If you didn’t catch Part 1, it is here.
The problem with Fast Fashion is it puts profits over people and the planet every chance it gets. The opportunity for more profit is what drove our textile industry away from the US to “cheaper” nations, commonly found in the global south. The truth is these nations are not cheaper, they are simply being exploited. And it is this profit-first mentality that is literally keeping people in poverty and destroying our planet.
Contrary to the narrative that ‘the machines are taking over,’ every piece of clothing you own and wear was sewn by a human being at a sewing machine. Don’t forget that a person made your clothing.
In 2013, one of the worst factory disasters of this generation happened in Bangladesh at a workshop called Rana Plaza. According to the International Labor Organization, the Rana Plaza Collapse killed at least 1,132 people and injured more than 2,500. Not to mention merely 5 months before, at least 112 workers had lost their lives in another tragic accident, trapped inside the burning Tazreen Fashions factory on the outskirts of Dhaka. (LINK)
Working with workshops outside the US and other global north nations, means there are fewer safety laws and employment rules. Children can work as old as 13 in many of these nations, and buildings are often not built to code or safely.
To be completely fair, the manufacturing of apparel in this country isn’t all that fabulous either, many of the textile workshops in the USA are on a pay-per-piece structure. Which makes it nearly impossible to make even the minimum wage. California is the first state to ban rate pay for garment workers, requiring instead that they be paid the minimum hourly wage. (LINK)
Fast Fashion sees those in poverty in the global south as an endless supply of workers, to exploit. These garment workers, especially women, will never make enough to uplift themselves or their families from poverty when they are making clothing for 32 cents a day.
A solution to this is to increase the pay for garment workers, to a living wage based on their country. A living wage is one that supports workers based on their location and would provide enough for them to support themselves and their families, eliminating the need to make children work ensuring they could go to school, and cover the basics for a modest but decent life, such as, food, shelter, utilities, transport, health care, and child care. A living wage is one that can help uplift communities out of poverty and support the nation as a whole, increasing spending locally. Research shows that minimum wage laws and living wage legislation impact poverty differently: evidence demonstrates that living wage legislation reduces poverty. (LINK)
Many Fair Trade Fashion Brands pay a fair wage, “Fair wage is the wage which is above the minimum wage but below the living wage. The lower limit of the fair wage is obviously the minimum wage: the upper limit is to be set by the capacity of the industry to pay.” (LINK) The brand ABLE publishes their wages, in an effort to be transparent so the consumer can truly understand the cost of their goods. (LINK)
Needing to be replaced more often, Fast-Fashion is a problem for our planet because once those clothes are not fit to be worn anymore due to holes or shrinkage or just not being in style. Pieces still in good condition can and often are donated, but even donation centers have such a surplus of apparel they often can’t put it all out on the floor to resale. Otherwise, apparel and textiles are sent to Ghana, LINK. These countries struggle with our surplus of secondhand clothes, strangling their own local artisanal apparel businesses. Pieces in these countries are sold so cheaply. Mounds of clothing create mountains.
Eventually, our clothing will be thrown away contributing to our textile waste problem, here and abroad.
For the planet, the problem with cheap fabrics & poor construction is multiple fold. Most ‘cheap fabrics’ are based on petroleum aka polyesters and will never biodegrade. Poor construction has a big implication for the planet; when these poorly made clothing items fail the wearer quickly, getting holes, or shrinking. And since many folks don’t know how to mend their clothes, when these cheap clothes get a hole in them it is easier and cheaper to just throw them out rather than try to mend them.
The problem is that these brands design their clothes to eventually fail so you HAVE to buy something to replace the thing you just bought from them. How is that for a business model? The next problem is those clothes have to go somewhere. Your local secondhand store and thrift store don’t sell anything with holes, rips, or stains. Those items are either recycled (if we are lucky) or simply thrown away.
Fast Fashion is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gases, producing more than shipping and international airfare combined LINK.
In the final segment of The Problem with Fast Fashion, I will share possible solutions and what we can do individually as well as advocate for larger businesses to do to help solve this problem.