Fashion is everywhere. It can be found in a window on the way to school, in magazines, on the sides of busses, and all over the internet. Posters of women in cable knit sweaters and the newest shoe trend surround us, yet we rarely question where it all comes from. The answer? Generally anywhere but America. The majority of our clothes come from places like China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. Millions of items are shipped and transported daily across the globe.
The big system of clothing production today is “fast fashion”, and its destructive environmental effects are astronomical. The Merriam Webster Dictionary describes the term as “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.” Textile waste builds up, hazardous chemicals are released, water is wasted, and the carbon footprint is immense. The documentary “The True Cost”, available on Netflix, demonstrates on a visual level the impact of the fast fashion industry and the reality of its increasingly harmful effects. The documentary also focuses on the sweatshops in third world countries such as Bangladesh. Hundreds if not thousands of workers die each year due to building collapses, fires, and effects of the working conditions. Workers are treated like animals. They work up to 16 hours a day and get paid wages along the lines of two dollars a day, 50 cents an hour, and as little as one cent an hour.
Zara. H&M. Forever 21. Topshop. Nike. Urban Outfitters. Gap. The list goes on and on for stores that use sweatshop labor and contribute to the fast fashion industry. Those jeans for $9.99 and that turtleneck for $3.99 have a hidden cost-global warming and worker abuse. Competition between production factories is large and each is competing to offer the lowest cost to companies and brands. The result of this and the low prices of pieces is working conditions of extreme heat, crumbling buildings, long hours, and low wages. So what can we do? Avoid these stores and spend our money on thrift shops like Goodwill and Georgia Avenue Thrift Store. Shop at Reformation, Everlane, Patagonia, and many more. Unfortunately, aside from thrift stores, sustainable fashion can be pricey, but for good reason. With a higher price comes little environmental damage and good working conditions in local factories. This topic is rarely spoken about which explains why I and other environmentally conscious people own pieces from Urban Outfitters, H&M, and Zara, and others. It is important not to throw out your pieces from these companies but use them to their best and moving forward, shop ethical and safe.
The environment is getting worse. Conditions for workers in third world countries are getting worse. But the fast fashion industry keeps growing. The time is now to be proactive with our choices, a wonderful thing we take for granted, and do what is right for current and future generations. Do your own research and become more educated on the issues that come with today’s fashion system and spread the movement of thinking before purchasing. The clock is ticking.
IMAGE COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS