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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

Ethical Clothing BrandsThe rise of the fast fashion industry in recent years has perpetuated unethical labor conditions for those working in the garment industry. Many of these workers are women and children who are forced to live in a vicious cycle of poverty because they do not receive living wages. However, in response to these human rights abuses, new clothing companies have emerged with a commitment to the ethical treatment of their workers. Here is a list of the top four ethical clothing brands.

Top 4 Ethical Clothing Brands

  1. Organic Basics- Organic Basics has become widely known among ethical clothing brands for its dedication to using eco-friendly materials and 100 percent recycled packaging. The company, as the name suggests, produces basics such as underwear, bras, socks, activewear and t-shirts for men and women, with a focus on using organic cotton. Organic Basics sources its final stage of production from countries that are at high-risk for labor abuses, such as Turkey and Portugal, but the company ensures that living wages are paid all across the supply chain. Organic Basics’ website also features a tool called the Impact Index, which allows customers to compare the company’s production practices with traditional production practices in terms of waste, chemicals, energy, emissions and water.
  2. Kowtow- Kowtow is a New Zealand-based brand producing womenswear and ceramics. Like other ethical clothing brands, Kowtow strives to ensure that living wages are paid across the supply chain. All of the company’s factories are also certified by SA8000, a standard of social accountability that indicates an organization’s commitment to the fair treatment of workers. SA8000’s measures evaluate organizations and brands through nine metrics: child labor, forced or compulsory labor, health and safety, freedom of association and right to collective bargaining, discrimination, disciplinary practices, working hours, remuneration and management system. Kowtow also uses only Fair Trade Labelling Organisations International (FLO) certified cotton in its products, allowing farmers to secure better prices for their cotton and supporting communities.
  3. People Tree- People Tree, launched in 1991 by award-winning social entrepreneur Safia Minney, is an ethical clothing brand creating high-quality essentials for women. The company sources from countries that are at high or extreme risk of labor abuse, such as Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Turkey, Portugal and Nepal. People Tree protects its workers by adhering to the Fairtrade International – Small Producers Organizations Code of Conduct. People Tree ensures that suppliers pay living wages and either visits or uses a third party to audit all suppliers in the supply chain to ensure that labor standards are met. As one of the oldest ethical fashion companies, People Tree was the first to be awarded the World Fair Trade Organization product label. The company also offers discounts for students on its website.
  4. HARA- HARA creates ethical bras, underwear, loungewear and scrunchies for women. The company’s vision is to have all of its supply chain in one location or country to ensure workplace safety and fair labor standards. Currently, all of HARA’s products are dyed, cut, sewn, packaged and shipped in Melbourne, Australia. According to the company’s website, “All employees work under the Australian Textile, Clothing, Footwear and Associated Industries Award 2010 which entitles them to the right to a living wage and ensure that wages for a normal workweek, not including overtime, shall always meet at least legal or industry minimum standards. Wages shall be sufficient to meet the basic needs and to provide some discretionary income.” Along with these requirements, the company also provides adequate breaks, time off, workplace lighting, climate and hygiene standards, a safe work environment and protection against discrimination.

These ethical clothing brands allow consumers to easily support clothing brands that are committed to the fair treatment of garment workers. These companies and consumers are breaking the cycle of poverty caused by the unethical practices of fast fashion companies.

– Shania Kennedy
Photo: Pixabay

Fast Fashion
Fast fashion is a term that the fashion industry uses to refer to the cheap manufacturing of runway styles in a quick manner and it has established dominance in today’s consumer market. Top brands like H&M, Zara and Forever 21 utilize this production technique to hook customers on seasonal goods through low-cost labor that often puts employees at risk. Several controversies in the past have led to disasters, taking the lives of thousands and putting into question the ethics of mass production. In the wake of such calamity, slow fashion has risen up as a movement against the large companies. Through the promotion of improved safety measures and higher quality groups, small businesses are attempting to counteract the damage done.

