“The people who make the clothing are treated as second class citizens with wages amounting to less than $3 a day”
I recently watched the documentary called ‘The True Cost’ and it really got me thinking about my relationship with fast fashion. To be honest, in the past I didn’t really care much for the origin of my clothing (or stuff in general), I just liked and wanted the pretty end product. Please note the words ‘liked’ and ‘wanted’, most of the time, I didn’t even need what I was buying and I hardly used it.
Like a lot of other people, I only saw the finished product and I never stopped to think what was going on behind the scenes. I never thought about who was making the product or the effects on the environment and what was harmed during the production.
What is ‘Fast Fashion’?
The term ‘Fast Fashion’ describes a sector of the fashion industry that focuses on creating cheap or affordable clothing that also resembles current fashion trends. Fast fashion is different to high-end fashion in that the producers intentionally make low quality, low cost clothing. Although, I’m not sure that means that high end fashion designers don’t use sweat shops.
In order to produce these low cost garments whilst continuing to meet the pricing demands of clothing companies, cost cuts must be made in other areas including occupational health and safety, human rights and environmental protection.
It’s the intention of the fast fashion industry to keep up with current trends but these trends change so quickly that the quality of clothing is no longer kept to a high standard. It is deemed disposable and is unsurprising when it falls apart.
The negative effects of Fast Fashion
In the US and undoubtedly other western countries, only 10% of clothing donated to second-hand stores gets sold. The other 90% is either sent to landfill or to third world countries where the problem is offloaded and is no longer the concern of the original country.
13 million tonnes (!) of clothing goes to landfill every year in the US alone, imagine how much is being sent to other countries! The majority of clothing in landfill is non-biodegradable and sits around for at least 200 years creating harmful gases and leaching toxic chemicals, dyes and plastics into the local soil and groundwater.
The sweat shops that produce fast fashion clothing can be found in third world countries like India and Cambodia. The people who make the clothing (the majority being women) are treated as second class citizens with wages amounting to less than $3 a day, zero healthcare, long hours, unsafe working conditions and practises and sexual harrasment. These people are not allowed to have a voice. In the past they have been beaten and shot at for asking for higher wages. Just so they can eat.
But wait, there’s more. The fast fashion industry is putting an unwarranted strain on the environment with projections of CO2 emissions to continue to increase every year to a whopping 2.8 billion tonnes per year by 2030. Ground water has been contaminated in many countries with many children and adults exhibiting mental retardation, diseases and disabilities related to chemical run-offs.
I can actually go on with further negative effects but let’s leave it at that for now.
How I avoid Fast Fashion whilst travelling
Travelling has taught me the importance of buying locally. Food, clothing, souvenirs, everything. Sometimes it’s not always easy to tell if something has been made on a production line or not. Especially if you don’t speak the local language.
So I’ve adopted a few techniques to determine if I should purchase something or not.
1. Stay away from the tourist area shops.
2. Think about whether you really need it or not. Do you have to buy presents for everyone back home? Do you want to carry it or pay for the costs to ship it. Do you really need that new dress or top etc.
3. Speak to the shop owners. Be prepared to ask some ethical questions. Ask them where the product was made. If they can’t answer or they um and ahh, this is a signal to me that they have zero relationship with the people they bought the product off of. If you are feeling more adventurous, ask them if their shop is family owned and if they know the artisans who made the product personally but always remember to respect local custom.
4. Determine whether the product is handmade. This may be easier for some than others. Take a good look around you, is the product you want to buy the same in every shop or is it one of a kind? Is the price too good to be true?
5. Be prepared to pay more but only if you feel the product is genuine and worth it.
I recently purchased this new top from a local artisan shop in Oaxaca. It has been difficult for me to resist buying all of the bright and beautiful things here. Oaxaca is so culturally rich and all of the products for sale in the city reflect this. I knew the top I purchased was an original and handmade because I had not seen it or its style at any other shops or markets. I was able to speak to the shop owners who were a family (actually sitting down to lunch at the time) and they were able to tell me the town in which the top was made. I even found a couple of little flaws on it, which to me, made it even more genuine and desirable.
I also purchased these earrings from a small shop under my yoga studio in Oaxaca. The lady working there was able to tell me that they are pressed flowers set in resin and are handmade by a disabled man who lives in Oaxaca.
Learn to value handmade
Being a seamstress in a past life has taught me the value of a good quality, handmade product. And that sadly, the majority of the time, how greatly undervalued handmade products are by the general consumer. Another result of fast fashion. Due to the inundation of cheap, production-line made clothing, consumers no longer understand or appreciate how much work goes into making a garment and they no longer care to.
No matter where you are in the world, taking the time to learn how to appreciate the time, effort, skill, learning, materials, money and everything else that goes into making a product from scratch is so important in our modern society. Maybe even go to a sewing class to get a glimpse of the skill and knowledge needed and then maybe you will be able to appreciate why the ‘true’ artisans at the market want to charge you the amount on the price tag.
Remember the people in the sweat shops also have these same skills, there is just zero appreciation for them.
The sad reality for most people is that we buy stuff because we think it will make us happy but really it only satifies our appetites till the novelty wears off and then we are looking for something to fill the hole again. Let’s all come together and focus more on caring for not only ourselves but other people. Let’s show more love and appreciation for our world and every living being that inhabits it, plant and animal. I can guarantee, in the long run, that will make us feel more fulfilled and happier than that strappy, sequined top that 500 other people also own.
Love Kat xx
Please note: Several images in this post were taken from ‘The True Cost Documentary’ Facebook page.