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The Effects of Fast Fashion in West AfricaIn Accra, Ghana, landfills of rotting garments flood dumpsites. The place is overwhelmed with the results of fast fashion that no longer serves a purpose—but to take up space. In 2018, the United Kingdom’s interest in fast fashion has resulted in as many as 300,000 tons of clothing to be sent to landfills. This has resulted in the Kpone landfill being one of the main targets for the landfills in Accra. With the capacity of the landfills being quickly met, sanitation risks come into play. Residents of places like Kpone are now dealing with the blow of disease and solutions are needed to address the effects of fast fashion in West Africa.

What is Fast Fashion?

Fast fashion is the creation of quickly made cheap clothes that aim to fit the ever-changing trend of fashion. These clothes are likely to be advertised on Instagram and by retailers, such as Zara, BooHoo or ASOS. A majority of its operations are online and due to the popularity, 24% of all U.K. apparel sales were online in 2018. The continuous growth of the fashion industry has resulted in an expansion of landfills being filled with tossed clothing that no longer fit the trend. According to studies, the U.K. sends 10,000 items of clothing to landfills every five minutes, with places like Accra being overflooded.

The Kpone Landfill

In 2013, Accra’s most prominent landfill in Kpone opened. It served the purpose of receiving 700 tons of waste daily. The Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA), the local government, has also allocated the pick up of 70 tonnes of clothing waste from Kantamanto, Accra, daily.

This process began in 2016 and four years later Kpone is now overflowing with waste. However, despite Kpone receiving Kantamanto’s clothing waste, most of it does not reach the landfills and instead gets swept into gutters due to AMA’s inability to finance transportation for the waste.

Risks of Fast Fashion

Clothing waste tends to get tangled up in big knots that clutter up gutters and stop the flow of water and waste. These tangled messes lead to life-threatening floods and the spread of diseases such as malaria and cholera, which are especially devastating to the poor. The waste is leading to fatalities.

Kayayei, female transporters for waste, live near landfills in Old Fadama, Accra. These women breathe in the toxic air and carry up to 200 pounds of clothing to transport to retailers. It is not uncommon for these women to die by the weight they carry while on their travels, which could be up to a mile long. The sad reality of this is that women are risking their lives for less than a dollar to transport waste.

Efforts Being Made to Address Fast Fashion in West Africa

As of 2020, 7,800 men and women have worked toward the goal of collecting and recycling the waste in Kpone. These waste pickers are paid for their efforts and the work serves as a key survival tactic for those struggling to find employment. Approximately, 60% of recyclable waste has been collected by these workers.

However, despite the workers’ efforts being beneficial they are often looked down upon and are regularly met with harassment. Also, poor sanitation from the landfills put waste pickers at risk for health hazards. Yet, mobilizations among these workers have become common in recent times. International waste pickers associations have worked to have the local government in Kpone establish health posts near landfills and enforce sanitation rights.

The Future of Fast Fashion

The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have brought fast fashion to a halt. Christian Orozco, an associate of The OR Foundation, is optimistic about the future of fast fashion amid the pandemic. “The coronavirus has forced retailers that support fast fashion to close down their stores. This creates a big impact on the distribution of clothes and can slow it down,” explains Orozco.

Fewer people are purchasing clothing online due to the question of when they will be able to wear them out. Places like H&M, a huge retailer for fast fashion, have also been affected by COVID-19, leading to the closing of 250 stores worldwide. Additionally, clothing sales altogether have dropped by 34%, bringing forth the question of how the future of fast fashion will impact regions like West Africa.

Ashleigh Jimenez
Photo: Flickr

Fighting for the World's Poor with Slow FashionPrior to the rise of fast fashion, the latest runway designs slowly trickled their way into the masses, but the quickening and cheapening of clothing creation have forever changed the way people shop. This detrimental and exploitative process is mostly in vain since the clothes are so cheap that 85% of textiles end up in landfills each year. “Fast fashion” refers to cheap and trendy clothing that utilizes the rapid production of our globalized economy to produce items as quickly and inexpensively as possible. Although this might seem exciting, fast fashion as a phenomenon is often pointed to as one of the prime contributors to the waste and exploitation of the world’s poor that takes the glamour out of fashion.

Fast Fashion and Poverty

To make clothing cheaper, more dangerous and toxic chemicals are used in factories where workers make below living wages. Worldwide, one in six workers is employed by the fashion industry, and the majority of these workers are women. Many workers are also children as young as 10 years old.  Over the past few decades, factories have moved to low-income countries where workers’ union laws and human rights protections are less stringent. An Oxfam 2019 report found that 0% of Bangladeshi garment workers and 1% of Vietnamese garment workers earn a living wage. The culture of exploitation within the factories makes women vulnerable to abuse but they cannot report it for fear of losing income.

