Fashion can seem pretentious, nothing more than an industry driven by materialistic ideologies, with an unsettling hunger for riches from its curators. Yet, this needn’t always be the case.
The fashion industry is a strong force in the corporate world. It has shaped the lives and attributed to the successes of many a people. From the likes of Audrey Hepburn to Michelle Obama, and maybe even you. But the fashion industry as we knew it in centuries past is no longer relevant today.
Today, fast fashion drives the apparel industry and its effects are not always something to be proud of. The industry has become the second most polluting industry in the world. As we move away from local production in favor of offshore manufacturing, not only is our planet being destroyed but so are the human beings making our clothes.
What if I were to ask you, “Do you support child labor? Human trafficking? Modern-day slavery?” Anyone with an ounce of human decency would know that the answers to these questions are rather simple.
Now, what if I were to tell you, that the stores you choose to shop at and the garments you wear are a medium of support for companies enabling these atrocities.
Fast fashion comes with its consequences. Using cheaper textiles and manufacturing offshore allows cheap labor costs, which translates into cheaper clothing. And this would make you believe that by shopping at stores such as H&M and Zara you are saving yourself money in the long run. Yet, this is not always true.
Companies look to their buyers for influence. And the reality is, we have become a society of over-consumption. We buy and buy with no end in sight.
Not long ago, designers would release a new collection every season: fall, winter, spring and summer. Seems rational. Now, it is commonplace for companies to release a new line up to twice a month! And so our buying continues. Our closets are flooding with clothing, and yet the notion of “I have nothing to wear” is much too familiar. Clothes don’t come cheap without a cost. As the pricing of our garments decreases, so does their quality. We find ourselves throwing away clothing after just a few washes and buying to replace relentlessly.
The truth is, in this quick cycle, the facts about who is making our clothing and where they are made is often concealed. And if you’re blessed to be living with an average household income in a developed country with labor rights, it’s unlikely you question the ethics behind your clothing. But no one is going to serve this information to you on a silver platter. No one wants to talk about the 10-year-old boy working in a hazardous warehouse, with a below minimum wage, while struggling to provide for his family in a foreign land who made the top you’re about to purchase. So these stories continue to go untold. Until tragedy strikes–tragedies like the 2013 garment factory collapse in Bangladesh. (It was the worst the fashion industry had seen, leaving over 1000 dead, and resulting in over 38 murder charges for the heinous working conditions placed by the factory owners.)
Why is it we fail to acknowledge our ignorance? Why must hundreds die for us to wake up and realize we are a crucial part of this equation? It is our responsibility to do our own research and figure out if the labels we are buying share our common values. We live in an era where we are privileged to have the opportunities we do. The freedom of online shopping gives us access to apparel designers all over the world. Find a brand that shares your values and works towards a cause you feel strongly towards and support them. Educate yourself and those around you about the truths behinds some of these bigger labels we blindly support.
I know what some may be thinking, “I shop at places like H&M because it’s all I can afford, shopping ethically is expensive, it’s not in my budget”.
But, buying ethically is not the impossible feat that some make it out to seem. There are many ways to be more cognizant of your buying decisions. You can start by shopping less. Ask yourself, do you really need that 10th pair of dark wash jeans? What about thrifting your clothes? Finding a special piece in a thrift shop will give you a high I can’t quite explain. Or, try buying local. Go check out the boutiques in your city, ask about the designers and their stories. It’s cool to know the story behind the garments you’re wearing, and you’ll feel good knowing you’re making a difference. Yes, sometimes buying ethically still can be more expensive, but the extra 10- 20 or more dollars is worth it every single time.