et’s face it: the fashion industry is super powerful. It affects every single one of us. As long as you wear clothes you are involved in the industry. I always feel like Meryl Streep and her infamous speech in The Devil Wears Prada when I make this argument — “Okay, I see. You think this has nothing to do with you…you think that you’ve made a choice that exempts you from the fashion industry, when in fact, you’re wearing a sweater that was selected for you by the people in this room.”
What she says holds an enormous amount of truth. We are all participants in the fashion industry, even if some of us are more invested in it than others. So it is with sadness that the realization of the industry’s destruction hits. Because we are all implicit in it.
Let me explain. The fashion industry, like any other industry, creates waste — textile waste, water waste. Our resources our being depleted, and at way too fast a rate. Factory waste, as well, along with the pesticides and herbicides going onto our genetically-modified cotton, are hurting our earth. According to the fashion documentary The True Cost, the industry is the second most polluting in the world, right behind the oil industry.
Garment workers are also getting the short end of the stick. We now have this system known as “fast fashion,” in which, instead of stores selling for two seasons per year, they are selling for 52 seasons. Every week, retail stores bring in new clothes to satisfy our demands. With fashion gaining huge presence on social media, trends are more accessible to the public and so we are we constantly demanding something new. This fast fashion concept has caused the industry to center itself around mass, rapid manufacture, and at a low price.
Consumers expect their clothing to be affordable. Most of the profit that the fashion industry gains is not from high-priced designer brands, as we would assume. It actually comes from fast fashion retailers that are able to reach more customers with their low prices. The problem is, in order to sell cheap, you have to manufacture cheaper. This results in retailers outsourcing to developing countries in which labor laws are lax. This means that a woman in Bangladesh that is being paid $3/hour is making your clothing, and mine.
Of course this is heartbreaking to hear. I get waves of guilt every time I think about it. We have all been making unconscious choices that play a role in the endangerment of someone’s life. I think one thing that makes me feel guiltier is that this is the industry that I want to work in. I love fashion and I think that it can stand for so much. But I also think it can and should stand on a better foundation than it is currently.
The way we achieve this is by making our choices conscious ones. Consumers are the driving force of the fashion industry. Whatever we say, goes. So it’s going to have to end up being a compromise between retailers and their customers. Retailers will have to pay manufacturers more if it means ensuring the safety of the people making our clothing. This means that consumers will likely have to pay more. On the other hand, if retailers cut back on branding and advertising, like Primark is currently doing, they can deliver a lower price to us.
Who knows how this compromise will pan out, but in the meantime we can make choices that better the situation. Thrift shopping is a great option because you’re not using up the resources it would take to make a new item of clothing. Giving your clothes more wear-time before throwing it out is beneficial, and it is even more beneficial if you recycle that clothes rather than simply tossing it. Rewarding ethically and environmentally responsible brands is always great, too. I’ve been boycotting Forever 21, the epitome of a fast fashion retailer. Rather brands like Reformation, People Tree, and even H&M with their Conscious line, are the brands that really deserve our money.
It may be difficult at first, but if we are willing to do these things, we are taking a step towards a better fashion industry. And we have to remember that change happens when we speak up. If we acknowledge the harm, if we acknowledge the things we are doing wrong, we can begin taking the steps to fix it.