Getting a great deal on a dress or a pair of shoes may feel good in the moment, feeling as if our money was spent wisely and now we can look great for half the price. However, there is much more behind the price of our clothing that we as consumers should be more conscious about. The objective of this article is to give insight on the negative side effects of the fast fashion industry and shed light on the positive impacts Fair Trade fashion has on our communities and environment.
Let’s start with fast fashion. The reason it is labeled as "fast" is due to the way the clothing is produced and consumed. In recent years, the industry has been dramatically scaled and sped up. According to the Ellen McArthur Foundation, “clothing production has approximately doubled in the last 15 years, driven by a growing middle-class population across the globe and increased per capita sales in developed economies”. At the same time, apparel companies have seen rising costs due to the rise of labor needed, materials and energy prices, and yet despite the raising of costs it takes to make clothes, the prices we pay are cheaper than ever before.
The increases in production prices and decline of retail prices creates chaos for those working tirelessly to make these clothes. According to the organization Fashion Revolution, “the number of people that work in the global clothing supply chain isn’t fully understood, but there are estimates that 300 million people work in the clothing industry with around 25 to 60 million that are directly employed”. The majority of these people live in poverty, unable to afford life’s basic necessities. Many are subject to exploitations such as verbal and physical abuse, working in unsafe and dirty conditions and very little pay. These hard workers are the people that suffer for our “great” deals, sacrificing so much for so little in return. Not only does fast fashion violate human rights, the environment has also been subject to many abuses caused by the industry. Clothing has seemed to turn into a commodity in which it is seen as okay to be constantly thrown away without thinking, creating a very unsustainable lifestyle and mindset. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in 2012 alone, 84% of unwanted clothes in the U.S. went into either a landfill or an incinerator. What's worse is that those discarded clothing, if made of non-biodegradable fabrics, “can sit in landfills for up to 200 years” (eco-business.com). Not only is this wasteful beyond imagination, but the clothes themselves have major environmental impacts as well. The chemicals used to dye, launder and treat our clothes end up polluting rivers and other bodies of water which negatively affect the animals and communities that depend on these water sources. As if pollution is not enough, the fast fashion industry also has a major issue with the overconsumption of water. According to the article By the Numbers: The Impacts of Fast Fashion, “it takes 2,700 liters of water to make one, single cotton shirt”, which is enough to meet the average person’s drinking needs for two and a half years.
It is clear the fast fashion industry has its problems. From human rights abuses, to pollution and the over consumption of water, the industry needs a dramatic overhaul to improve these horrific and wasteful standards. This is where the importance of Fair Trade fashion comes into play. According to the Fair Trade Federation, the idea of Fair Trade started in 1946 when Edna Ruth Byler visited a Mennonite Central Committee sewing class in Puerto Rico. Here she met women who had great talents for creating beautiful designs, but still lived in extraordinary poverty despite their hard work. Byler took their pieces of work back to the United States to sell and returned the money back to their groups directly. She gave the artisans the wages they deserved and over time, her passion for fairness turned into the first Fair Trade shop in 1958 called Ten Thousand Villages. Today, they are the largest Fair Trade retailer in North America. However, there is more that goes into Fair Trade than just fair wages. Thanks to the Fair Trade Federation, a trade association that strengthens and promotes organizations in the US and Canada fully committed to Fair Trade, we can also get a better idea of what this term truly means. According to the FTF website, Fair Trade means that trading partnerships are based on reciprocal benefits and mutual respect; that prices paid to producers reflect the work they do; that producers share decision making power; that national health, safety, and wage laws are enforced; and that products are environmentally sustainable and conserve natural resources. These elements are essential for helping create opportunities, alleviate poverty, and promote more sustainable economic systems for communities all over the world.
This leads us to how important our impact as conscious consumers truly is. Staying informed and asking questions like “who made my clothes” is just the first part of changing this industry for the better. There are many resources, like the ones I have cited above, that have great information and insights on the fashion industry which can help us make educated choices about our personal spending. Consumers create the demand and companies create the supply, so we need to remember how valuable our money actually is. By buying Fair Trade, you are promoting fair wages, sustainable options, helping give a fair life for all people and encouraging other businesses to do the same. Not sure where to start? Here is a list of some of the many, Fair Trade clothing brands the world has to offer; Colored Organics, Global Mamas, Good & Fair Clothing, Mata Traders, PACT, and Patagonia. These companies pay their workers fair wages which are significantly more than what the fast fashion world offers. These wages help them lead better, happier and more opportunity filled lives that would not have been possible otherwise. These companies also invest their time and energy to be more sustainable because they realize how important a functioning and healthy ecosystem is. We all depend on the Earth for food, water and resources, however, not all of us are directly affected and therefore can forget how vital it is for everyone. So, let us remember to be conscious. Let us remember there are hands behind those cheap tops we love so much and that those hands deserve better wages. Lastly, let us remember that our planet is constantly supporting us, so let’s support her back by consuming, and even demanding, Fair Trade.
Reichart, Elizabeth, and Deborah Drew. “By the Numbers: The Impacts of Fast Fashion.”
Eco-Business, 16 Jan. 2019.
“What Is Fair Trade?” Fair Trade Federation.
“WHY DO WE NEED A FASHION REVOLUTION?” Fashion Revolution.