The biggest industry in the world is fashion. The impact of fast fashion is massive, but we don’t know about the catastrophes, the politics, the environmental contamination, the suicides… behind fast fashion. TODAY you will understand it all.
Fashion goes fast. 50 years ago women had only two dresses.
Now there’s no more such as 4 seasons. In the western world, there are 52 seasons related to fashion; one season for each week of the year.
But have we ever thought about the real impact of the fashion industry? Who produces them and how? How connected are we really to other humans in regards to clothing?
From our consumer perspective, we can easily have a wardrobe full of clothes and still feel like you have anything to wear. You go shopping one week and the following one you are already out of date, as there will be something new in the shops again.
The fashion brands want consumers to buy as much clothing as quickly as possible. So what is fashion? It is the concept that you should throw clothes away not when they are no longer usable, but when no longer has the social value or is no longer fashionable.
Brands can offer cheap clothing, which allows us to throw away clothes without thinking about the consequences. As well, the fast fashion industry makes us believe we are wealthy or rich because we can buy a lot, by getting $5 for a t-shirt or $20 for a pair of jeans.
How did the clothing industry get to the point of being able to produce fast and cheap fashion?
The first reason is that we no longer produce our clothing in Europe or the United States. While in the 60’s USA was still making the 95% of the clothes, today only a 3%. The remaining outsourcing 97% is, going to developing countries around the world.
Multinational companies arrive in countries such as India, China or Cambodia, where the workforce is already very cheap. Then, they threatened the local businesses and factories to get even cheaper production so they can offer more competent prices. If the country doesn’t accept these terms, they are risking the industry to leave and be poorer. Underdeveloped countries want the business so badly there’s no other option.
Here’s an example:
The brand X sells their T-shirts for $5, but the brand Y sells them for $4; so, brand X will come next and say “Hey, brand Y is selling them for $4, we need them cheaper”. The business owners in underdeveloped countries are always finding themselves in the situation of squeezing their prices.
Other disasters of the Fast Fashion industry
Also, local businesses have to cut corners in management and safety to reach the requested threshold, which has lead disasters such as the one happened in 2013 in Rana Plaza (Bangladesh, India).
Over 1,129 people had to die, even if long time earlier workers pointed out to the managers that there were cracks in the building – but still were forced to go back inside to work. This is without doubt the worst garment industry disaster ever.
However, there’s been few more such as Ali Enterprises, with 289 dead. Or Tazreem Fashion factory, where 112 more people died. Seems that working under these conditions has become something accepted and common in underdeveloped countries.
The reaction of the fashion multinationals?
Fashion industries and entrepreneurs defend this situation with arguments such as:
“sewing is not a dangerous job,” “there’s nothing to bother about them spending their lives producing clothing for other people in the USA or Europe” because “at least they have a job.”
Another typical answer is that “the jobs Americans and Europeans are offering to them are a much better option than the alternatives available in their own country.”
So the factory disasters, low wages, children, and worker exploitation… Are an excuse because of the jobs they create for people with no alternatives. And those who are the most vulnerable are, at the same time, the worst paid.
Fashion, a $3 trillion annual industry
Lucy Siegle says in the True Cost documentary,
“One of the biggest and most profitable industries in the world, why is it that it’s not able to guarantee their safety, which is an essential human right?”
Fast fashion wants to produce fast, so the garment worker has to do it quicker and cheaper; their job is vital for this industry to exist. But the employee is the only point of the supplying chain where brands squeeze their margins.
The city of Phom Denh in Cambodia sadly became famous because of the protests occurred in 2014. While they were claiming a minimum wage of 160$/month (Cambodians considering this to live with dignity!), multiple police attacks happened to stop them and converting the place in a battleground for days: 5 killed worker, 24 people arrested, and over 40 injured.
The Government and population are desperate for the work that multinational retailers bring. Because of the constant threat of these brands to take all the production to other low-cost countries, the Government holds down the wages consistently so to avoid the enforcement of local labour laws.
Who is making the laws in the underdeveloped countries?
Barbara Briggs, director of the Institute for Labour Rights, explains during her interview in The True Cost documentary:
“If you contact any of those companies they will send you their code of conduct. And it is beautiful: it says “oh yes, we take responsibility for the conditions under which our product is made. The product that you buy, all the factories where we produce, we require them to respect the minimum wage laws, to respect women, to not hire children, no forced labour, no excessive overtime hours”.
“But when a few years ago we submitted a proposal to Congress named The descent working conditions and fair competition act, the companies responded in one voice: “Oh, no! That would be an impediment to fair trade; we can’t have these rules”. They have fought (and WON) for the law that allows them to keep everything in voluntary codes of conduct, which only protects their interests.”