The millions of the world’s poor working in the bottom rung of the fashion ladder deserve better. One study found that a $20 shirt would only need to cost $0.20 more for Indian factory workers to earn a living wage. Another breakdown of a 29 £ T-shirt found that only 18 euro cents go to the worker’s pay.  As consumers of fashion, we can help combat this industry by participating in “slow fashion.” Slow fashion is the antidote to fast fashion which prioritizes quality clothing that is made ethically and sustainably built to last. Here are some ways to participate in this movement.

How to Participate in Slow Fashion

  1. Good On You: Good on You is a site dedicated to bringing slow fashion to consumers. Type a brand into their directory and they will provide you with an ethics and sustainability rating and a justification for their assessment. This is especially helpful if you are new to a brand.
  2. The Fashion Transparency Index: This is an assessment by experts of the 250 largest clothing retailers to provide you insight into their ethics and production.
  3. Online Thrifting: Although rifling through your local thrift store is a fun adventure, for those looking for specific secondhand clothing, online stores are a helpful tool. Thredup: This site has something for every budget and resells household brand items at varying prices and conditions. They also provide a clean-out kit for those who wish to sell or donate clothing. TheRealReal and Vestaire Collective: For lovers of luxury items, these sites are perfect and they authenticate items for you.
  4. The 30 Wears Test: Before purchasing a clothing item, ask yourself if you will wear it a minimum of 30 times. Take inventory of items you own that will pair well with the said item.
  5. Learn how to mend clothing: Not only can this come in handy in case of emergency, but instead of throwing away an item that is damaged, you will be more inclined to fix it.
  6. Quality over quantity: Critics of sustainable fashion argue that its prices are too high. Investing in staple clothes that are built to last is cheaper in the long term than constantly buying cheaper and trendier items.
  7. Fast fashion is tempting. The prices and designs are more attractive and accessible than many brands that source higher quality materials and pay their workforce more. But as more people demand sustainable fashion, creative and affordable solutions become available. Together, we can demand better for the world’s poor that create our clothing and transform the industry.

—Elizabeth Stankovits
Photo: Flickr

Combating Sweatshop LaborThe fashion industry is built upon the exploitation of cheap labor from developing countries. As a result of latent consumerism and a desire to mass-produce clothing for wide consumption, the fashion industry continually employs outside labor to make clothing that is designed to fall apart so consumers keep buying more. These companies often have no regard for the treatment of their workers. A common misconception about sweatshop labor is the idea that it can alleviate poverty. In reality, it perpetuates existing cycles of poverty by only giving workers enough money for food and lacking a long-term solution for eradicating poverty. Many workers in countries like Bangladesh or Cambodia earn less than one dollar per day and struggle to pay bills, despite working more than 40 hours a week. While more brands have committed to moving away from fast fashion practices in recent decades by opening up about where their garments are made, many companies are still using sweatshop labor to make clothing because of its cheap price. According to Camille Segre-Lawrence, “unhealthy and unsafe working environments are paired with low or unlivable wages and child labor….large corporations cover their stories up.” Lawrence is a Textile Development major at the Fashion Institute of Technology and advocates for sustainable clothing production that does not contribute to fast fashion. Around 168 million children under the age of 18 are forced to work in sweatshops. However, three organizations are working on combating sweatshop labor.

National Labor Committee

The National Labor Committee is an organization committed to educating consumers about the horrors of the fashion industry by posting articles on its website. It also provides resources to help consumers trace where popular brands manufacture their garments. As mentioned previously, the enhanced scrutiny by consumers has forced various brands to disclose where and how their garments are being made, leading to increased transparency of their business practices. “The fashion industry needs to recognize that it’s up to corporations to fix these issues,” says Lawrence. The National Labor Committee is doing just that by highlighting the human rights issue of sweatshop labor through articles.

Fair Labor Association

The Fair Labor Association (FLA) seeks to end sweatshop labor on a similar scale by holding companies accountable for the manufacturing of their products through educational resources. However, this organization is unique in that it partners with universities and companies across the country to train workers and encourage schools to buy ethically made products. Many schools like Princeton and Arizona State University are FLA partners, and the FLA’s reach has only expanded since starting in 1999. Organizations like the FLA have increased awareness of the fast fashion industry, leading to a rise in sustainable fashion. Furthermore, many students across the country have started to campaign for ethically made apparel and furniture for their universities.

