in cramped, unsafe buildings. It is inhumane that people have to work these conditions for insufficient wages.

Media Perpetuating Consumer Culture

“The fashion industry is designed to make you feel ‘out of trend’ after one week,” writes Shannon Whitehead. In the year 2020, we are constantly bombarded with trends so frequently. What is trending now will be out of style in a matter of two to three weeks. The climate of consumerism is rising through the influence on social media. Whereas in the 1980s, new clothing trends were from magazines or TVs. Social media influencers are constantly changing their styles and always seem to be ahead of the game. However, what most don’t realize is that constant change in trends leads to demand for new clothes that need to be manufactured. Before, information was slower. As a society, we are constantly evolving in so many aspects that we are constantly searching for what is new. What this subconsciously does is kindle the idea that we can’t be seen in something we have previously worn. This is evident when it comes to social media. We rarely see influencers post with something they have worn before. Influencers are constantly setting trends, and that itself perpetuates the need to keep up with what is new. The consumerist notion amplified by the media further aids fast fashion.

Thinking Big on Sustainability: Slow Fashion 

Slow fashion encourages people to buy less clothing at a higher quality. Slow fashion slows production schedules, provide fair wages, and lowers carbon footprints. Companies such as Levi’s, Patagonia have transitioned into slow fashion. Attaining slow fashion will be difficult considering so many companies are in search of cheap labor to sell at such a high price. However, it will be much more ethical to make the switch from fast fashion to slow fashion.

Many will argue though that thousands of people could lose their jobs and that fast fashion sustains economies in these developing countries. 

While there is some truth to the argument that people will lose jobs, what many fail to understand is that the demand for slow fashion is so that supply chains have transparency in working conditions for their employees. It is so companies cannot get away with paying their workers less than minimum wage in such poor conditions. The demand for slow fashion will compel a more sustainable environment concerning its workers and the planet. 

Fair trade standards can help break the cycle of fast fashion. It supports garment workers in the clothing supply chain. Fair trade policy permits manufacturers in developing to meet certain requirements in respect to their workers. With the help of fair trade standards, it will ensure the safety of the employees that many companies continue to neglect. Fair trade standards will increase wages, thus affecting poverty in certain countries, giving many people a living wage income. Setting strong standards lets workers know their rights.

Think Twice 

What many fail to realize is fast fashion cannot just disappear. Fast fashion is reinforced by media and capitalism, and that itself helps sustain the economy. All we are asking is for basic human rights and decent working conditions in these factories. That being said, we should not look down on those who simply cannot afford anything other than fast fashion. Shopping sustainable is a privilege that poor, disabled, plus-sized people don’t have. 

There are so many options when it comes to substituting fast fashion brands. While it may be hard, the choices can vary from choosing ‘sustainable’ brands or even second-hand stores. Think twice before we throw away clothes. We can rethink our clothing choices in hopes of helping those in undeveloped countries.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and/or student and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of United 4 Social Change Inc., its board members, or officers.
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