The ethical breaches of fast fashion: from sweatshops to overconsumption
Fast fashion has overtaken garment production in the 21st century – with its cheap prices and quickly turning stock, most people turn to it whenever they need to buy new clothing. As a business model, fast fashion might seem like a genius concept that earns company owners, shareholders and CEOs a lot of money. However, once you start looking into how its quick rotation of stock, cheap prices and global expansions affect the world, their dirt-cheap garments might turn sour.
At Moddanio we strive for better ethical standard not just in our company, but in the new industry. By sharing the impacts of fast fashion with you, we hope to help more people learn about what fast fashion is doing – and how urgent the need for a change in fashion is.
Made in sweatshops – the implications
The clothing you’ll buy in fast fashion stores is made in sweatshops: factories in developing countries where the working conditions leave much to be desired. Fast fashion companies make their low prices possible by outsourcing labour to nations where the regulations of working conditions are scarce and the minimum wage is set shockingly low amounts.
One of the most frequently raised ethical issues related to manufacturing in sweatshops are the wages of workers. Nowadays, most fast fashion manufacturing is moving from China to Bangladesh – a new source of cheap labour. Around 3.5 million people work in the 4,825 garment factories across Bangladesh, making clothing for export mostly to Europe and North America.
The major problem with wages in Bangladesh is the fact that the country’s minimum wage (how much factories are legally obliged to pay worker) is much less than the living wage (the minimum amount of money the worker needs to cover their basic needs. That is why monthly, a Bangladeshi factory worker earns about £25, while they would need around £45 to cover the necessities. As if that wasn’t enough, workers don’t get to enjoy the luxuries of 8-hour working days, free weekends and paid vacation. Shifts of 13-16 hours per day are common, with no benefits, days off or sick leave.
As if the fact that workers aren’t being paid an adequate wage wasn’t enough, they also aren’t provided with safe conditions to work in. The 2013 collapse of Rana Plaza – a sweatshop in Bangladesh – speaks for many of the issues. The workers have voiced concern over safety of the building to their supervisors, only to be told to get back to work. A mere few hours later, the building collapsed, burying 1,132 people and injuring another 2.5 thousand.
To this day, the Rana Plaza incident is being used as a symbol of fast fashion’s disregard for worker safety. Frustratingly, this was not the first or last incident with a similar scenario in the fast fashion industry – factory fires and collapses occur frequently, while most remain undocumented by global media. Workplace harassment is also commonplace if any workers voice concerns or protest for better working conditions.
A fast supply chain of overconsumption
It seems like fast fashion isn’t just hurting countries where the clothing is made – it has negative impacts on the countries where its garments are sold too (even though they may not go as far as putting people’s lives in danger). Fast fashion is all about promoting more and more consumption, impulsive buying and hoarding. After all, that is why it introduces up to 52 fashion micro-seasons every year – to keep their storefronts new and tempt shoppers to buy now, because the clothing will be gone when they’re at the store again.
This is because fast fashion relies on overconsumption to work – the impulse purchases, hoarding tendencies and must-have mentality. And through its business concept, it has changed our attitudes towards clothing and forced us to view it as disposable. With how quickly their seasons turn, what you buy from fast fashion stores will be out of style tomorrow, instilling the mindset that we need to go back and buy more, newer, more fashionable clothing. While most of us don’t exactly run to the mall to get new clothes every week to stay fashionable, we still buy more clothes and throw them away faster and faster.
A threat to local businesses
Lastly, a short point to think about. Fast fashion companies are international corporations which operate in many countries, but usually only bring money to a select few where they operate. However, due to this expansion of fast fashion, local brands and entrepreneurs are often caused to shut down because they can’t compete with fast fashion’s dirt-cheap price. These local businesses are often key to a booming local economy and provide jobs – they make the area prosper. What will happen if they all disappear?
Fast fashion is a dirty business – there’s no denying that. Thankfully, ethical fashion is on the rise and while fast fashion still largely dominates the industry, brands like ours are here to set a new ethical standard.