WARNING: Before you read this, prepare to say goodbye to your favourite £20 tops from your pick me up shops, because behind your ‘pick me up’ is the harsh reality of underpaid garment workers in dangerous conditions, contaminated water and an epidemic of diseases.
It's safe to say that most of us have heard of the phrase 'fast fashion'. But what does it really mean?
In recent years, the way we shop has completely changed, with high street brands and online shopping, we shop as fast as we eat. The nature of shopping has evolved into disposable clothing, with a 'buy now, think later' attitude, because when there are £3 bikini's available, why not right?
Prices have gone down, but the costs remain the same.
Which poses the question, who is bearing the cost?
Fast fashion brands are demanding production of clothes - fast and cheap. The bargaining power of the disposable fashion giants forces manufactures to agree to the production of items for next to nothing.
What about the people?
We know that the majority of our clothes are produced in China, India and Bangladesh. We know that factory workers earn as little as $3 a day. But we are often fed the line that the people need work and it is better than the alternatives they are faced with. However the reality is that garment workers have been beaten for attempting to create unions to enforce their basic rights not only as workers but as humans such as minimum wages and working conditions that won't result in their death. At least 3 people were killed during minimum wage protests in Cambodia where officers opened fire and we saw just how dangerous going to work can be for a garment worker with the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013. Workers had noticed deep cracks in the building the day before and urged their managers not to force them to go inside. However, work continued as usual and before 9am the building collapsed killing 1,134 people.
What about our health?
Waters are being contaminated by the dumping of chromium from the leather production industry, chemicals used to dye our on-trend neon playsuit and microfibres of plastic from washing our clothes reaching the ocean. Toxic waters have resulted in a large number of cotton famers’ children in India suffering from various skin conditions and birth defects. The True Cost spoke of a doctor who has noted a pattern of cancers including brain tumours appearing in those working in agriculture. There has also been a wave of farmer suicides. A suicide is said to be committed every 30 minutes. Although we are not able to say that fast fashion is the single cause of these issues, I cannot ignore that alongside increased use of pesticides are increased suicides in farmers who use those very products. Those products that are used to produce cotton which are farmed ultimately to end up as clothing. There is an undeniable link between pressured production of clothing and ill health be it cancers, impairments or even taking your own life.
Where does it go?
My annual clear out to make room for my winter wardrobe has always been guilt free. In fact, to make myself feel good my barely worn items are donated to charity shops. Who knew that even that has a negative effect?! We think that damage limitation of our overflowing wardrobes full of things we don’t need is to give to those who do need it. Which, yes, does have its positives. But the level of clothes purchased and donated has become so high that our charity shops can only take a small percentage of them. The rest are sent to other countries where yes, some clothes are worn. But whats left is a substantial amount of clothing ending it’s life in landfills, where whilst they decompose release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane which negatively impact our environment.
We need to find ways to shop sustainably (keep your eyes peeled for ways we have found how to do so) and I for one know that I do not have the answers on how to do so perfectly yet, it is a work in progress and a journey to such.
So next time you feel that crave to shop and get sucked into the glory that is H&M think of the young mothers making your clothes for little to nothing in potentially life threatening conditions. Think of the chromium infected water causing diseases in children nearby. Ask yourself whether you are willing to buy into the suffering of people's welfare, health, lives and the environment for your latest purchase.