United Students Against Sweatshops

Also focusing on the trend of outreach, this organization—also known as SAS—encourages students across the US to take action to end sweatshop labor by creating clubs on their campuses. United Students Against Sweatshops partners with the WRC to ensure that suppliers are meeting regulations and using transparency in their manufacturing processes. Over 250 schools across the U.S. and Canada have SAS branches on campus, which further spreads this company’s reach.

 

The common trend of these organizations combating sweatshop labor is their national scale and specific focus on the biggest consumers of fashion goods: young adults and college students. By spreading awareness about the hazards of sweatshop labor against the trend of increasing outsourced labor, consumers are becoming more informed of how their spending habits can exacerbate poverty and abuse in developing countries throughout Asia and Africa. These organizations are paving the way for developed countries like the US to end sweatshop labor by exposing the harmful conditions endured by sweatshop workers. Encouraging universities and companies to negotiate with large corporations to improve working conditions is a major step in the right direction towards eliminating fast fashion and alleviating global poverty.

– Xenia Gonikberg
Photo: Flickr

Fashion and Poverty
Fast fashion has been an ever-growing presence within first world countries since the 1990s. At first glance, consumers purchase cheap and trendy outfits for a fraction of the price of high-end brands. However, beneath the surface, impoverished workers in developing countries are toiling in dangerous sweatshops for minimal pay. These supply chains show a direct link between fast fashion and poverty.

Many fast fashion companies, such as Forever 21 and H&M, receive new clothing shipments every day, while Topshop features 400 styles per week. These brands are able to produce apparel at rapid speed because they do not interact with production, and instead outsource to supplier firms in developing countries. These firms then subcontract production to unregistered suppliers that operate under no government regulation. This means that brands are not legally obligated to ensure safe working conditions. This process takes advantage of the less fortunate. For this reason, more people should be aware of the processes behind their fast fashion finds.

Unethical Production Practices

Due to the fact that many sweatshops reside in countries with inadequate labor laws and little government oversight, working conditions are dangerous and dehumanizing. These sweatshops prey on the poorest people who do not have the luxury to turn down any form of work. In many manufacturing countries such as China, India and Bangladesh, the minimum wage only ranges from a half to a fifth of the living wage required for a family to meet its basic needs. Furthermore, the average worker in an Indian sweatshop makes just 58 cents an hour, and in Bangladesh this drops to 33, linking fast fashion to the cycle of poverty.

Dangerous Working Conditions

Along with the miserable pay, working conditions in sweatshops are often incredibly dangerous. Garment workers have to work 14-16 hours a day, seven days a week while facing verbal and physical abuse from overseers. Employees often work with no ventilation while breathing in toxic substances. Accidents and injuries are also common; the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh provides a grisly example. The collapse of the Rana Plaza factory caused over 1,000 garment workers to die on the job.

Child Exploitation

While these companies prey on the poor, they especially prey upon children in poverty. A report investigating mills in India found that 60% of the workers were under 18 when they began working. Trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty, these children are extremely susceptible to forced labor in sweatshops. These unethical labor practices demonstrate how fast fashion and poverty are intermingled.

Apparel Companies Working for Change

Fast fashion companies that use unethical production are among some of the most prominent leaders in the industry, including Urban Outfitters, Forever 21, H&M, Zara and more. However, in response to these widespread atrocities, many apparel brands have made a conscious effort to utilize ethical production practices.

One of the most well known Fairtrade certified brands is Patagonia, a company that offers more Fair Trade Certified styles than any other apparel brand. In response to prominent injustices, the company has built a social responsibility program to analyze their impact on workers and communities. In addition, since Patagonia does not own any factories, it is partnering with production companies across the globe to ensure ethical practices. The company strives to be a positive force that “not only minimizes harm but also creates a positive benefit for the lives they touch through their business.”

Know the Origin is another Fairtrade brand that works to be transparent about their production practices. This brand goes above and beyond paying minimum wages and ensuring safe working conditions. Know the Origin is working to create sustainable employment opportunities that help lift communities out of poverty. Able is another Fairtrade brand that centers on ending generational poverty. As over 75% of apparel workers are women, Able focuses on lifting women out of poverty through stable working positions. While these are some of the most prominent Fairtrade companies, there are many more that any consumer can discover with a few quick minutes of research.

Why You Should Vote With Your Dollar

These Fairtrade brands are paving the way for a new type of ethical apparel production. The apparel industry has the ability to provide dignified jobs for impoverished communities rather than forcing them further into poverty. While increased prices make many Fairtrade products inaccessible to those in poverty, a significant number of people who buy fast fashion have the means to buy Fairtrade. In the end, change must occur at the hands of fast fashion companies to make a permanent difference. However, consumers can still make an impact by pushing them to make this change. When consumers choose to buy Fairtrade, they show their demand for ethically-made apparel.

