Globalization and capitalism have completely changed our world and society in more ways than one. Materialism and consumerism are two major outcomes of capitalism that have so many more consequences than most of us could ever imagine.
Fast fashion is a fairly new phenomenon where the emphasis is on corporations creating clothing in the cheapest and quickest way possible and selling to consumers at incredibly low prices. The term “fast” not only applies to the way these clothes are made but also to the way we use them as consumers.
Fast fashion has created a mindset which encourages the purchase of clothes on a short-term basis, and instead of buying more expensive, quality clothing that will last us a considerable amount of time, we buy cheap clothes that only last us a year, if not less.
The result of this is that we buy a lot more clothing than we would otherwise. So we’re feeding this machine by choosing to change our lifestyle in response to these new cheap prices and new options.
Fast fashion has quickly taken over the world. You can find massive H&M and Zara shops in countries from India to China to South Africa. Whether countries are developed or developing, they still embrace this new capitalist trend. More importantly, factories to produce these corporate goods are located in the developing world, and have terrible working conditions that have led to deaths and the spread of illnesses among the workers.
The documentary “The True Cost” offers some incredibly compelling facts about the fast fashion phenomenon. The film reminds us that the fashion industry is the world’s second largest polluter. The world population consumes 80 billion pieces of clothing every year, which is up 400 percent of just two decades ago.
One-in-six people work in the global fashion industry, and the majority of them are paid less than $3 per day. Two hundred and fifty thousand Indian cotton farmers have killed themselves in the past 15 years, a figure linked to their going into debt due to the cost of genetically modified cotton seeds which have essentially been forced on them by Monsanto.
Only 10 percent of the clothes people donate to charity or thrift stores get sold. Most of it ends up in landfills where it will stay forever. Most of the clothes we donate in the U.S. gets sent to developing countries such as Haiti, where the supply floods the market and kills local industries.
These are all facts that shocked and disgusted me while watching “The True Cost.” Fast fashion is slowly but surely killing our people by forcing the poor to work in terrible factories that often collapse, such as the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh that killed more than 1,000 people.
Fast fashion has also increased the need for chemicals and other cheap methods of increasing production and decreasing costs. The chemicals used to upkeep cotton farms has contributed to the rise of illnesses in farm workers. Chemically treated clothing can also negatively affect our bodies if not carefully regulated.
Most importantly, these chemicals and cheap fast fashion methods are destroying our environment. Clothing with the synthetic materials most fast fashion clothing uses does not biodegrade quickly enough to be sustainable.
As previously mentioned, wasted or unwanted clothing ends up sitting in a landfill for decades while polluting the land and water. The production of this clothing is a large source of carbon emissions, which can have deadly effects. The harmful dyes which are used to manufacture fast fashion clothes are toxic and often find their way to water sources near the factories.
Clothing manufacturers often dump chemicals and other waste from their factories into rivers or other bodies of water, further contaminating not only the earth and its wildlife but also any people living near these locations.
For example, the Citarum River in Indonesia is one of the most polluted rivers in the world due to the hundreds of textile factories lined on its shores. Your skin would burn if it came into contact with the water.
Pollution directly impacts the lives of millions of people throughout the world, many of whom contract diseases or die due to the extremely caustic pollution textile factories produce in their surroundings.
Not only are workers subjected to potentially life-threatening working conditions and severely low pay, but they can also beaten or fired if they protest and demand for better conditions and wages.
People make the mistake of thinking that because factories offer employment to people who would have none otherwise, they are a good thing in the end despite all their issues. However, that is not the proper way to look at it.
Yes, these people need to work to survive. But our aim should be to provide them with humane conditions and fair wages, not exploitative wages and poor oversight under the pretense of doing good.
By continuing to feed the fast fashion system, we are condoning the exploitation of workers and the destruction of their health and the health of our earth. We need to stop viewing clothing as something to buy one week and throw away the next. We need to understand that those $3 shirts are costing us far more than what the price tag tells us.
There is quality clothing out there that was made with an earth-conscious prerogative and without putting workers in danger. Most of it will cost more, yes, but that is because it will last longer and the cost represents the true price of the garment!
As one of the largest consumers of material goods, the United States is one of the driving forces of this dangerous system, and if we want to change for the better, our nation must set the stage by being the first to move away from fast fashion.