Fast fashion stores–you know the ones I’m talking about–are making a lot of money off the misery of others and polluting practices of manufacturers. You may think you’re getting a great buy on the newest looks, but it’s really a fool’s deal. Here’s why….
Forced Labor makes your clothes
Did you know that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is conducting a preliminary investigation into the high possibility that forced child labor is being used in the production of organic and fair-trade cotton used by Victoria’s Secret? Limited Brands, the parent company of VS, isn’t a fast fashion retailer, which makes the investigation even more troubling. The fair-trade cotton producers are disputing the forced child labor claim, Bloomberg news is standing by its story, and has very good news sources. Even so, according to the International Labor Rights Forum, there are many countries in the Middle East and among the former Soviet republics that are using forced child labor. Uzbekistan, one of the largest cotton producers for the fast fashion industry is also one of the largest exploiters of forced child labor.
Forced labor camps in Viet Nam use people who are arrested in drug sweeps, who may have just one positive urine test for drugs, or are seeking treatment for addiction to make your t-shirts, nylon jackets, tote bags, bamboo furniture, and more. Their labor benefits the government, which makes big bucks from private held American and European companies.
Pollution from manufacturing
If forced child labor in cotton production isn’t bad enough, most of the clothing produced for fast fashion is manufactured in China, where pollution regulations are, basically, non-existent. The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), which is a non-profit organization based in Beijing that monitors water and air pollution in China, issued a report in October 2012 that found several fashion manufacturers and finishers that supply big companies had substantial “deficiencies in the environmental management of supply chains in China” The big companies include Disney, Polo Ralph Lauren, and Tommy Hilfiger.
The “deficiencies” include dumping untreated waste water (waste water from manufacturing process) as well as “air emissions issues.”
Back in the U.S., in the 1960′s and 1970′s regulations were set up to stop these sorts of water and air pollution problems. Yes, it caused prices to go up on U.S. manufactured fashion goods. But is it right to simply shift the pollution problem to another part of the globe? Is “just as long as it’s not in my back yard” a good enough excuse to support the desire for cheap, disposable clothing?
Honestly, not in the long run. The world is going to be around a whole lot longer than your crappy cheap jeans.
Waste disposal and economic issues at home
You may think you’re getting a “good buy” or that it’s “fun” to layer up a whole bunch of cheap raggedy-looking fast fashion pieces to make the semblance of high fashion style, but, in reality, all you look like is someone who’s been dumpster diving. Not to mention that the stuff you bought a month ago may be headed to the dumpster after one washing.
From an economic perspective, this is what’s always been referred to as “penny wise and pound foolish.” The illusion is that you’re spending less. Sure, you may be spending less, but you are spending more often. As a result, you are spending more over a period of time for fast fashion than you might if you spent a larger sum on good fashion less often.
It doesn’t take a government study for me to know this one. I can see it in my own wardrobe. I will usually browse at the beginning of a season, after I’ve made notes of what are the upcoming trends. I’ve figured out the trends from fashion mags (which, by the way, I take to my local recycling center,) and I usually pick up trends that I have a sense will last more than one season. Sure, there are times when I say “damn! can’t wear that one after this season,” but as I’ve become more skilled and style savvy, there are less and less of those sorts of mistakes. Or I make the mistake with a less costly investment–usually an item on sale– thus I feel I haven’t lost all that much if I’ve only got one season’s wear out of an item.
Want more evidence of how fast fashion hurts you, your pocketbook, and your immediate environment, check out Elizabeth L. Cline’s Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion for some sobering stats and what we can do to change the fast fashion habit AND make our wardrobes much better through alterations and other clothing makeovers. I’ll have more on my own wardrobe overhaul/ clothing makeover a subsequent post.