The Actual COST of Cheap Fashion Clothes: Fast fashion and how we are all paying for it.
Fast fashion is an industry that provides the latest fashion at low prices. It creates the culture of fast changes in trends, as frequently as twice a month, to increase consumer demand for buying more and more. To keep up with the insatiable need for buying more, we prefer to buy cheap: we compromise on quality, on the idea we don’t need items to last if the trend will soon change. This creates a cycle in which we buy more and throw away more, either because the trend has changed or the piece of clothing bought is so poorly made that it falls apart after few wears.
The Disappearance of High Quality Fashion
This change in outlook combined with the greed for newer clothing at the cheapest pricing, has lead to a loss of the understanding of the importance of high quality material and good craftsmanship. This fast fashion industry has based itself on copying the designs of high-end designers (with a little tweaking here and there), getting them produced in under developed countries using cheap labour, and then selling them to the masses through giant retail stores. These systems are so fast that the copies hit the stores faster than the high fashions goods can be launched. These high fashion goods take a longer time in production, as the designs are based on complicated and high quality supplies and craftsmanship.
This video put together by Dior shows the time, quality, and craftsmanship taken by a designer to design a single high-end (haute) couture dress.
Fast Fashion: Reduce, Reduce, (Recycle).
Another way of reducing the price of the clothing is by increasing the percentage of cheaper fibres like polymer. These polymer-based fabrics are cheap for sure, but are also really uncomfortable. Just like the clothes are trendy for sure, but are not ideally functional.
Further, this industry is based on cheap fibres and unacceptable labour laws in underdeveloped countries. Garment making is a labour-intensive activity and there is often little room for savings on the textiles that are the biggest single cost. This means that minimizing the price of a human being’s labour required for cutting, sewing, and trimming a garment is key in the overall production costs and, of course, eventual profits. In recent years where the prices of everything else except communications have risen, clothes cost less. Due to the availability of cheap labour in East Asia and elsewhere, there has been a steady decline in employment in the manufacturing industry in the West. In these cheap labour areas, to be able to compete and quote lesser prices than the neighbouring countries, producers are forced to compromise the working conditions and wages of the workers. Producers can be further burdened with late delivery charges, in which the buyer can deduct 5% for each week’s delay.
The Price of Fast Fashion: Rana Plaza
By now many people are aware of the Rana Plaza collapse that took place in Bangladesh on April 24, 2013. The collapse killed 1129 people and injured thousands more. It was a consequence of this industry – bad working conditions, poor maintenance, and greed inspired cost-cutting. The workers in 5 factories making garments for more than 29 reputed brands were impacted. All of these brands are ultimately responsible for indirectly creating hazardous working conditions and ultimate the loss of these people’s lives.
Fast Fashion & it’s Contaminants:
Another example comes from a city called Tirupur, in the Tamil Nadu state of India. Tirupur is India’s leading textile centre accounting for around 80 percent of India’s total textile exports. According to one Tamil Nadu pollution control board report, each year the Tirupur textile industry generates 833,000 tonnes of toxic waste including bleach and sulphuric dyes, much of it directly dumped into the nearby Noyyal River. This untreated chemical waste is then drained out untreated into the Kaveri river before finally washing up in the Bay of Bengal. The textile industry in the past few decades has contaminated around 80,000 acres of crop-land in this area – mostly rice fields. The locals have discovered that the contamination has caused the coconut trees on the banks to absorb the red chemical dye, dyeing the coconuts a deep red colour.
Fast Fashion: The Price of Not Knowing
This kind of industry has remains, in part, due to a lack of information provided to the consumer about how and where their garments were made. The physical and cultural difference between the consumer and maker has lead to the growth of this industry. If the consumer really saw how and by who their garment was made, this demand for cheap clothing wouldn’t be there. Thus, the need of the hour is informed consumerism. One should make an effort to know where and under what conditions one’s garments are made, to what extent an artisan is being respected and compensated for their hard work. And, of course, about the quality of the fabric being bought.
The following link shows an experiment where the consumer is asked if want to buy a two dollar t-shirt, before being shown pictures of the working conditions of where it was made. Most of the consumers ended up donating the money intended for purchase instead of buying.
The Culture of Fast Fashion:
This emerging culture of buying more, ultimately leads to the culture of throwing more away. This ever-growing concept of fast fashion is much like the fast food culture, where the burger is served with minutes, but holds little to no nutrient value. Similarly, fast fashion offers a wide variety of products at low prices, but all of these garments contain very little in terms of functionality and comfort. This increase in the garments being thrown away means that most of them end up in our landfills.
We generally assume that old discarded clothes are passed on to the underprivileged. Although in recent years the quantity collected by charity centres has increased, most of the collected clothes are now shipped back to under developed countries and are re-sold or used to make cheaper products like blankets, if not being sent directly to a landfill.
We came across a video called Unravel, by Megha Gupta. It shows how the clothes made in the East travel back, when the people of West throw them away. From the Kutch District of western India to the northern city of Panipat, garment recyclers turn the huge bales of clothes that come from people and places distinctly strange, into yarn. Sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful, sometimes ludicrously large, the fabrics leave them curious about the people who threw away their clothes ‘practically unworn’.
-Words by Khushboo Bagaria and Aaanchal Goyal
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About the Author
We at Bunosilo, support informed consumerism and slow fashion. We are of the view that clothes have a soul, the quality and sourcing of fabrics very important. Artisans should be respected and supported. Each and every form of traditional craft holds value and should be encouraged. Sustainability is the need of the hour, and ethics in fashion are very important.