Growing up, the idea of clothes being made beyond fascinated me. I thought all about the different types of machines used to dye, cut, and design each garment. I had this little notebook I would draw designs in, hoping one day I could own one of these magical machines. One thing my 5 year old mind could never fully grasp was how the clothes were sewn together. I ultimately ruled out that real life humans were sewing the clothes in my closet and was satisfied with the conclusion that a machine beyond my comprehension was meticulously sewing everything we see in stores. Eventually, I turned my focus away from design and I decided to take a path towards styling, closeting my question for the next 11 years.
A late restless night led me to watch 2am YouTube hauls to pass the time, as many others can relate to. I eventually fell down into a rabbit hole of videos and stumbled upon some people exploring and promoting a minimalist lifestyle. One of the components being a capsule closet, a closet typically including 30 to 50 items of clothes that fit well and can be mixed to create an assortment of outfits, which helps to promote shopping more intentionally. I became fascinated with the idea, but could not comprehend the overarching goal. Leading me down another rabbit hole that ultimately answered the question I could not figure out 11 years before. I was initially correct after all, real life humans are making the clothes we wear. But the means they go about creating so much product would have been traumatizing if I had been enlightened of the truths of fast fashion.
Fast fashion is the unethical production of clothes using intense labor and unethical sourcing. So many people in the US are completely ignorant to the industry as the conditions are so intolerable, companies are not able to legally apply fast fashion methods in the US. In order to maintain clientele, companies use unethical practices to stay in trend for a fraction of the price. As a result they are able to quickly distribute new products and sell at “cheap” prices. With consumers’ need for instant gratification growing, the cycle continues to worsen.
For women and children in many third world countries, specifically in Asia, fast fashion dictates their lives. A daily routine of a fast fashion worker in India can include waking up at 5am, walking to a structurally unsound building, sitting upright with maybe one break for 12 to 16 hours sewing hundreds of articles of clothing, and then walking home only to repeat the following day. It’s easy to think sitting in a chair and sewing could be worse, but that mindset is what’s destroying the chances to help the workers. They are often forced into labor or sold into it as a child, unable to pay debts in their lifetime. The few that are “optionally” working in these warehouses still not do not earn a living wage. It’s estimated that if each products’ price increased by about twenty cents, companies could pay a living wage. Unsurprisingly, the profit driven companies choose otherwise. Forcing women to meet impossibly daily quotas while using damaged and dangerous sewing machines, sitting in upright positions, not allowing for a human amount of breaks, forcing hundreds into collapsible buildings on a daily basis, etc. are only a few of the realities for thousands of women and children. It’s humbling to hear of the conditions they go through and think how could any person support these companies.
What most don’t know is that they are most likely wearing clothes made by people in the same conditions as they pondered that question. A majority of brands sold in the US and worn by people in the US are successful through fast fashion methods. This ranges from high end brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, to common brands such as Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, Free People, Athleta, Zaful, and countless others. It’s almost impossible to go into a closet and not find a piece of clothing sourced from fast fashion brands. Luckily there has been a rise in awareness as people have begun to call out and encourage the end to inhumane ideology. “Thrifting” has also been a part of recent fads, which allows people to stray from financially supporting unethical brands. A lot of brands have also come to light, including Reformation, Patagonia, American Apparel, People Tree, etc., that are committed to not only paying a living wage, but treating their workers as respectable humans. This has pushed other brands like H&M and Zara to actively work towards creating humane sourcing procedures. Although the end of fast fashion is nowhere near, there is more awareness being brought to the subject than ever before.
Understandably not everyone can afford to buy sustainably and eliminate fast fashion from their lives, but acknowledging its existence and the issues it poses is an improvement. In the end, the best way to help end fast fashion is to wear the clothing you already own.
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