Monday, 14 August 2017

What is the real cost of fast fashion?

When we buy a piece of clothing, is the price simply the number on the tag, or has it cost people and the environment more than that? 

We might not think about the glitzy fashion industry as being alongside the oil industry, but it follows oil as the world's second largest polluter. It even relies on oil, to produce synthetic fibres such as Polyester and Nylon (which by the way, take between 20 and 200 years to decompose once in landfill). I find it hard to believe that out of the 80 billion pieces of clothing brought each year, 15% of this is wasted in manufacturing before clothes even reach the shops!

My wardrobe is made up of second-hand and vintage clothing, but also a large percentage of clothes from popular high street brands, yet over the past few months, my frequent, almost daily visits to the constantly updating store websites has slowed to a stop.  For example, in my last two visits to a Zara store, I didn't pick anything up at all! What has happened? 
I have started to realise that there is a greater price for clothes - that I don't want other people or the world to pay for. The price of Fast Fashion. 

Fast Fashion is harmful in many ways but it is clever. The fashion industry is worth over a trillion pounds a year so you can see why big high street brands want a part of this huge market. Though as such a huge industry, with clothes traveling all over the world to be produced and sold, the fashion industry is like a giant web, with many things happening that shouldn't - things that are easy for manufacturers and brands to gloss over and hide, such as child labour and pollution from factories. It is easy for brands to source through other companies, becoming dis-connected from the people and processes behind their clothes.

So what is 'fast fashion'? 

Businesses are constantly churning out huge volumes of cheap clothing with designs that are more affordable versions of catwalk clothing. It certainly is a 'fast' industry as new clothes appear in stores on a weekly basis. Fast Fashion is a way of persuading the public to continually buy new items at a tangibly cheap price. Once the season changes and trench coats are replaced with denim jackets, then last season's pieces move to the back of the wardrobe and most are eventually found in a landfill, even though 95% of clothing is recyclable or able to be up-cycled. A crazy 2.5 billion pounds worth of clothing goes to landfill each year!

'Clothes aren't going to change the world. The people who wear them will' - Anne Klein

'Fast Fashion isn't free. Someone, somewhere is paying' - Lucy Siegle

A common misconception, is that the cheaper the clothing is, the worse the conditions of the factories and the pay is for garment workers. This isn't always the case. Luxury brands such as Hugo Boss and Prada have been picked out for having their clothes made by workers payed under the minimum wage (you can read more about that here). 

 It isn't as simple as boycotting brands!

But should I stop buying from high street shops such as Zara, and would it even help if  I did?

The answer that I found was that it isn't as simple as boycotting brands. A brand might notice and take action if large numbers of people stopped buying from them on account of their low pay for workers, but real change will come from challenging the brands to improve the lives of their workers. Not buying from high street stores might make a valid point, but if brands pull out their factories from countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia due to a loss of sales, then it will be the workers that are effected.

For me, I personally feel wary about shopping from brands, with the uncertainty that the people who made their clothes got a decent wage (the average wage of a Bangladeshi textile worker is £338.71 compared to the annual wage in the UK which is £27,600) or the knowledge that I might not want to wear it in a month's time. Maybe I would feel differently if they knew themselves and could publish a list of their suppliers?

'Demand quality. Not just in the product you buy, but in the life of the person who made it' - Orsola de Castro

I want to make the clothes that I buy last longer and to take better care of them. If I buy something from Zara (for example), I need to know it will be durable and I that I won't just wear it once. 
I was pleasantly surprised about what I had forgotten about in my wardrobe, and it felt like I had gained new clothes. I found out on the Global Fashion Exchange website, if you wear something 50 times instead of just 5 (the fast fashion average), you reduce the carbon emissions for that item by 400% per year!

We all need to challenge the brands that we shop at - contact and question them 'who made my clothes?'. If they don't know, then why don't they know? We need to encourage them to find out. As I have learnt through the 'Who Made My Clothes?" online course, the more 'transparent' a brand is about where its clothes are made, who made them and the conditions in which they were made, the more they can be held responsible for improving the lives of their workers.

What price is the world paying for fast fashion and is it worth it?

