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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