This week, we look beyond the markups of clothes. We want to shine the spotlight on the hands that make the clothes you wear, and the faces behind the sewing machines. The fashion industry has reinvented itself, and the term ‘Fast Fashion’ has become an industry norm. For instance, big brands like Zara stocks its shelves with 300,000 new different SKUs every year.
Definition of fast fashion:
“Fast fashion” is a term used by fashion retailers to describe inexpensive designs that move quickly from the catwalk to stores to meet new trends. As a result of this trend, the tradition of introducing new fashion lines on a seasonal basis is being challenged.
The Victims & Criminals of the Fast Fashion Industry
In an eye-opening documentary by Andrew Morton, The True Cost sheds light on the fast fashion industry. The 1h 30 mins film revealed the true victims of the industry – garment factory workers. These are the people that are at the bottom of the fast fashion supply chain.
In a bid to compete on affordable fashion, brands force their factories to keep manufacturing costs low. In the documentary, an owner of a garment factory in Bangladesh said, “Everyday (the brands) are hampering me, and I am hampering my workers. That’s just how it is”
In turn, factories cut corners on the material and wages of workers. In Bangladesh, garment workers earn little more than 3,000 taka a month (SGD$20). Many are forced to work 14-16 hours a day seven days a week, with some workers finishing at 3am only to start again the same morning at 7.30am. On top of this, workers face unsafe, cramped and hazardous conditions which often lead to work injuries and factory fires.
The extreme pressure from brands to cut cost and deliver fast cycles of apparel has led to significant consequences. In 2013, a building that housed multiple garment factories in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed. The building was built without structural integrity, and owners ignored warnings to avoid using the building after cracks had appeared. However, to keep up with corporate orders from brands like Mango and Primark, garment workers were ordered to return to the building.
Criminals of the Fast Fashion Industry
The documentary puts big corporations under the criminal spotlight. Naturally, corporations must take responsibility for their greed to expand their pockets at the expense of others. While that is reasonable and fair, consumers like you and I should assume some responsibility.
Fast fashion companies are dependent on consumer behaviour; when we chase trends and demand for wardrobe makeovers, corporations cater to our demands and put pressure on manufacturers. In other words, we are the indirect driving force behind the phenomenon of fast fashion, making US the biggest criminals.
Quality, over quantity.
As consumers, we do not think much about the “Made in Bangladesh” labels sewn on our clothes. But woven invisibly into the fabric of the clothes we wear are stories of individuals who cut and stitch the shirts that we pick from store shelves.
With the increasing awareness of ethical fashion, it is possible to buy and live sustainably. In Singapore, brands like Matter strive to make a difference, and only work with factories that engaged in fair practices. Thus, consumers can, and should place more emphasis on quality, instead of quantity. Fast fashion items are unsustainable, and will not last you through the years. Instead, opt for quality apparels that are durable and also made ethically.
It does take a lot of determination to quit the addictive lifestyle of Fast Fashion. If you need more convincing, catch the documentary ‘The True Cost’ on Netflix to understand the consequences of Fast Fashion.