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The Pandemic Highlights the True Cost of Fast Fashion

The Pandemic Highlights the True Cost of Fast Fashion

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Fast fashion brands like Ross cost less, but at the expense of garment workers

Let’s talk fast fashion. 

  • Fast fast – ion (noun)

“Inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest  trends”.

The last couple of years has ushered in a food revolution, whether you’re aware of it or not. Plant-based food, veganism, eating local. All these things and many others have been brought to the forefront of the food conversation with the primary reason of sustainability.

And more recently, consumers are seeing a need to not only change how they eat but how they dress. It seems the fight for sustainability in both the food and fashion worlds has recently been given a megaphone recently… and I love it.

In the last year the conversation around fast fashion has been primarily focused on the environmental harm that it causes. Many people buy cheap clothes that are mass produced by big global brands, and they find themselves buying — and consuming — more of these inexpensive garments than if they opted for higher-quality, ethically produced clothes. Thus, leading to more waste.

But, this year has put a spotlight on another problem with fast fashion.

Asking companies to #PayUp

The #PayUp hashtag was used by labor rights groups after the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh to call on brands and retailers to pay full and fair compensation to injured workers and families of the deceased. 1,134 people were killed when the garment factory collapsed.

How is this now related to the global pandemic? The hashtag #PayUp is being used to demand brands pay for cancelled orders in their factories. As the pandemic spread and shops closed, brands found loopholes in contracts to delay or cancel payments to save money. That meant workers did not get paid for the work they had already done.

Refusing to pay has forced factories to shut down, leaving garment workers without housing or money for food. In Bangladesh alone, brands cancelled or put on hold more than $3 billion worth of completed and in-process clothing orders, putting more than two million workers’ jobs at risk. TWO MILLION! That would be the entire population of New Mexico not being paid for jobs that they have already finished.

Want to know the biggest offenders? You’ll recognize some names:

  • The Children’s Place
  • Ross
  • JCPenney
  • Kohl’s
  • Urban Outfitters (Anthropologie and Free People Nuuly)
  • Walmart

The list goes on. See more at supportgarmentworkers.org/payup-fashion. The site includes a couple of petitions to ask these global brands to #PayUp for their workers.

The news of this story breaking in tandem with backlash from the internet has already forced a number of very large organizations to make public commitments to fulfill existing purchase orders to factories. This ensures that they are not asking for discounts or changing payment terms of their contracts. Among them are:

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  • Adidas
  • Nike
  • Gap
  • Ralph Lauren Polo
  • Under Armour
  • Levi Strauss

Stay informed

If “fast fashion” is how you shop, then I highly recommend taking 10 minutes out of your day to simply Google brands to find which are environmentally sustainable and which treat garment workers fairly. Who knows? You may find your new favorite brand! At a minimum, you’ll feel better wearing clothes you know were made responsibly by workers that are taken care of.

There’s an army of people and brands on Instagram that are about ethical consumerism, including sustainable fashion. Here are a few accounts to follow to stay in the know and do your part to better the globe:

I want to leave you with a quote from Venetia La Manna, a London-based podcaster and activist. She’s urged consumers to consider where their money is going and to hold brands accountable. “We can’t have a sustainable fashion revolution until the people who make our clothes (80 percent of whom are female) feel safe, supported and celebrated.”

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View Comments (2)
  • I concur with the statements made regarding the need for fair treatment of garment workers in the fashion industry. However, I do dissent with the argument made that consumers should pay more for brands that are more sustainable, simply because I cannot afford the elevated price of such a product. However a plausible alternative, which Sean does well here to notate, is about simply raising awareness of the issue to get fashion companies to change their practices and distribute the wealth more evenly, thereby potentially raising the wage of the worker and implementing sustainable practices without an increase to the overall price of the product.

  • The pic in this article says it is a shop in China – which part of China. It looks very much like a shop in Burma/Myanmar. Also i take note of the traditional Burmese clothes

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