Fast fashion is inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass market retailers in response to the latest trends.(Oxford Dictionary) In the U.S, we are surrounded by the products that fast fashion has supplied us (and we are lucky). We have the privilege of being the consumers, the other side of fast fashion it can be extremely harmful. Here’s an example to help understand: Brand A is selling their shirts for $15, but brand B sells similar shirts for only $10. Naturally, people will buy brand B’s shirts, increasing their profit while lowering that of brand A’s (even though Brand A’s are initially sold for more). Brand A will see this and make their prices cheaper to gain back customers. Big corporations have figured that in order to keep lowering their prices it would be a good idea to take exploit overseas workers, as well as the environment. This cycle creates a never ending loop throughout the fashion industry.
In the 60’s the United States was making around 95% of our clothing. Today, the United States is only making around 3%, the remaining 97% of outsourcing goes to countries such as Bangladesh, India, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Big corporations target low income communities because they know they cannot afford to quit. Many stories coming from factories located in these 3rd world countries reveal the truth behind these nauseating and inhumane sweatshops. Women are getting bladder infections due to the lack of bathroom breaks they are allowed. Sexual harassment is common and it has been reported that managers are forcing women to take the contraceptive pill. Many shops deny maternity leave and if a woman is pregnant she will be fired if she misses a day of work. Inadequate sanitation has been reported as buildings rarely, if ever get cleaned. In 2018, a U.S. Department of Labor report had found evidence of child and forced labor connected to the fashion industry in countries including Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Philippians, Turkey, and Vietnam. Along with these conditions, these people are being paid repulsively low. Workers in Bangladesh make around $96 per month. The government’s wage board indicates they should be making 3.5 times this amount to live a “decent life with basic facilities.” A report developed in 2017 from Deloitte Access Economics for Oxfam discovered that paying for a living wage to workers throughout the supply chain industry would only increase the retail price of garments by 1%. Likewise, two researchers, Murray Ross Hall from the University of Queensland and Thomas Weidmann from the University of New South Wales found that raising the price of clothing produced in India by an average of 20c per item would be enough to bring all Indian garment workers out of poverty. At what point will we make the people behind these big corporations pay for their actions? Beyond the toll on human life, mother Earth has been abused. Making one pair of jeans produces as much greenhouse gases as driving a car more than 80 miles. It takes 2700 liters of water to make one cotton shirt, enough to meet an average person’s drinking needs for two-and-a-half years. More than 60% of fabric fibers are now synthetic. Derived from fossil fuels, synthetic fibers do not decay. Discarded clothes made of non-biodegradable fabrics can sit in landfills for up to 200 years. Driven by the increase in GDP, in developed economies and a growing middle-class population around the world, clothing production has doubled in the last 15 years. Every year we collectively purchase around 80 billion pieces of new clothing, globally. The average consumer bought 60% more clothes in 2014 than in 2000, but kept each garment for half as long. As an expected 400 percent increase in world GDP, will occur by 2050, an even greater demand for clothing should be expected. How can we as the consumers help to put an end to this never ending loop?
One efficient way to find sustainable brands is to use “Good On You Brand Directory.” This website and app uses key data sources such as the brand and parent company reportings, third party insights, and independent certifications, accreditations, and other standard based systems to seemingly “grade” a brand’s work. Good On You uses a 5 point scale, sometimes using smiley faces as an indicator. Using three main categories: planet, people, and animals, they determine if that brand is “great”, ”good”, “it’s a start”, “not good enough”, or “we avoid.” The process is fairly straightforward and effortless to use. Good On You has a search bar that allows you to look up almost any brand. They then have similar brands more ethically sourced near the bottom of the page for you to check out. Playing around on this website can be extremely disappointing, to see some of your favorite brands not meeting expectations can be a bummer. Though, it can also fill you with a sense of relief, seeing that your favorite is rather ethical. When online shopping, you can always look out for a “Rated Good On You” stamp to make sure you are shopping for your values. Good On You also allows brands to get in contact with them to get rated, or to find out how to promote your rating. To find more information about the Good On You rating system you can go to goodonyou.eco and click “How We Rate”.
Fashion Revolution is also an amazing website, educating anyone who will listen. They aim to create a global fashion industry that conserves and restores the environment, and values people over growth and profit. Fashion Revolution has one week, “Fashion Revolution Week”, that takes place during the week of April 24th, to honor the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh. The building controlled by multiple garment factories had employed around 5,000 people to manufacture clothing for some of the biggest global fashion companies. Over 2,500 people were injured, and 1,100 died during the collapse. Raza Plaza was the biggest industrial disaster in history, directly influencing Fashion Revolution. Fashion Revolution Week is a one week campaign that demands greater action and transparency in the fashion supply chain. This encourages people around the globe to ask brands “Who made my clothes?” Providing a prewritten email, tweet, and Instagram post designed to send to big brands, you can be a part of the Fashion Revolution from the comfort of your own home. The Fashion Revolution website also offers the “Fashion Open Studio,” created to bring light to designers who are involved and strenuously searching for solutions to the difficulties facing the fashion world. Normally, Fashion Open Studio is scheduled during Fashion Revolution Week and is a physical event. This year, due to COVID-19 it was online. You are able to watch these designers work from home on the Fashion Revolution website.
Remake, is yet another website geared towards educating the world on the fashion industry. It is a collective of Millenial and Gen Z women from all over the world pledging to put an end to fast fashion and to “wear their values.” From big brands such as Adidas and Patagonia to small businesses you haven’t heard of (yet), Remake gives credit when it is due and has an entire list of brands that support the “slow fashion” movement. Along with a list of other ethical brands, Remake has a brand of its own, eloquently sporting their values. Every purchase is a donation that helps to grow their sustainable fashion movement. Remake also has a blog, as well as films dedicated to everything fashion.
While ditching fast fashion all together is impractical, as there are so many things to determine and hoops to jump through. Remake believes that change happens as a result of individual action. When people come together to make small changes in their own lives, it can lead to enormous change. Becoming an ambassador for Remake is one step you can take to be a part of something bigger. What does being an ambassador entail? Your job is to attend monthly calls, host local events, have conversations with your community about the harms of fast fashion and how to wear your values through conscious shopping. Being an ambassador also comes with perks: sneak peeks of Remake’s upcoming films, exclusive invites, community channels, brand discounts, networking opportunities, and enjoyable downloads and resources. Learn more at here. If putting an end to this ongoing crisis is important to you, and you are able, Fashion Revolution takes donations directly from their website. These donations help Fashion Revolution continue to provide up to date resources accessible to everyone. Fashion Revolution also lets you decide which team country you want your donation to go to. Options include Denmark, Germany, Brazil, Switzerland, Italy, Philippines, and Slovakia.
In regards to clothing donation, there is a golden rule: if items are not fit for you to wear, they’re probably not fit for anyone else to wear. Frequently, charities are forced to spend money to sort and throw away torn, stained, or outright grotesque garments. An estimated 25% of these garments disposed of by charities go directly to landfills and an additional 40-50% is sent into global second hand clothing trade. This swamps the local textile markets and will oftentimes end up being buried or burned. It’s essential to know what you are donating. If you are doubtful about your planned donation, check your charity donation guidelines. To be sure you are giving your clothing a second chance at life, you can alternatively bring them to a shelter, mend, or upcycle them.
The fashion industry is always growing and expanding. If we, as a whole, come together and bring awareness to the truths of fast fashion we could change the fashion world for the better. Remember to ask yourself “who made my clothes?” and to “wear your values.” You can be a part of the change.
Dr. Sven Herrmann. A New Textile’s Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future. Ellen Macarthur Foundation.
Elizabeth Reichart and Deborah Drew. By the Numbers: The Economic, Social and Environmental Impacts of “Fast Fashion”. World Resources Institute.
Good On You.
Joanna Psaros. The Problem With Donating Your Clothes to Charity. Good On You.
Nathalie Remy, Eveline Speelman, and Steven Swartz. Style that’s Sustainable: A New Fast Fashion Formula. McKinsey & Company.
Sarah Spellings. Wouldn’t You Pay an Extra 20 Cents for an Ethically Made Shirt? The Cut.
Tatiana Schlossberg. How Fast Fashion is Destroying the Planet. The New York Times.
The Real Impact of the Fashion Industry in the World. OurGoodBrands.