Photo source Auxins/iStock

Photo source Alex Crumbie

We all love to shop, some of us more than others. W

hy wouldn’t we with clothing prices lower than ever, you could buy a dress for the same price as a Starbucks latte if you wanted to. But how can clothing be this cheap? It can’t, the price tag may be small, but the consequences are massive.

Enter the term fast fashion. So, what is it? According to Merriam Webster, fast fashion is “an approach to the design, creation, and marketing of clothing fashions that emphasizes making fashion trends quickly and cheaply available to consumers”. There are two very important words we must focus on to fully understand this way of manufacturing garments.

Quickly and cheaply. Fast fashion found its roots in Galicia, Spain in 1963. Here a man by the name of Amancio Ortega Gaona launched what would eventually become the largest supplier of these quick clothes, Inditex. You may not be familiar with the company name, but you’ll know their biggest clothing retailer, Zara. You now know where this industry started but how does it work?

Let’s start from the beginning, design. Traditionally, the fashion industry works on two seasons, spring/summer and fall/winter however fast fashion works on a 52-season year. This puts extreme pressure on designers and as a result, they often find it easier to take ideas from other brands. For big names like Gucci, this means nothing but for smaller, independent companies, the stealing of one design could put them out of business.

Okay so now the brand has their ‘big idea’ the next step is finding someone to produce it. To sell clothes at a low price they must be made at a low price so the savings can be passed onto the customer. This is where the outsourcing of labour comes in. In fast fashion, companies don’t have their own factories, instead, they contract them in. This practice tends to happen in countries like Bangladesh and India. Here, if the factory can’t meet their demands they simply move on and find another one to do their work.Many factory owners can’t afford for this to happen, so they make the clothes for cheap, but they do this by making many sacrifices. Their labourers work long hours for little pay to meet massive order numbers. This is a form of modern slavery. Often the upkeep of these factories is sacrificed to save money. A notable incident that occurred due to the neglect of one of these mills was the 2013 Dhaka garment factory collapse in Bangladesh. The tragedy killed 1,134 and left 2,500 others injured. It’s not just long hours and structurally unsafe buildings that put people in danger. Prolonged exposure to toxic chemicals used in dyes can cause cancers, respiratory disease, and intellectual disability.

It’s not just people who suffer at the hands of this industry, our environment does too. It is reported that 10-15% of dyes used don’t bond to fabrics and instead end up in water systems causing the death of wildlife and crops. On top of that, according to one report, there is 40-50 thousand tonnes of dye in the global water system. The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of the global carbon footprint and although clothes are recyclable, we now produce so much that we overwhelmed our ability to do so. Polyester, the most common material used in the industry, is an oil-based synthetic material that is the leading contributor to microplastics in our water supplies.

So, maybe we all need to step back and ask ourselves are we really making any worthwhile savings if the consequences are so deadly?

By Anna Catherine Martin