Fast Fashion Disasters

Past grievances physically showcase the drawbacks of the Fast Fashion industry. The work conditions often put employees in dangerous situations which results in severe consequences. The Rana Plaza Factory collapse goes down in history as an example of this for the fashion industry. The factory, located in Dhaka, Bangladesh, manufactured clothing for European and American companies. On April 24, 2013, the building collapsed in on itself and killed 142 employees in the destruction. The disaster was a wakeup call for most, as the building itself violated several safety codes and builders constructed the upper four floors without a permit. The event called into question the ethics and legality of mass production factories. Specifically, the fashion industry entered the debate because not only do companies put lives at risk, but the monetary compensation is notoriously low.

Low Wage Workers

Another significant aspect of this problem is the location of the factories. Companies often take advantage of underprivileged and impoverished nations in order to reduce costs. The wages that citizens of these countries receive often do not measure up to the amount they work. One prime example is with the brand H&M, which has faced recent backlash for failing to provide fair living wages to its workers in various countries, such as Bangladesh, India, Cambodia, Turkey and Bulgaria. While H&M responded by arguing that there is no global standard for a living wage, the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) found that workers in Cambodia earn approximately half of those in Turkey. It is therefore evident that the company has been taking advantage of the low quality of life in Cambodia and exploiting the poverty of the nation.

The Slow Fashion Movement

The slow fashion movement has surfaced in recent years as a response to the controversy surrounding fast fashion brands. Members of this crusade work to fight against current practices by producing higher quality goods in safer working conditions and for better pay. These businesses also receive help from organizations like the Good Business Lab, a start-up that focuses on finding a compromise between company goals and employee treatment. At the moment, the nonprofit is located in India and has a sister branch in the United States in order the spread the aid.

The Need for Consumer Awareness

With materials and business practices put under a lens, others have forced the fast fashion industry to refocus itself. The fashion industry is reframing products and their value in the eyes of the public. Additionally, it is finally addressing the imbalance between labor wages and work conditions for the employees. Ultimately, as consumers become more aware of the malpractice occurring behind closed glass store doors, these companies will have to reevaluate their practices and make some drastic changes.

Eleanora Kamerow
Photo: Flickr

Fast Fashion
The fashion industry used to be “four seasons in a year; now it may be up to 11, 15 or more.” This phenomenon is resulting in “fast fashion.” Currently valued at $1.2 trillion, with more than $250 billion spent in the U.S. alone, the fashion industry has exploded as increased wages have increased demand. With this overload in consumption, there is inevitably much waste which damages the environment and exploits poor workers.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 15.1 million tons of textile were created in 2013. More than three out of every four garments has been incinerated or put in landfills. Traditionally, the U.S. has tried to reduce waste by selling used clothing to countries such as Pakistan, India, and Russia. With the strong dollar and increasing availability of cheap clothing from Asia, however, demand for secondhand clothing has decreased. As a result,  large amounts of waste needed to be taken care of.

The fast fashion industry also imposes an immense burden on the environment. The industry produces “10 [percent] of global carbon emissions and remains the second largest industrial polluter, second only to oil.” Producers consume nearly 70 million barrels of oil a year in just the production of polyester fiber and dump 1.7 million tons of dyeing chemicals into the environment. The industry also goes through an estimated 1.5 to 2.4 trillion gallons of fresh water a year, polluting much of it and damaging both human health and the environment.

While recent progress has created worker empowerment, the use of cheap labor in the fashion industry has been marred by tragedy. In 2013, a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people. Like other countries experiencing immense poverty, Bangladesh would “see its economy collapse” without the textiles industry. Brands such as Gap, Adidas and H&M have also been criticized for using child labor, paying wages of 50 cents per hour and demanding 10-hour shifts. With other options only as good as intensive agricultural work, many uneducated women find these abusive jobs as their best options. Workers also have had very little leverage in negotiating their working terms and so have less job security.

