Once known as a luxurious item accessible to only an exclusive few, has now been easily available to everyone with faster trend adaptations – the democratization of fashion has helped you fetch your next sartorial standby at only a fraction of the cost but comes at a very high price to the hands that make it.
It isn’t a lesser known fact that the biggest high-street brands outsource their labour from third-world countries – then why have we been comfortably turning a blind eye towards how it’s being produced? Labels mean the world to fashion folks but none of us are really reading between the lines of the fine print. Overworked employees, poor working conditions and low wages are just some of the many pressing issues that sweatshops across the world face in the name of fashion.
Apart from intensive manual labour, as of today fast fashion is the world’s second-most polluter after oil. A study by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) states that, “two million tonnes of clothes are purchased every year, of which one million tonnes are thrown away.” Half of the total clothes purchased end up in a landfill. Most cheap clothes are made from polyester, comprising extremely strong, non-biodegradable fibre, even resistant to most forms of chemicals.
Bangladesh’s roughly $28 billion garment sector, the biggest in the world after China, employs 4 million people and generates about 80 percent of the country’s export earnings and have long overtaken India in garment exports.
It came under scrutiny after the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in 2013 that killed more than 1,100 people, and a fire at a garment factory in 2012 that killed 112 workers. The tragic incident in 2013 prompted a global outcry and international coalitions were formed to assess and help fund improvements towards building structures and safety measures at thousands of garment factories in Bangladesh. Most European retailers signed up to The Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, which oversees more than 1,600 factories used by retailers like H&M, Marks & Spencer and Primark.
However, earlier last month a boiler explosion at a Bangladeshi garment plant near the city of Dhaka killed 10 people and injured dozens. As of last week, the Accord’s updated corrective plan on the facility listed that issue as having been corrected. But the coalition itself does not inspect boilers, which are monitored by the Bangladesh government.
Being The Voice Of Reason
Famous fast fashion brands have begun doing their bit to reduce their carbon footprint — both Zara and H&M had been inviting shoppers in an initiative to give away our discarded clothes in any condition to their cast-off recycling bins as a gesture that could encourage ‘guilt free’ consumption.
Additionally, Zara has also promised to eradicate all releases of hazardous chemicals throughout its entire supply chain and products by 2020, following public pressure in response to Greenpeace’s Detox campaign.
While watching your carbon footprint and being ‘ethically trendy’ is the new norm, but are we practicing it enough when it comes to what we wear? Organisations like the Fashion Revolution have long been encouraging consumers to get in contact with brands and ask them #whomademyclothes to discover the real people throughout the supply chain.
Fans of fast fashion should start asking where their favourite piece of clothing’s material is sourced from and find out the working conditions of the people making it – the answers may not be what we’d like to hear but it’s where change begins.