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Fast Fashion: The Social and Environmental Costs

Fast Fashion by definition is “inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends”. What does that make you think of? You may think about the last article of clothing you purchased online or the spring clearance sale you took full advantage of. Fast fashion has emerged more prominently within the last decade and has become a huge threat to the environment, human rights, health and jobs of people who gain less than a live-able wage. This has become such a threatening issue that the British government is considering setting taxes on fast fashion products to help slow down the rate of purchases. These types of brands remain highly successful for many reasons. They have found a way to dominate their competitors who otherwise might have a moral compass. Consumers are asking for more and purchasing more. Trends are switching every month. Trend setting and styling has become a career for so many social media influencers. And I don’t just mean their barely getting by, I mean others went to school and got their law degree while their friend from high school is making just as much posting their “OOTD” (outfit of the day). I am not comparing one versus the other I am purely trying to emphasize that as a society we have held fashion and lifestyle trends at an extremely high importance. There is no longer a difference between the styles our favourite celebrities wear and ours, we can achieve their looks or aspire to recreate their style at a fraction of the cost. There is no longer a distinction between high fashion (novelty styles) and high street fashion (styles readily available). Yes, there are name brands and couture houses that make a statement of their own but when it comes to style (predominantly in western society) there are no longer distinctions.

So where did this come from? How did shopping become a hobby and not a necessity?

When the industrial revolution emerged and new manufacturing processes were developed, the sewing machine was amongst the new developments. Before this, garments were sourced from raw materials and handmade to last years, this was called the cottage industry. But manufacturing processes started incorporating mass garment production in factories. The standards for factory workers were by no means established at this point, the faster workers could produce the better, the population was only growing which meant demand was increasing. Regulations and laws were underway during the progression of the industrial revolution. For example, " the cotton factories regulation act of 1819" was passed and stated that no child under 9 is allowed to work and for only 12 hours a day. Labour laws are beginning to develop at this time but by no means flawless (as you can see). But keep in mind this revolution occurred predominantly in Europe and the United States, this is not talking about the regulation developments in underdeveloped parts of the world.

Flash forward to today, 200 years later and still we see the use of illegal labour practices or worse no regulations at all. We don't see headlines regarding factory workers in our local or national news because deaths due to overworked factory workers occur overseas, where these individuals are given no choice but to work under the worst conditions just to support their families. They sit sewing hundreds of garments a day that will be shipped out to western societies where we can enjoy the fruits of their labour for a couple months until we discard and repeat this cycle. When I am talking poor working conditions I am talking about sexual assault, child labour, over working, under paid (if paid at all), toxic air qualities. I urge you to take the time to read about a few women who make the clothes on our backs, thanks to Re/make a non-profit organization pushing for sustainable development and transparency in the fashion industry, they interviewed a few women to get a taste of what their lives look like as factory workers. Click the link below:

In 2013 we saw the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh fall to ashes with more than 1000 workers dead and over 2500 injured. This was an establishment producing garments for Primark, Joe Fresh, Walmart, Mango… the video below contains graphic photographs but in order to bring transparency and hold organizations accountable I believe it is important to watch.

These companies were all responsible for this event and still because consumers demand more they continue to pay factory owners to produce their garments, at the fastest rate for the lowest cost. In 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist factory went up in flames and so did the lives of 140 factory workers, the fire started from a poorly disposed cigarette but the reason for the deaths was because the exists were locked to make sure no breaks were taken by the workers.

This is the reality of our world today, Rana Plaza was one factory out of thousands who operate under the same conditions. These are registered factories, please keep in mind that large brand name companies will find a way to also go through unregistered factories where workers are treated even worse. Where the garments that are being created are better protected than the humans making them. We are all living in a world where modern day slavery exists, children who should be learning about the history of sweatshops are instead working for one, human beings no different from you or me, are continuously considered less than retail companies order forms. But the reason this isn’t something we learn in history class and is instead only growing is because we as consumers are driving the market. Companies are now producing 400% more clothes than they did 20 years ago. Brands are launching around 52 micro-collections each year. The second one style hits the shelf, a new one is already under production.

Fast Fashion is the product of increased consumer demand for poor quality trendy garments. These products are not made to last. They are made to last until the next trend is available and the cycle will continue. Meanwhile innocent lives are lost, children are abused, women and men are assaulted, rivers are toxic, air quality is life threatening, environments are destroyed. And this industry is only growing, with today's world of social media and internet capabilities we continue to see the emergence of these fast fashion type of brands.

It starts with us, as consumers we drive the market. We pay for these companies to continue to operate as they do. By purchasing we are giving them the green light. As heavy as that sounds it's how this cycle continues. Bringing light on this subject (that I know so many of you have probably heard of) will hopefully spread awareness of the monster that is fast fashion.

Take it or leave it, but my advice is this - start by creating habits of your own, asking yourself by giving a certain company money what am I allowing and what am I gaining? Is it immediate gratification that will last me no longer than an hour? Or does this company align with my morals and ethics? Are they active in changing the standards that are so prominent in the fashion industry or are they no better than the Joe Fresh's or Mango's of the world?

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