You’ve likely been in the following scenario: You have an event to go to next weekend, so you hit up the mall’s cheap, readily available fast fashion stores like H&M. Stores like this use glamourous models to sell their products who aren’t quite so glamourous that you don’t resonate with them. Their ads make you feel like if you buy their clothing you’ll look and feel just as rich and confident as they are. And you do – until the feeling fades and you crave a new garment all over again.
Fast fashion stores make you feel good about yourself because you’re able to afford the same expensive-looking clothes that you see the models wearing. But what’s the true cost of making cheap, readily-available clothing?
We’ve heard of sweatshops and know that they’re awful, but what can we really do about them? You and I are not terrible people – we share socially aware articles with our friends, volunteer for causes important to our hearts and even give away the clothing we buy to charity. But what we don’t understand is what actually goes behind the scenes of a single article of clothing we buy and how that affects not only a worker’s entire life, their generation and their country – but in fact the environment, the economy and the fate of the future as well.
You and I know about how corporate greed uses materialism to feed into a system that provides the 1% with everything and the rest with very little. But because we’re socially conscious we tend to only buy fast fashion for special occasions. We were taught that these factories are supplying third world countries with jobs, so even though their labour laws aren’t as good as the ones in the first world it can’t be that bad right?
The truth is, in places like Bangladesh, factories are catching fire or even collapsing due to unregulated working conditions under the excuse of free trade. This is leaving corporations blame-free and factory owners keeping their workers on the line despite bars blocking the windows or cracks in the walls with the threat of corporations going to other countries if they don’t do better than last quarter.
In 2012, a sweatshop burned to the ground in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing 110 people. In 2013, another factory in the same area collapsed to rubble in the biggest sweatshop disaster thus far, murdering 1,129 people. These are just a couple stories of fast fashion gone wrong, and when you understand how close to home these cases are it’s impossible to ignore.
The clothing industry in Bangladesh works with many brands including H&M, Wal-Mart, JC Penny and The Gap. Specifically, H&M is able to sell us hoodies for $25 because the workers who sew them – mostly women – make roughly 50 cents per hour. This is not a living wage even in the third world, and when workers rise up to protest they’re met with extreme violence and many are killed by police. Because the government needs the money from first world countries, they turn a blind eye to these inhumane working conditions.
Of course the cost of human labour in factories is only one example of how deep fast fashion impact our planet. For Indian farmers who supply these factories with cotton, they’re forced to buy Monsanto’s expensive pesticides and often go into debt, bankruptcy and depression. In the last decade, it’s believed that more than 250,000 killed themselves. That’s roughly one farmer every 30 minutes. Often the farmers drink Monsanto’s insecticide to end their lives. As well, the chemicals that end up in the water cause deformations in children and illnesses to those living in the villages, causing more disability and more money spent on treatment.
So now that we know a little about how horrible sweatshops actually are, what can we really do to take care of our needs while not harming others in the process? The first step is educating ourselves about how this corporate system is affecting not only third world countries but the world as a majority as well. This will help us remember what’s going on behind the glamorous ads and instead to change the system by discontinuing to shop at involved stores.
To improve the condition of our planet we can shop at thrift stores, have clothing swaps and order ethical and local brands like People Tree and C&C California. However, the cost of these stores can be expensive and for many of us living with less resources it’s simply not realistic to shop anywhere other than Wal-Mart. But for many others, we can begin to make smarter choices and change the system from the inside. We can set an example with our wallets that nobody’s life is worth another’s.
Originally published in the Winter 2016 Issue.
For more information on the true cost of fast fashion and what corporations to avoid go to www.truecostmovie.com.