As all these issues continue to be exposed, however, progress will continue to be made. Since the factory collapse, registered trade unions in Bangladesh have increased from three to 120 and wages nearly doubled. As consumers have grown warier, smaller brands have emerged to promote the “slow fashion movement,” where people shop for quality over quantity and buy products made of sustainable materials. Larger brands have also sought change. H&M and Patagonia launched trade-back programs where customers can send in unwanted clothing that will be recycled and sold again. Nike has also worked to eliminate child labor and improve working conditions.

Although it is always great to see businesses take the initiative in improving the fast fashion industry, the ultimate dictator of change is the customer. Customers are the deciding factor in what companies produce. If the purchasing culture changes to one where customers primarily value how companies have treated its workers and the environment, then the necessary change will follow.

Henry Gao

Photo: Flickr

Textile Industry in Bangladesh
In Bangladesh, there has been a trending migration from the Ganges Delta region into the cities. Governmental research teams estimate that around 1.5 million of Dhaka’s 5 million inhabitants have moved north from the Bay of Bengal delta region. The absence of agricultural work has forced Bangladeshis to relocate into the cities in search of factory and industry jobs.

Both domestic and foreign industries have taken notice of this in state migration and have made efforts to diversify and broaden Bangladesh’s economy. The intensified demand for factory jobs has caused an increase in competition and a desperation for work. Influxes of other ventures have made a significant impact on the Bangladesh economy. One global market that has benefited from these conditions is the textile and garment industry. Such businesses now command 80 percent of exports, 45 percent of the industrial workforce and 15 percent of the GDP in the country.

A recent phenomenon in the global garment industry is “fast fashion,” which utilizes cheap materials and labor to maximize production and minimize costs. In order to achieve these results, the industry is outsourced to foreign countries. There are currently over 4 million Bangladeshis working in textile and garment factories. Workers typically make less than $40 U.S. per month and are often subjected to overcrowded working conditions and long hours. Routinely considered modern slavery, destitute Bangladeshis are often underrepresented and easily taken advantage of in textile factories.

Since 2005, there have been over 2,000 deaths related to garment factory accidents. In April 2013, the Rana Plaza factory collapsed, killing over 1,100 workers. The factory was built on swampy marshland, completely unfit for any structure of its size. Investigations revealed that the foundation of the eight-story building was cracking and in need of serious repairs. Additionally, it appears that the top three stories were added illegally. Unfortunately, most garment factories in Bangladesh are in similar condition to the Rana Plaza factory.

While the Rana disaster was certainly not the first garment factory accident, its magnitude has garnered worldwide attention. Activists from 75 different countries have joined together to create “Fashion Revolution,” a group focused on providing resources for retailers, brands and consumers to educate themselves about the state of textile workers. The organization has worked to make the anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse, April 24, “Fashion Revolution Day.” On this day each year, world citizens are asked to wear their clothes inside out in an effort to recognize the origin of their garments.

Global retailers and brands, such as H&M, Walmart and Gap have called on Bangladesh to overhaul the industry. They have advocated for the institution of reforms and oversight procedures on factories and the workers’ rights. In response, the Bangladeshi government has received global recognition for their realignment efforts. The International Labor Organization (ILO) in Bangladesh has taken the initiative to set up a global fundraising campaign for the victims and families affected by the tragedy. In total, $21.5 million has been raised as compensation.

Additionally, the ILO has implemented governmental measures to streamline the initiation and registration of workers unions. In 2012 there were just over 100 worker unions, and there are currently under 500. The government has also instituted mandatory inspections of the 3,500 factories exporting clothing. So far, 35 factories have been shut down for violations ranging from building safety to working conditions.

Recently, the Bangladeshi law enforcement also pressed combination charges of murder and construction violations against Sohel Rana, the owner of the Plaza, and 41 others. This is a significant development, as garment factory owners in the past have been untouchable because of their influence economically. These efforts and changes made domestically and internationally could hopefully signal a new era of accountability and protection for the textile workers of Bangladesh.

– Frasier Petersen

Sources: The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, The Guardian 3, Business Insider, Ecouterre
Photo: Inquirer