5 years ago, on April 24, 2013 1,138 people died and 2500 people were injured in the Rana Plaza building collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The building was structurally unsound and the retail and office space on the lower floors were evacuated months before the collapse leaving only factory workers producing garments for the fast fashion industry. Between 1960 and 2015 the US went from producing 95% of our clothing to 5% of our clothing and outsourcing to developing countries where wages are low and regulations are suggestions at best. The result has been an industry which, in the words of Orsola de Castro in the film The True Cost, “is moving ruthlessly towards a way of producing which only really looks after big business interest.” On the fifth anniversary of the deadliest fashion disaster in history, let’s take a look at why fast fashion is so bad and some easy ways to go back to a fashion culture that honors both the people who wear the clothes and the people who make them.
Fast fashion has its roots in the globalization of supply chains. The cost of living in developing countries is significantly lower than it is in countries like the U.S. and the U.K. and so companies moved production to countries where wages were lower and they could make their products more cheaply. The problem is that once prices began dropping, the pressure for them to keep dropping only grew. Adjusted for inflation, clothes cost less now than they did 30 years ago. According to minimumwage.org, minimum wage in Bangladesh, the largest exporter of clothing in the world is 5,300 Taka or $63.86 USD per month. The global poverty line is $1.90 per day or roughly $57 per month but I have yet to find a place in the US where it is possible to pay rent and buy groceries on less than $100 per month let alone afford transportation, healthcare, and other essentials. If we look farther down the supply chain, leather production is extremely toxic and is notorious for using slave labor. The region in India where most of their cotton is grown is also known as the suicide belt. It is very difficult for organic cotton farmers to compete with conventional cotton farming, their yields are much smaller in comparison to the amount of land they need but it is very expensive to buy GMO cotton seed, fertilizer, and pesticide, so farmers often have to go deeply into debt for their initial investment. A bad year or two, a medical emergency or a wedding in the family and often farmers are forced to choose between slavery or suicide. In addition, the chemicals involved in conventional cotton farming are being linked to birth defects and brain cancer in the people exposed to them.
The fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, after the oil industry. Lead based dyes, toxic pesticides and fertilizers, and plastic are pumped into our water and atmosphere every day. Polyester, spandex, and other synthetic fibers shed microscopic plastic particles every time you wash them, in fact according to a study published by Orb Media, 94% of American tap water is contaminated with plastic particles which at best will never break down and clutter our world and at worst leach hormone disrupting and cancer-causing chemicals.
So what can you do? The plastic is already in your water and fair-trade clothes are too expensive. It’s probably best to just give up.
You can make a difference, and fashion is not a lost cause. I’m a college student who has been slowly transitioning from fast fashion to slow fashion for about two years and it’s not easy, it’s definitely less convenient than just shopping the way everyone else does, but it’s also not impossible so here are three easy steps to quitting fast fashion today.
1 Stop buying new stuff unless you absolutely need it.
I love shopping, it’s enjoyable to browse the racks, try on clothes, and it’s so exciting when you score a great deal on something you love. But instead of mindlessly or impulsively shopping, buy things intentionally that will actually add value to your life and style. A good rule of thumb is that you should be able to wear a piece with more than half of the clothes you already own and you should be able to foreseeably wear the piece 30 times before you are done with it.
If possible, when you do buy “new” clothes try to find them used. I’ve talked about how much I love *ThredUP, local consignment stores are also a great place to look and if you are into sewing, lots of indie fabric stores like Indiesew.com offer deadstock fabric that has been purchased by brands and then discarded.
3 Invest in quality.
Paying more upfront for clothes that will last will actually save you money in the long term. I have a pair of jeans that were handed down to me by my sister. I’m not sure how old they are but I’ve had them for about three years, they were probably about $70 originally. They’ve faded a bit but the fabric is still in great shape and I’ll be able to keep wearing them for years to come. I have another pair of jeans that I bought for $30 and they lasted 6 months before they were too stretched out to wear. Timeless styles, ethical manufacturing, and good quality are worth the investment and are way cheaper over time.
What are your thoughts on the fashion industry? Are you inspired to start making the switch to slow fashion? Tell me in the comments!
Unless I let you know otherwise, my posts aren’t sponsored by any of the companies whose products I mention. I won’t accept sponsorships from companies whose products I don’t truly think are really great. However, links marked with an * are affiliate links. Should you click on the links and make a purchase, at no extra cost to you, I’ll go add to my growing stash of tea, or yarn, or pay the fines on that library book that I couldn’t put down for a month.