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the high cost of fast fashion

We have to begin here. Fast fashion is somewhat of a buzz-word lately. Whether you’ve seen it used by a retailer as something to celebrate or by those of us who are passionate about the negative effects, I think it is important to begin with understanding what we are talking about when we say “fast fashion.” According to Webster, fast fashion is defined as “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers.” I love how Good On You defines fast fashion: “cheap, trendy clothing, that samples ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street stores at breakneck speed.”

Breakneck speed. That even sounds violent.

To summarize: fast fashion is clothing (or anything, really) that is made fast. The goal of fast fashion is to make something as quickly as possible, for as cheap as possible. The problem is that all of this is often pursued without any true care for the people involved in the making or the planet on which we live. There are many amazing books, films, and blogs that look at all of the complex areas that fast fashion doesn’t just neglect to address, but rather abuses and exploits. I won’t pretend to address them all here, but simply want to shed a light for some who may be new to this conversation and looking to understand a little more.

In order for a company to make cheap clothing fast and still make a significant profit, they have to pay those who are making the clothing next to nothing. Don’t be fooled into thinking a machine somewhere made your clothes; someone’s hands are always involved. Today, in 2020, over 95% of clothing production for the United States is made in other countries. There are over 40-million garment factory workers today and over 85% of them are women, who are working in less than humane conditions, making less than $2.50 a day. Fast fashion comes at a high cost for these women, who are working sometimes 16 hour-days for 7 days a week (watch The True Cost for more information and numbers).

There are times when speed is to be commended and even celebrated. At the summer Olympics, when Usain Bolt sprints past his opponents. In the raid of a brothel, where the police force need to act quickly in order to rescue victims of human trafficking. Or, even for a company that is trying to get a head start on an idea before a competitor catches on. In order to be successful, they need to move fast. Even then though, it cannot be fast at all cost. We would never cheer on Bolt if we thought he was taking steroids to become the fastest man in the world. We would never support the police driving over people in an effort to get to the brothel raid in time. And, we wouldn’t proudly tell the story of a company who cheated their competitor to the top. The end never justifies the means, and this is no different for fast fashion.

Perhaps, the problem with fast fashion is not necessarily that is is made quickly, but it is the unspoken cost that comes with all the fast that is the very real problem. We have somewhere along the line believed we could have it all, or maybe the line has become so blurred that we actually believe we should have it all. And, yes, if we turn a blind eye to the cost for so many in the world for the sake of our convenience, materialism, and greed, we can.

However, the question I am interested in is not “what can we get away with?” I am much more preoccupied and kept up at night with creating a world where people make decisions with others at the forefront. I dream of seeing people walk away from items they want, because it would come at a cost for someone they have never met on the other side of the world. It is a beautiful thing when people willingly lay down their privilege for the sake of another. I want to hear more stories of companies moving into neighborhoods because they are excited to provide employment for the community, not simply because they can get away with the cheapest labor costs. They would want to be transparent about their wages and benefits, because they are something to be proud of.

This may sound like a utopia to some or the musings of a naive thirty-one year old with little business experience to others. But, either way, we get to choose what kind of world we want through how and where we spend our money. I think Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it perfectly, “I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society.”

Little by little and one by one, let's make this shift. Because people matter more.

Resources:
Webster Dictionary
Good On You
Fashion Revolution
The True Cost
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Quote