Fast Fashion Impact Garment Workers
Fast fashion. We hear it so often now. But what is it, and how can we help reduce it?
Fast fashion is manufacturing, designing, and marketing methods. It is when companies make low-quality products (or use low-quality materials) to create cheap and accessible garments for people. However, these cheap garments are the reason for overwhelming amounts of consumption. And during COVID, there is an even larger demand. According to Forbes, 62% of US shoppers said that the amount they spent on online US retailers was 44.4% higher than before the pandemic. This means that garment workers, the environment, and your wallet take a huge hit. In fact, according to Good On You, 93% of brands surveyed by the Fashion Checkers said they don’t pay their garment workers a living wage. This is a direct result of fast fashion, demand, and the huge amount of supply that companies bring.
Almost all popular brands that we love, see, and wear participate in fast fashion. Urban Outfitters, GUESS, Gap, Pretty Little Thing, Missguided, Mango, H&M, Zara, Adidas, ASOS, and Shine admit to participating. However, that's only the tip of the iceberg of some of your most common brands.
So how does fast fashion affect garment workers? That is a very good question and a question which we need to speak more about. It’s not that we don’t speak about ‘fast fashion’, it’s that often when we do we are speaking of it in terms of sustainability (which is also extremely important). This means that even when we are trying to abolish ‘fast fashion’ we don’t think about the garment workers. When garment workers work in fast fashion brands, they experience inhumane working conditions, not getting a living wage, extremely long working hours, health and safety worries and conditions, child labor, forced labor, the prohibition of workers unions and so many more harsh side effects.
The reason that fast fashion companies can participate in such horrible activities is our demand. A deeper introspection would reveal the role we - as a consumer - are playing in fast fashion, and how we contribute to and to some extent influence the working conditions for these garment workers. These problems form from our demand. And fast fashion companies use girls and women living in poverty (who already have such tough lives) because of the already existing living conditions of the garment workers. Many garment workers are girls and women who are already living in poverty (often in India, Bangladesh, China, and Thailand, however, there are many more) and are deprived of many basic needs. These companies often also lie about the conditions, the money, and the hours, and so these women and girls go willingly to work. Often it is promised that women and girls will get three meals a day provided, decent wages, and time off school for girls however these people don’t get any of the above. So they go to work, hoping to make $195 a month to maybe if they are ‘lucky’ $400 a month. It was found that less than 2% of fast fashion companies' earnings go to the garment workers and are given as wages. Moreover, according to Medium, 85% of women in Bangladesh work in the garment industry. In 2011, Stitched up created a report of these women in Bangladesh it was revealed that ¾ of women workers who are spoken to had been verbally abused and that ½ had been physically beaten. Moreover, it revealed that 80% of workers exceeded the legal limit of working hours just to meet up the unrealistic deadlines which are set by the companies.
Moreover, in Dhaka (in April 2013), a factory collapsed. It was revealed that there was a 400-page report which said that the building was a hazard, and was not safe to use. However, the factory bosses decided that they were not a concern. The next day when the generator was turned on, the building collapsed. According to Clean Clothes, 1,134 people died and 2,600 people were left injured. Other people were trapped under the concrete and factory for hours waiting to be saved. This was such a sorrowing event, and the company and building owners were at fault for it. However (according to Medium) out of the 29 identified companies using things, products, and people from these factories, only 9 attended meetings in which they agreed to compensation for the workers and their families. Mango - the world-renowned brand - was not one of them. 20 companies did nothing to help the probably thousands of workers who had been injured, passed away, or struck by this awful disaster. So there is no doubt that fast fashion fast tracks lives. And that is unacceptable.
This article could go on for hours talking about the heart-wrenching stories and statistics about the impacts of fast fashion. But we need to stop fast fashion as soon as possible. So what can you do?
It isn’t too difficult to be a part of the change in stopping fast fashion. There are a few things you can do almost instantly to help start to rectify the situation.
If legally you can, sign petitions which ask for these companies to be much more ethical. For example, there are ones from Global Labour Justice (https://globallaborjustice.org/).
Try your best to explore alternative options to stop fast fashion. If you simply learn to fix a button, a zipper, or a hole could stop you from adding another pair of pants into your cart, which in turn leads to garment workers risking their lives, going to awful conditions.
Try your hardest to not over-consume, and end up with 15 things in your cart leaving you indecisive on what to buy.
Support ethical stores, and become a moral consumer. This includes buying from brands that question and challenge fast fashion and these huge retailers.
Demand to know. Demand to get transparency over the conditions, the production, and workforce that big retailers have and provide. Raising concerns will help remedy the problem. So raise your concerns.
You don’t need to be on the board of these big fashion companies to make a change.
Remember that you are the company. The companies rely on you for their revenue, for their work, and their money. If there is one thing that we know - it's that these companies care about money. So let’s start to combat fast fashion.
Prisha Gupta, Jumeirah College