Prior 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 the 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 impoverished that takes the glamour out of fashion. However, slow fashion stands as the antidote.
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 impoverished 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, individuals can help combat this by participating in “slow fashion.” Slow fashion stands as the antidote to fast fashion by prioritizing quality clothing that is made ethically and sustainably created to last. Here are some ways to participate in this movement.
How to Participate in Slow Fashion
- Good On You: Good On You is a site dedicated to bringing slow fashion to consumers. Type a brand into the directory and the site will provide you with an ethics and sustainability rating and a justification for the assessment. This is especially helpful if one is new to a brand.
- The Fashion Transparency Index: This is an assessment by experts of the 250 largest clothing retailers to provide an individual with insight into retailers’ ethics and production.
- Online Thrifting: Although rifling through a local thrift store is a fun adventure, for those looking for specific secondhand clothing, online stores are a helpful tool. Thredup’s site has something for every budget and resells household brand items at varying prices and conditions. Thredup also provides a clean-out kit for those who wish to sell or donate clothing. TheRealReal and Vestaire Collective provide for luxury consumers. For lovers of luxury items, these sites are perfect and the companies authenticate items for the purchaser.
- The 30 Wears Test: Before purchasing a clothing item, one must ask if one will wear it a minimum of 30 times. Take inventory of items one owns that will pair well with the said item.
- Learn how to mend clothing: Not only can this skill come in handy in case of emergency but instead of discarding an item that is damaged, one would be more inclined to fix it.
- Quality over quantity: Critics of sustainable fashion argue that its prices are too high. Investing in staple clothes that are built to last is more affordable in the long term than constantly buying cheaper and trendier items.
Fast fashion is tempting. The prices and designs are more attractive and accessible than many brands that source higher quality materials and pay their workforces more. But, as more people demand sustainable fashion, creative and affordable solutions become available. Together, consumers can demand better for the impoverished garment workers that create the world’s clothing, and thus, transform the industry.
– Elizabeth Stankovits