People have often looked to the way we dress as a means of expressing ourselves. However, many people don’t consider how the clothes we wear and the companies we buy from can represent a larger ethical and feminist issue.
The term “fast fashion” has been gaining significant traction among ethical consumers. Fast fashion refers to the complex changes going on in the fashion industry, in which companies are producing inexpensive clothes of poor quality and with extremely quick turnover between products.
This fast-paced and profit-driven environment relies heavily on exploitative labor among vulnerable populations such as women and children. Nearly 80% of workers in the global garment industry are women.
As the documentary titled “The True Cost” (2015) explains, garment factories in various countries such as India, China, and Bangladesh are incentivized to sign contracts with large fashion companies, asking them to produce large quantities of products for increasingly lower costs. However, the true cost of the clothes we buy is externalized through the low wages paid to workers and the dangerous labor conditions many women working in this industry are exposed to.
In Bangladesh, after working long and tiresome hours on extremely meticulous labor, most garment workers rarely earn more than the equivalent of two US dollars per day. Long hours of repetitive labor often with dangerous chemicals can leave workers prone to illness.
The tendency of garment factory owners to overlook poor working conditions and to ignore the complaints and concerns voiced by the garment workers have, in multiple instances, resulted in the loss of lives for many employees. Buildings that aren’t up to code are left untouched and workers often suffer the consequences.
In 2013, Rana Plaza, an eight-story garment factory complex collapsed, killing 1,100 people and injuring 2,500. It was the deadliest accident in the history of the garment industry. Workers had filed complaints to their bosses indicating that the building seemed unsafe and dangerous, but their attempts to be heard were routinely ignored, resulting in a catastrophic incident that could have been avoided.
Many people are dependent on the flow of money and products from the laborious garment industry making it an area with ample room for change. The rise of fast fashion was catalyzed through demand by Western shoppers for cheap and disposable clothing, leaving large companies to make hasty decisions, which levy large impacts on those working within the industry.
Recently, companies have begun to distance themselves from the fast fashion model due to consumer backlash and taken steps toward improving their business to be more ethically conscious. Thinking about the clothes you buy in a larger context can influence more people and brands to transition toward more equitable and just ways of producing clothing.