Fast fashion is the fashion industry’s top trend, producing clothes that are cheaper than every. No longer does the fashion industry celebrate four seasons a year, but instead celebrates 52 micro-seasons. Companies like H&M, Zara and Forever 21 make it affordable for almost anyone to buy into this week’s trend.
The average American buys 64 garments a year, up 400% in 20 years, and that garment is worn an average of seven times before it is thrown away. The negative environmental impact of this lands the fashion industry just behind the oil and gas industry as the world’s most polluting industry, but that is for another blog.
The real atrocity is the human cost to cheap clothes. Despite the low cost of these clothes, fast fashion companies are highly profitable. The chairman of H&M is the richest person in the world, while the co-founder of Zara is the fourth richest. How are these companies able to sell clothes at rock bottom prices, while remaining highly profitable? By shipping the jobs off to third-world countries that have little to no labor laws. Today only 2% of clothing is made in America, down from 50% in 1990.
Child labor, abysmally low pay and dangerous working conditions are the norm in these factories, not the exception. A vast majority of factory workers are uneducated children and young women with little employment opportunities.
Since the 1990s when Nike and Kathie Lee first shed light on the atrocities of oversees factories, these issues pop up every few years. The most recent was the Rana Plaza tragedy that killed over 1,100 garment workers in Bangladesh and wounded over 2,200 more.Yet, as quickly as these incidents popup they are forgotten.
Fair trade, which is usually associated with coffee, offers a solution for those who want to know the workers making their clothes are paid and treated correctly. Fair trade addresses the injustices of the conventional trade by paying living wages and offering safe working conditions. Small co-ops developing textiles and handmade goods alongside friends and neighbors are the norm.
Whether it is called fair trade fashion, sustainable fashion or ethical fashion, the number of companies using fair practices are on the rise. Make sure when you make your upcoming holiday purchases, that you know who makes your clothes and how they are treated.