The brands don’t officially employ the workers neither own any if the factories they produce; so they can profit hugely all while remaining free of responsibility, for the effects of poverty wages, factory disasters and the on-going violent treatment of co-workers.
The fast fashion impact is HUGE. Around 40 million people are working at the garment factory, from which 4 million people are located in Bangladesh. Here, more than 5,000 factories produce for western brands. Also, over the 85% are women, with a minimum wage of $3/day (the lowest paid garment workers in the world).
One every six people in the world today work in the global fashion industry making it the most labour-dependant industry on Earth.
These people should be rewarded instead of exploited.
Without human capital, cheap labour, cheap female labour, it would not be generating the profits that it is.
Tansy Hoskins – author of “Stitched-up,” reckons that:
“Fashion retailers don’t go to Bangladesh for any other reason than pushing wages down and getting the cheapest labour as possible. In Bangladesh, there’s no such as collective rights, no trade union, very low minimum wage, no maternity benefits, no pensions. That’s why the Fashion Industry is in Bangladesh.”
What is fast fashion costing the Earth?
But to what other consequences is the fast fashion industry leading? Are we accounting for the costs of those clothes the use of resources such as water, land, chemicals, or gas emissions?
And this is what we are producing on the fast fashion impact. We purchase over 80 billion of pieces of new clothing each year. We buy a 400% more than two decades ago. Only Americans throw the rubbish 82 pounds of textile waste each year. Massive amount regarding that 11 million each year of textile waste is from the U.S.A only. Most of this waste is non-biodegradable sitting in the landfill for 200 years or more, releasing harmful gases into the air.
Now we move to Texas, in the USA. Here there are fields of over 3,6 million acres, forming the most significant cotton patch in the world. In the past 10 years, the 80% has turned to be GMO (Genetically Modified) cotton.
As well, the farms instead of spot spraying the weed occasionally, or hiring labourers to walk the field and eliminate the weeds, they are now spraying the whole fields. There’s no natural growth of the plant, but the land becomes a factory: treating all the acres the same, putting a dose of chemicals on it all.
This is an intensification of the agriculture, and what kind of impact is that having on our soil? What kind of impact is that having on our people, in our communities? Where is the cost on that?
Fertilisers or pesticides are equal to ecological narcotics. The more fertilisers you use, the more you need to use them. This is equal to soil contamination.
And the effects of these chemicals on humans’ health…
Dr Priptal Sing, director Faridkot Center India, mentions in the True Cost Documentary that studies show there’s a dramatic rise in congenital disabilities, cancers and mental illness.
“Between 70 to 80 kids in every village, such as Punjab, they found severe mental retardation and physical handicaps. And mothers and families are patiently waiting for their children to die, as they cannot afford a treatment either”.
The fertilisers and pesticide companies are utterly refusing this being a consequence of the use of their products. In fact, the businesses that are doing GMO seeds are the same one that is doing the chemicals, as well as the medicines they are now patenting.
“So you get cancer, there are more profits. For them it’s a win win win win…” Vandana Shiva, Environmental Activist.
People of the towns, farmers and poor people just loose. Then it comes the day where they cannot afford the debts for purchasing the expensive GMO seeds, and the company goes to the farmer and claims the land in exchange. “That day the farmer will go into his field, drink a bottle of pesticide and end his life,” tells Vandana Shiva.
In the past 16 years, there have been recorded over 250,000 farmer suicides in India. That’s about 1 farmer every 30 minutes, the most extensive record of suicides in history.
But there’s more. Other consequences are the contamination of rivers. In Kanpur, India (the most prominent export capital), the river Ganga (the holiest river, important for 800 million of Hindus) is contaminated with Chromium, a component that attacks the liver directly, making the water not drinkable.
But the vegetables are produced with contaminated water. We need to step back and think about it.
Donating clothes to charity doesn’t solve excess of fashion. It turns out that only the 10% of the clothes are donated get sold in these stores. If the charity cannot sell them, they pack and ship them to third countries. Most of them end up in Haiti, which has caused their clothing industry to disappear.
We cannot afford to keep ignoring others peoples lives; the social justice and the environmental destruction.
Shall we share the benefits of the industry globally?
A positive fact is that there is a considerable amount of brands emerging to work towards sustainable and ethical fashion, which hopefully will lead the change the world needs.
If you want to learn more about this, we highly recommend you to watch the True Cost movie available on Netflix, which has inspired us to take action to inform all the consumers about the reality behind the fast fashion industry.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the fashion industry so make sure you comment below.