I know the vicious cycle all too well – promising you will never contribute to the fast fashion industry again, only to compromise your decision in the favor of convenience shortly after – and repeat.
Actively choosing to thrift, paying more for clothing from fair trade businesses, or forgoing shopping altogether can be both time-consuming and irritating.
But knowing what you are contributing towards when buying that shirt from the High Street might help you end the cycle once and for all.
Remember the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh? The one where 1,134 garment workers died when a factory collapsed? Brands including Mango, Zara, Benetton, Walmart, and C&A were all producing clothing there.
Four years after what was the biggest industrial accident the world has seen in 30 years, the fashion industry in Bangladesh remains far from being safe and sustainable.
Fast fashion is still booming – and it’s getting even faster.
Zara and H&M are the world’s biggest fashion retailers. They can conceive, design, produce, and have the clothing ready for shoppers in 25 days. Now, ASOS and Boohoo can do all that even more quickly.
These manufacturers all rely on low-wage, low-tech sweatshop labor that can be found in abundance in developing countries – where human rights can be overlooked.
The fast fashion business model has resulted in workers earning as little as $21 a month – in an industry that turns over $1.2 trillion a year worldwide (forecast to hit $2.1 trillion by 2025).
Working hours are typically 10-14 hours a day, six, sometimes seven days a week. The working environment neglects human rights completely, with necessities such as drinkable water or toilet facilities being denied.
The fashion supply chain is no stranger to child labor either.
Around 170 million children (or 11 percent of the global population of children) are in employment, with many making clothing to satisfy the demand of consumers in Europe, the U.S., and beyond, according to the International Labor Organization.
Sofie Ovaa, global campaign coordinator of Stop Child Labour, says: “There are many girls in countries like India and Bangladesh, who are willing to work for very low prices and are easily brought into these industries under false promises of earning decent wages.”
Children are believed to be better suited to some tasks than adults – for example, cotton picking. They are also obedient and therefore easy to control: “There is no supervision or social control mechanisms, no unions that can help them to bargain for better working conditions.
“These are very low-skilled workers without a voice, so they are easy targets,” adds Ovaa.
Although now many companies have become aware of the practice, ‘deeper into the supply chain, where visibility is far less, the risks remain substantial’, according to the 2017 Ethical Fashion Report.
In addition, the cycle of manufacturing, buying, and discarding fast fashion is having a huge impact on the environment – it is simply unsustainable.
When it comes to the resource strain caused by manufacturing, fiber production now takes roughly 145 million tons of coal and between 1.5 and 2 trillion gallons of water, cites Elizabeth L. Cline in her book, Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.
At the other end, people are perpetually getting rid of their clothing. The Huffington Post reports that the average American throws out 68 pounds of textiles per year.
In the UK, the average shopper only wears 70 percent of what’s in their wardrobe, and throws out 154 pounds of textile waste annually.
What’s even more, most garments are made with petroleum-based fibers (including polyester, nylon, and acrylic) that would take decades to decompose. These chemicals will also pollute rivers and oceans.
These factors make the fashion industry one of the biggest polluters in the world, second only to oil.
While the price tag on a fast fashion item may be low – this clothing still has a huge global cost.
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