How “Ethical” are Your Clothing Choices?
This is a relatively new question that many people have never taken time to consider. Ever wonder how it is possible that there are $2 camisoles at Forever 21? Usually we are too excited about the cheap prices to consider that there may be some corners cut along the way to make these prices possible. In short, the question of fashion “ethics” is a question of whether one’s wardrobe choices are positively or negatively affecting the world around them. It is a complex issue, but hold on tight; I’ll try and make this as painless as possible. (Spoiler: finding out some of your favorite stores use slave-labor is going to be painful.)
There are TWO main concerns when it comes to ethical fashion, to put it simply. How does the fashion industry affect humanity and how does it affect the environment? Both of these are concerned with the conditions of the factories where clothes are made. The biggest culprit causing the fashion industry to be detrimental is fast fashion.
Defining “Fast Fashion”
Fast fashion is the industry that produces the cheap, trendy, low-quality items that you find in most mall stores. This industry profits off of our fast-moving culture. They produce clothing at rapid speeds, we buy, we get bored, and two days later the shelves are restocked and the process begins again. However, to be able to produce clothing so quickly that the average person can afford to keep buying on a weekly basis, companies need insanely cheap labor, which is just as sketchy as it sounds.
Humanity of Fashion
Our clothing is not made in a vacuum. In order for Forever 21 to grace us with their latest $9 pizza-graphic crop top every week, they are basically using slave labor. (Nice try with that “John 3:16” on your bags, F21, we see through you.) If the prices in your favorite store seem too good to be true, they probably are. It is easy to ignore this happening, as it is quite literally out of sight out of mind.
Most businesses place their factories in other countries, where there is a great need for work, making it easier for them to exploit workers by paying far, far below living wages. These low-budget factories are often hazardous, meaning that workers’ lives are at risk as well (e.g. the 117 who died infamous factory-fire in Bangladesh, 2012). This Huffington Post article written by Shannon Whitehead Lohr reveals that inexpensive beaded items are often a sign of child labor, as the equipment required to do bead-work is more expensive than low-cost brands can afford. While many companies have been outed for this slave labor, some refuse to disclose information on their employees and factories entirely. If they don’t want us to see it, we can infer that there is probably something disgusting they are hiding. Our blind support of these companies directly allows, and even promotes, the exploitation of real human lives to continue without challenge.
This website has information on what businesses are disclosing factory information.
This blog post is part one in my three part series explaining ethical fashion. Stay tuned for my seconds part on how the fashion industry affects the earth, and finally my third part on tips to becoming ethical in your wardrobe choices. This information is not meant to guilt anyone into change, but rather to help get the ball rolling on this important conversation. Many people cynically believe that one’s personal choices cannot affect industries at large, but many companies have been known to change their ways based on pressures from the public. You are more powerful than you know. Together we can make the fashion industry a more conscious place.
I appreciate you taking the time to read about a topic I am passionate about.
Never stop learning!