The Ethical Downsides of Fast Fashion
The term ‘fast fashion’ describes the rising component of the clothing industry that has taken the fashion world by storm since the early 2000s. As an attempt to meet high consumer demand, fast fashion businesses have become renowned for their speedy mass-production of replicas of catwalk and popular celebrity outfits whilst selling them for impressively low costs. Since then, the ‘fast’ in fast fashion has been demonstrated in every aspect of their operations: fast designs, fast production, fast advertising, fast selling, fast deliveries and even fast lifespans of their garments. At a fast glance, this industry appears to be of great convenience. Need a dress for tomorrow night’s party? Log onto Pretty Little Thing and after a few clicks it will be at your doorstep in the morning. Don’t have enough money for a designer bag? Hop into Primark and you can buy 20 for the same price… just of a slightly lower quality. It is easy to be pulled into the endless cycle of swiping your card for small transactions to receive additions to your wardrobe efficiently and not questioning anything. However, it is important to be aware of the realities of how these supposedly innocent companies actually manage to put on this performance and if they are still worth saving your money on, despite what truly goes on behind the scenes.
Although the cheap prices most fast fashion brands offer seem to be almost ideal for most consumers, this simply is not ideal for the workers. In September of 2020, Alison Levitt QC discovered from an investigation she had earlier launched that Boohoo, a UK-based fast fashion company founded in 2006, had significant issues regarding the treatment of factory workers located in Leicester. Firstly, the workers were extremely unsafe due to the alarming health and safety rules which had been blatantly disregarded by supervisors, such as the factory being under “unacceptably poor working conditions” and even having “a significant risk of a disaster in the future”, such as fatal fires. On top of this, despite the minimum wage in the region being £8.72, the staff were receiving rates of only £3.50. This horrid treatment exerted by Boohoo directors only becomes more sickening upon finding out that they had been aware of the unhealthy and illegal environment since December 2019, a year before Alison Levitt QC’s report had been published and research had taken place. She claims the Boohoo senior directors refused to act due to their priorities being solely concerning the gain of profit and money from fast fashion instead of basic human rights.
The treatment of workers worsens overseas. Bangladeshi factories are known for being victims to the ethical emptiness of fast fashion leaders. Around 60% of clothes on the European market are produced in Bangladesh, which is also the second largest apparel manufacturer in the world to China. In 2013, Rana Plaza, an eight-storey building holding 2,000 workers producing clothes for international brands collapsed in 90 seconds, instantaneously killing 1,134 innocent, underpaid, overworked labourers. Many believed this should act as a pivotal moment for the superiors forcing workers to toil under harsh and unforgiving conditions, and for a while this was the case. Around 250 companies signed agreements to ensure safety measures were met and hazards were avoided. Since, the safety of buildings and factories has improved in Bangladesh and several other countries. However, there are still many steps required for fast fashion businesses to take, in particular ensuring workers are paid fairly, even if this results in raising prices of their products or are forced to lower their own personal wages.
Fast fashion has been at an all time high and many are to believe this is a consequence of increasing consumerism linked to social media influencers and online advertising. With many cheap fashion brands collaborating or paying popular social media stars to promote their businesses, consumers can easily grab a discount to already inexpensive prices for attire, hence fueling fast fashion brands’ reputations and profits. Their speedy delivery times coupled with the low prices magnetise consumers to buy again and again, despite low quality clothing which can only be worn a limited number of times. As a result, these infectious brands are very unsustainable and, by 2050, it is believed that the clothing industry will be responsible for almost a quarter of the Earth’s carbon emissions. Change can still be made, however, it does often seem as though our generation has become reliant on cheap prices.
When American congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also known as AOC, released jumpers promoting taxes on the rich, anti-racism and being more environmentally friendly, many people jumped at the fact that she was selling this merchandise for $58 (£42.27), which was deemed too high and expensive by consumers. Despite this, AOC took the opportunity to highlight that this price was perfectly appropriate as the attire had been produced by workers who were paid a “decent wage”, as well as being “made in the US”. This case clearly indicates the extent to which online influencers have manipulated consumers into buying primarily low price products by promoting cheap access to clothing to the point where it is almost shocking to see expensive attire that is not from a designer brand. Going forward, it should be vital for brands to notify consumers on the wages and treatment of workers, just as AOC has done as it is only ethically correct.
We can start making changes by avoiding purchases from fast fashion companies for the safety and welfare of the labourers. Instead, it is important to buy from brands that promote basic ethics and provide basic human needs and rights to their workers all across their company. Understandably, this can often be too pricey for some and that is where Apricus comes into play. With our new product ‘Sew Simple’ you can easily upcycle your old or disliked clothing into something trendy and fashionable by following the guide that comes alongside the craft kit. Not only will you be helping the environment more than these unethical brand owners are doing, but you will also be relieving the underpaid workers from being forced to work in favourable and dangerous conditions. Think ethical. Think simple. Sew simple.
Jim Armitage, Boohoo directors knew of poor conditions at factories but failed to act fast enough, damning report finds (25/9/20) Retrieved from the Evening Standard: https://www.standard.co.uk/business/boohoo-prettylittlething-nasty-gal-factories-leicester-a4555981.html
Rana Plaza, five years on: safety of workers hangs in balance in Bangladesh (24/4/18) Retrieved from the Guardian:
Lucy Siegle How Instagram Influencers Fuel Our Destructive Addiction To Fast Fashion (07/02/2019) Retrieved from Huffpost US: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/fast-fashion-influencers-instagram-fashion-nova-waste-climate-change_n_5c5ae8ffe4b0871047598750?ri18n=true&guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly9jb25zZW50LnlhaG9vLmNvbS92Mi9jb2xsZWN0Q29uc2VudD9zZXNzaW9uSWQ9M19jYy1zZXNzaW9uXzEwMGMxYjRkLTZhNTUtNGQ2My1iMzQ2LWM2ZjM3OWM2YjkzYQ&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAL17wSfHUaolTR1y223MrWATG4OBAW86wzVNPeMSXZOIfLzDQsg6cCjDzQtycb6yfQtw9EtaT0c0qpkn1W5-MNuxHl4bGkO7IMDPqZYAmJdg_Lt9FIhQGwSYPvpEllL2CjgOyluL8MrLa8zdT22MmgKBPFcegmdp6C6-hbuP_SSn
Chelsea Ritschel, AOC RESPONDS TO CRITICISM OVER CAMPAIGN SELLING $58 ‘TAX THE RICH’ SWEATSHIRT (3/12/20) https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/aoc-tax-the-rich-sweatshirt-merch-b1765988.html