Why is ethical fashion important? It is a big question but one that should be given sufficient attention in the era of globalised production and consumption networks. I hope this post doesn't make anyone feel guilty or disheartened by current standards in the fashion industry. It is vital that we understand the conditions in which our clothes are being made so that we can create spaces for change. I hope that this post inspires you to think about possibilities for transformation in the industry or even make small changes to your consumption habits. To recognise the significance of ethical production we have to uncover the darker truths that encompass global supply chains in the modern day.
You may have heard the buzz word phrase 'fast fashion' which describes one of the most common yet destructive ways in which fashion is consumed today. Public awareness of human rights violations systemic within fast fashion considerably increased following the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster. The industrial tragedy killed 1134 Bangladeshi garment factory workers when the Savar building in Dhaka collapsed, despite employees repeated complaints that the factory was unstable.
In addition to fast fashion's devastating social costs, the industry is a first-class contributor to environmental degradation. Over its extended supply chain, toxic chemical fertilisers and a plethora of hazardous chemicals are used in growing and dying processes respectively. These unsustainable methods erode vital eco-systems and pollute rivers essential to the continuation natural life and physical health of communities in the global south.
So what exactly is fast fashion? And crucially, why does matter now more than ever that the fast fashion model is reformed?
What is Fast Fashion?
In a nutshell, fast fashion works by reeling off numerous micro-trends to spark continuous demand and increase sales. As a result, we now consume 400% more clothing than we did 20 years ago. Disposability in the fast fashion model is also an issue. It is easy to head to shops like Primark and buy ten items for less than £20 decide we do not like half and throw the rest out after a couple of wears. This way of consuming fashion is hugely problematic, and it eerily reflects the massive loss of life we are seeing today.
In the fast fashion model, the social and environmental costs of making clothes are not adequately reflected in pricing. In other words, we can ask how a T-shirt can cost £2 when different groups of people have to grow, weave, dye, cut, assemble and transport the item across multiple countries before it finally reaches us in store?
For this to be possible, most garment factory workers face severe social and economic exploitation. Most are paid less than $3 a day all the while working inconceivable hours in stifling unsafe factories. Voices are silenced due to the threat of verbal, physical and sexual abuse, or even worse workers may be fired and left unable to gain a means of income. Trade unions and collective bargaining are in most cases banned. Furthermore, the prevalence of outsourcing and subcontracting in global supply chains means that there is a massive lack of transparency and therefore accountability on behalf of brands, which provides fertile conditions for exploitation.
Why does this matter now?
It matters now more than ever particularly to the planet that the fast fashion model is reformed. If we keep burning petrochemicals, using fertilisers and hazardous dyes destructive to eco-systems and throwing out synthetic materials that take hundreds of years to degrade, then we are actively contributing towards making life on this planet horrific for millions of people. It is reckoned that environmental destruction will predominately affect those living in the global south. Therefore, if not dealt with soon the fast fashion model will likely contribute to mass displacement, starvation and the exacerbation of poverty for those already struggling to afford life's necessities.
While reforming an entire industry shrouded in secrecy and lies is going to take tremendous effort we can all at least take small steps to reduce our environmental footprint and minimise exploitation. Until new legislation is passed making corporate transparency a requirement corruption in the industry will always prevail. However, it is our power as consumers to change the game. While there is something to be said for the lures of advertisement, we do have agency as individuals to make choices. See every £1 you spend as a vote you cast for what you want to see in the world. What will you choose exploitation and enslavement or economic empowerment and freedom?
For some small tips on curating a sustainable wardrobe check out our previous post entitled 5 Ethical Shopping Intentions.
Love and Solidarity,