The Dangerous Side of Fashion
“The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”
― John F. Kennedy
By now, most of you have probably seen the John Oliver bit on “Fast Fashion”. If not, keep scrolling, I included at the end 🙂. In true John Oliver style he brings to light in a satirical nature some of the endemic problems and down right abusive happenings in the fashion industry. Over the past few decades, reports, news highlights, and academic papers have highlighted the down side of fast fashion. So why does it keep fading from our memories? Is it that we have too much else on our minds? Could it be that we feel removed or out of touch with such atrocities? Is it too big of an issue to tackle as an individual? Or perhaps, it just hasn’t become main stream enough to do anything about as the collective. Before I start jumping to the reasons why I think we keep ignoring these news stories let’s first explore what exactly I’m talking about!
What is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion or value fashion really started to gain momentum in the 1990’s. Larger or specialized fashion houses which we have come to call “High Fashion” was on average releasing approximately two collections of clothing each year – Fall/Winter & Spring/Summer. With increased globalization in the 1980’s and 90’s medium to smaller clothing retailers could now lower their overhead and labor costs to a fraction of what was being produced in Europe or the United States. Outsourcing! With lower production prices these value retailers could now create and import clothing in which consumers could buy more of and more frequently as a result of the cost savings. This shift was dramatically seen in a comparison between the amount of clothing women owned in the 1980’s compared to early 2000: four times as much!
This brought about micro seasons, where companies started to out-do one another by presenting several new styles per season to the consumer. Marketing campaigns and low prices were meant to overwhelm the purchaser into buying more. And, guess what? It worked! This was all done in the spirit of raising profits for the companies. I for one, can openly admit I have been a victim of the low prices and marketing campaigns that transcend to social media. I will think twice before wearing a dress I have already been photographed in. Well done fashion retailers – objective achieved!
It is no wonder so many have fallen victim to the fast fashion boom. Many retailers including H&M, Zara, Old Navy, and Forever 21 to name a few receive new items every week leading any passer-buyer to wonder if what they bought two weeks ago is already out of style. It is – at least according to the manufacturers. Knowing that the majority of consumers will ultimately give in to this “I’m already out of style mentality” and buy more week after week quality begins to fall by the wayside. Why bother investing company money in the strongest denim fabric available when you know the skinny jeans you use them for will only be replaced by a boyfriend style the next week? From a profit margin standpoint you wouldn’t.
Why is Fast Fashion Dangerous?
So this is fast fashion – high turnover, lower cost, and as a result lower quality clothing. All created in an effort to raise company profits. So where is the down side? Let’s start with what’s wrong for the consumer.
You may think that lower prices means more cost savings. However, lower cost means you buy more as a result of lower perceived savings and ultimately end up with inferior quality. The faster clothing is produced, generally, the faster it falls apart. This means those shorts you bought last year are most likely only making it through one season and back to the store you go the following to buy another. In the long run, lower quality materials don’t stand the test of time and really do damage on your wallet.
What about the workers? Outsourcing clothing manufacturing seems like a good idea when we are talking about lowered prices however, it has an enormous negative human rights impact. Labor standards that we too often take for granted here in the United States are not the same throughout the world. There have been countless stories of building collapses, low wages (we are talking maybe a dollar a day), and unbearable hours. Not to mention children are often caught working in these factories. Unsanitary conditions and the use of hazardous materials all present separate challenges. It’s enough to make anyone cringe.
The environment. One of the many downsides of fast fashion happens as a result of the volume being produced. World Wildlife Fund reported it can take up to 2,700 liters of water to produce the cotton needed for just one shirt. That’s not even the water needed for dying, rinsing, and repeating this process. While a majority is wrapped up in agriculture the real troubling impact on the environment is the use of chemicals that are then released back into rivers and streams that remain unregulated in certain countries. This is the same water that individuals use for washing, cooking, and is needed for other day to day uses. Without going too much in depth – it’s disgusting and hazardous to all. Where do you think that water eventually ends up? Back in the ocean! Which then contaminates our food sources and ultimately will reach back here at home!
So Who Is To Blame?
Some corporations will have you believe it is the consumers fault they are not producing more ethical/eco friendly fashion – none of them will openly admit to human rights violations. “If the consumer demands it, we will make it” seems to be the motto. And, while I think this is partially true companies are responsible for their practices. They can choose to release hazardous waste into water sources, they can choose who to employ and under what conditions, they can choose what fabrics are biodegradable or can be recycled vs. those that don’t. (Ladies, I’m sorry to say your spanx is not one of these fabrics).
I also think the consumer can demand change. By choosing to purchase smarter and less, the way fashion is consumed can be turned completely around. It seems that the issues have been ignored because we don’t know where the alternatives are and/or they are not as accessible. You are not wrong!
So What Do You Do Now?
There are tons of resources out there if you know where to look for both information on the fashion industry and also alternatives. But who has the time? When you are in need of something to wear I’m guessing you don’t want to spend a couple of hours researching. I have you covered. WTT will be launching a new shopping page with a list of stores, manufactures, and designers that are making strides to change the face of fashion. I will be providing you with alternatives that are both cost effective and in style with current trends. With the movement away from in store shopping to more online purchases this initiative will put both access and control at your fingertips!
Stay tuned for the launch!