                                                                                           Beccy x

P.s. If you want to find out a bit more about the effects of fast fashion and what we can do to reduce them, have a little look at Fashion Revolution's 'White Paper' :-)


Thursday, 3 August 2017

The Story Behind The Skirt - Who actually made my clothes?

Like most shoppers, it is easy to think that the moment when we rifle through the rails and pick something out is the start of that product's story. I often forget that there are so many things that happen to your clothes before they reach you. It is easy to be detached from the people who made the clothes you buy, distracted by look-books and Ads.  

There are so many lives that your clothes come into contact with. Who grew the cotton in your clothes or spun the fibres into yarn? Was it dyed with toxic chemicals that are emptied into the environment? Was it made in a factory that uses child labour? 

Have you ever wondered - 'who made my clothes?'

As part of the online course I am doing on Future Learn, ( through Fashion Revolution ( and the Uni of Exeter I am looking into the story behind one piece of my clothing. I chose a denim skirt from Free People, which I got in the sale about two years ago. The brand 'Free People' comes under a bigger company URBN, along with Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, BHLDN and Verti.

I particularly wanted to look at a company that I shop at fairly frequently; as a customer, I think it is easy to overlook the brand's ethical faults, if you like its products. 

The skirt that I’m researching is made out of 100% cotton; it has press studs down the front, pockets on the sides and back and rows of decorative stitching. Every one of these features requires an extra process, an extra step that makes it more expensive to make – costs must be cut somewhere - usually the cost of labour.

So, here is the story behind my skirt...

The cotton in my skirt was probably grown in China or India (the first and second largest producers of cotton in the world). The cotton production industries in both of these countries, uses child and forced labour.  If this were the case, it would make the brand name 'Free People' seem ironic. I have written to Free People to find out if they can tell me where the cotton was grown, and I'm waiting for a response.

The cotton in my skirt was likely to have been picked by children, extremely underpaid and unable to go to school - picked or processed by a girl or boy like Anil, a child labourer from India, aged 12.

The cotton was probably then woven and dyed in China where the skirt was made. The denim used to make my skirt is much dirtier than you’d ever expect as it is soaked in chemicals such as cadmium, lead and mercury (ugh!), which is not something you would want against your skin. Luckily, these chemicals won't affect me, unlike the people who dye the denim. I can only imagine the side effects of being exposed to the chemicals and living next to a river filled with excess dyes, that change from blue to pink from one day to the next like a toxic version of a scene from ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’.

Not surprisingly, my skirt was made in China, although when I googled ‘garment workers' stories URBN China’ I found a host of stories from garment workers in factories in Los Angeles. It sounds naive but I was surprised about the fact there are so many sweatshops in Los Angeles, probably because it is in a Western country and I expected regulations would be stricter. Even though I wanted to stick to the countries where my skirt was made, it was interesting to hear directly from people that made clothes in LA – a place, from the name, you’d expect to be wealthy, not with the Urban Outfitters shop just a few blocks away from its sweatshop.

Shima's story was one of the many that I came across. It diverges from the story of my skirt a bit - Shima works in Bangladesh, not China, but with clothes from URBN in my wardrobe made in Bangladesh and similar working conditions in these factories, I still found it relevant, and I really wanted to share it. 

There is a lot of information about Free People on the Project Just website along with many other brands.
Sadly the company doesn’t appear to share any goals regarding how it is trying to improve social and environmental conditions in its supply chain. Good Guide rated Anthropologie and Free People a 4.5 out of 10 for society— ‘their performances, practices and policies place it among the lowest 50% of companies rated by the GoodGuide’.  Anthropologie was the only URBN company on the 'Fashion Transparency Index' - it scored only 10% for it's transparency (how much it discloses about its social and environmental policies). 

In addition to a brand's style, I want ethical approach to be one of the major things which influences my shopping choices - something that Fashion Revolution made me realise. One of the reasons we buy clothes is to make us feel good. Buying a cotton dress, with cotton that was grown in a country that uses child labour does not make me feel good. But it’s not just about me – the customer. It is about the people who made the clothes.

Do you know who made your clothes?

Beccy x
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