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Saturday, September 24, 2016

What is fast fashion?


What is fast fashion? By Katie Visconti

If you’ve been following the #heysistercampaign for the past several weeks, you’ve probably noticed terms like fast fashion and fair trade being used.

Like any topic that is brand new, we want this post to be as informative and useful to you as possible. Because here is the truth: we all wear clothes. To be a member of our society, clothes are necessary. In the grocery store, in schools, in the workplace, everywhere. Something we may not realize is everything we buy comes with a cost that stems beyond the price of the product.

Did you know that before the tee-shirt you are wearing reaches you, at least ten people have been part of its production? There are ten lives that all went into the making of a single item of clothing.

Fast fashion is the term used to described how quickly clothes are moving from the catwalk to the consumer. We used to have four seasons where clothing would come out and now we have new clothes going to stores every two weeks and being mass produced to meet the “needs” of consumers.

What does this mean for the people making our clothes? Up until 1970’s, our clothes were being made in the US. After that, companies began to realize that using outside resources would be cheaper. It led to regions Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, Central America, and more impoverished nations getting exploited through manufacturing clothes for next to nothing, having little to no union representation, and little human and worker rights.

The world consumes 400% more clothing right now than it did 20 years ago. The world makes between 80-90 billion pieces of clothing every single year. Each individual throws away about 70 pounds of clothing every year. To meet this rapid production, workers are hired every day for less than what we pay for a single coffee. Their weekly salary would not even be enough money to fill up most of our gas tanks. The legal minimum wage in most of these countries is about half of what they need to just survive. For example, in Bangladesh, a leading exporter in fashion, workers are paid 60% less than what they need to make to survive. That would be like us being paid $4 to live on while paying for bills, childcare, insurance, food, and more.

The questions I hear all the time is: “Well their lives are different, so how is that relevant? They need less than we do.”

Their lives are lives just like our own. We did absolutely nothing to be born into the abundance we have. In terms of all the places we could be born in the world, we won the lottery. These people are asking for basic human rights. And when they ask and we go off to buy a four-dollar shirt from H&M or Forever 21, we are choosing to ignore their pleas and saying our need for fashion is more important than their need to simply live.  

We would never let our families or friends be exploited. We would never watch a factory collapse here in America and kill nearly 1,200 people and simply ignore the tragedy. We would never go on to buy the clothes from that factory, we would honor the lives lost.

And yet.

When the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh collapsed in 2013, 1,133 people died and 2,500 were injured. The ruble was so great that many people were buried beneath it as families cried and waited for their loved ones’ bodies to be discovered. A year later, 200 of those bodies have still not been found. And we have rebuilt the walls that we allowed to collapse due to our negligence. And this time, we do nothing different. We force the same people to work in the place they lost their sisters, brothers, wives, and children. Because we “need” more tee shirts.

Photo from the NY Times

Couple found dead, embracing. Photo by Taslima Akhter of Time Magazine

(if you are interested in seeing more portraits and learning more about the Rana Factory tragedy, http://world.time.com/portraits-of-pain/)


I use “we” because we can’t progress if we don’t address that we contribute. We vote with our dollars as consumers. Before I knew the deep, twisted roots of fast fashion, I was the biggest supporter of it. I went out and shopped every time I had a date, a special occasion, a bad day, a good day, all of it. I went into Forever 21 and H&M and countless other stores with reckless abandon on how much I would spend.

After watching The True Cost, I could not believe what I had been participating in. It’s been eye-opening and wildly upsetting. While it is slightly difficult to find things made fair, or in the US, it is possible and worth it.

I don’t personally know who made my clothes. I haven’t shaken their hand or had a class with them, or bumped into them in the grocery store. But that doesn’t matter. Because their work is how I stay clothed. Their work is seen every single day and yet we don’t take the time to acknowledge them.

Think of an item of clothing that means the world to you. I have shirts that I’ve had interviews turned into jobs in, dresses I’ve worn on favorite dates, running shorts that I’ve crossed finish lines in, all because someone, somewhere, made it.

The very, very least we can do is honor their life as much as we would our own.

We forgot that these people are more than just seamstresses and factory workers. They have children. They have passions. They like reading, and spending time with family. They are athletes and writers and dreamers and leaders to be.

They are part of this big, beautiful world we are inhabiting together and I know there is plenty of room for them to be seen, heard, and deeply appreciated.

Your clothes aren’t a bargain if they cost a life. Let’s change the way we buy so we can change the world.


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