As a consumer, you can act for change. In buying Fairtrade, you refuse to funnel your money into an industry that abuses and torments impoverished communities. You communicate that you are against the sweatshops that force workers to endlessly toil for minimal pay. You show that you care about the world’s poor.

Natascha Holenstein
Photo: Flickr

fast fashion and poverty
In recent years, brands like Zara, Topshop, Uniqlo, H&M and Forever 21 have come under fire for creating fast fashion. Fast fashion products are clothing and accessories that companies price significantly lower than the competition, produce more quickly and make of lower quality. Like many products, the world’s poor produces fast fashion, and thus, helps continue the cycle of poverty. Here are three facts about fast fashion and poverty.

Sweatshops

People create fast fashion in dangerous sweatshops. To provide cheap, ever-changing inventories for customers, fast fashion companies perpetuate fast fashion and poverty by relying on factories in countries with poverty wages, where safety, sustainable practices and suitable working conditions are nearly nonexistent.

One such factory complex was Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, where the collapsing of a building in 2013 killed over 1,100 people and injured thousands more. Rana Plaza housed five garment factories that manufactured products for almost 30 major European and North American fashion companies.

Today, however, there has been an increasing demand for company transparency and ethical manufacturing practices. In the wake of the Rana Plaza Tragedy, the Bangladeshi government has sought to improve safety measures in garment factories and had 38 people charged with murder in 2016 for their roles in the building collapse. Along with the Bangladeshi government’s efforts, companies and trade unions signed two major safety agreements: the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety. Brands like Nike and Patagonia committed to adhering to higher transparency standards after the tragedy.

Environmental Impact

The business model of fast fashion companies emerged from the idea that consumers always want to stay on top of trends, and thus, will buy new clothes as trends change. To change trends more quickly, fast fashion brands release new clothing once a week or more, which creates a great deal of waste. Instead of the Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer clothing seasons that were once prevalent, fast fashion companies have created 52 micro-seasons.

Since the clothes are only trendy for one week or less, companies do not create them to last. Often, fast fashion clothing falls apart in the washing machine or dryer after only one or two wears. If the clothing falls apart in one wash and was no longer trendy anyway, consumers automatically go back out to buy new, cheap pieces from the fast fashion brands. The clothing is so cheap to buy that consumers may not realize that they are spending more money in the long run in terms of cost-per-wear on a fast fashion garment compared to a more high-quality one.

The destroyed and unwearable fast fashion, which contributes to nearly 70 pounds of textile waste per person, per year in the United States, ends up in U.S. landfills or ships, along with other garbage, to developing countries. Many of these developing countries do not have the capacity to deal with all of this additional waste, and therefore, cannot prevent pollution or other waste-related problems.

To combat the issue of the fast-fashion causes, retailers like Asos and Gap, along with dozens of others, signed the 2020 Circular Fashion System Commitment in 2017; the Commitment encourages brands to use monofibers instead of mixed-fiber and synthetic fabrics. These practices make it easier for people to recycle fabrics and garments going forward.

Chemicals in Clothes

Fast fashion products often contain lead to create bold colors and shiny accessories. Vinyl and plastic products that are red, green, orange and yellow are more likely to have high contamination than products in darker or more muted hues.

Even in low concentrations, lead is extremely dangerous to human health. When it comes to fast fashion merchandise, experts are concerned that these products will leave microscopic particles of lead and other chemicals on consumers’ hands; without proper sanitation practices, these particles can end up on food, drink and other accessories, which can create an environment for repeated exposure.

The Dangers of Lead

Lead contamination, even at low levels, can cause kidney failure, nervous system issues and cardiovascular risks. Lead accumulation in bones and tissues can also cause reproductive issues in women, such as infertility; lead released during pregnancy puts both the mother and fetus in danger. Many experts, considering these risks, have stated that there is no safe level of lead contamination.

The women and children charged with producing these garments and accessories are in danger of lead contamination, just like the women purchasing and wearing these products. For these workers, treatments for health conditions related to lead contamination are either too costly to afford or unavailable. Often, workers may die from complications related to lead contamination in the products they manufacture.

To combat these problems, the Center for Environmental Health (CEH) is fighting against fast fashion companies to eliminate lead contamination on clothing and accessories. In 2010, the CEH sued retailers regarding toxins in accessories; since then, the CEH has been testing accessories sold in-store and online by fast fashion brands for lead contamination.

As more disturbing facts come to light about the fast fashion industry, consumers continue to demand change. With the rise of ethical fashion brands and the increased popularity of secondhand shopping, both fast fashion and poverty may disappear in the future.

– Shania Kennedy
Photo: Pixabay