Is Fast Fashion Worth the True Cost?

Tia Flores, Staff Writer

Graphic tees. Bomber jackets. Denim skirts. In clothing stores all over the world, fast fashion garments are a growing demand in today’s fast-paced society. However, many do not realize that these mass-produced clothing items aren’t made from robot machines— they are made from human blood, sweat, and tears.

The 21st-century fast fashion industry has immense effects on the lives of workers and consumers alike. The clothing industry has clearly helped the economies in developing countries grow. As stated in the International Labour Organization, during the transition of clothing manufacture in the US to developing countries from 1970 to 1990, “the number of TCF (textile, clothing and footwear) workers increased by 597 percent in Malaysia; 416 percent in Bangladesh; 385 percent in Sri Lanka; 334 percent in Indonesia; 271 percent in the Philippines; and 137 percent in Korea.” However, this advancement comes at a great cost. As described in the documentary “The True Cost” by Andrew Morgan, apparel from stores such as Forever 21, Zara, and H&M are mass-produced by workers laboring for long hours in third world countries in sweatshop-like conditions. And, according to the journal The New Daily, workers are paid wages as low as $0.33 U.S. cents an hour. South Asia researcher at the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre Harpreet Kaur says that along with the low pay, “unsafe working conditions and flexible contracts are prevalent” and deters workers from experiencing basic human rights. In Bangladesh in 2013, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, the eight-story Rana Plaza garment producing building “came crashing down, burying factory workers inside. In the weeks that followed, the scale of the disaster became clear – 1,134 workers, mainly young women, were dead and over 2,000 others were injured. These incidents and daily injustices go by unnoticed by the advancing world day by day.

In addition, a recent 2018 U.S. Department of Labor report found evidence of forced and child labor in the fashion industry in Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Turkey, Vietnam and other countries. According to the American Apparel & Footwear Association, more than 97 percent of apparel and 98 percent of shoes sold in the U.S. are made overseas. This is a tremendous increase compared to the 1960s, in which “roughly 95 percent of apparel worn in the U.S. was made domestically.” This was because “The mid-1970s saw the emergence of large textile mills and factories in China and other developing countries in Asia and Latin America. These operations offered incredibly cheap labor and raw materials, as well as the capacity to quickly manufacture huge orders,” as reported by KQED news.

As for consumers, the effects of fast fashion distort their sense of value. “Fast fashion is priced cheaper, so consumers buy more items than they actually need,” writes Elizabeth Cline in her book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. With clothes normally priced as “cheap,” companies play psychological games to make the consumer feel rich when they can buy so many items at a small price. These businesses churn out new clothes every week, so as one trend comes in and others go out, they are on top of their game trying to get customers to keep on buying. And, when buyers keep on buying, the producers keep on producing, resulting in the cycle of supply chains prioritizing profit over human welfare and safety. So, the next time you walk into the mall when you are drawn to that 50% off deal at Urban Outfitters, think about the true cost of fast fashion.


Ways to Reduce Your Fast Fashion Impact:

  1. Buy less and choose well; choose quality over quantity.
  2. Buy better quality to increase the lifetime of your clothes.
  3. Before throwing out your clothes, try: repairing them, donating them, reselling them, recycle them in textile recycling bins, etc.
  4. Shop second hand, swap, or rent clothing.
  5. Keep an eye on how your clothes are being washed to extend their lifetime.
  6. Buy from sustainable brands.