Fast fashion was created in the Nineties thanks to brands that proposed a recognizable and low cost dressing style. It developed through these decades following high-fashion, but remaining much cheaper and most of all it changed timing. Collections went from two cycles a year (basically summer and winter) to almost weekly ones, for a constant renovation of the store shelves.
Sustainability is the other side of the coin, though – it goes for many other sectors, especially a fundamental one such as food. Even if we spend less than a hundred years ago – an average of 15% of our incomes against 50% of the past century – the production increased by 400%. The Smithsonian Institution Magazine says that the impact on the environment caused by the industry is heavy, a single t-shirt requires 120 liters of water, a pair of jeans 70 liters. Not to mention the use of coloring and chemical agents to treat the garment: the World Bank reports that those contribute for the 20% of the water pollution of the planet.
The other impact is on the economy and the working force. Nike was involved into a notorious case of minors exploitation in the south-east of Asia and even if the multinational apparently redeemed, the problem is still there. Under age employees are less than ten years ago, but they are almost 200 millions, according to the International Labour Organization. Half of them are exposed to risky conditions for their health, like the already mentioned chemicals.
And it’s not that better for the adults. The average wage goes from 50 dollars per year in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India to 250 dollars in “luckier” countries like Thailand: these are the main sources of our western fast fashion. Safety doesn’t exist as well, the only measure is putting bars at the windows, only to prevent suicides. An issue also in electronics, 2010 was a fatal year for the FoxConn factories in China. By the way, they put pieces together for any giant of the branch, from Apple to Microsoft to Nintendo.
A survey conducted by Fashion Revolution Graphic and Facts among 219 brands shows how only 12% of them can prove to pay adequate salaries; only 9% knows from where raw materials come from; 25% ignores the conditions of the suppliers, as only the last phases of production are monitored. This fosters underdevelopment, while numbers would suggest the opposite. For example, plants multiplied in Bangladesh, from around 50 in the Eighties to more than five thousand. And they contribute for the 13% of the local Gross National Product. Wealth, however, moves somewhere else.
The collapse of the industrial complex Rana Plaza in Savar, metropolitan area of Dhaka, Bangladesh, in 2013 had been a turning point which showed the world what was behind the convenient fast fashion. With more than a thousand victims among the workers, the tragedy stressed the need to give more value to labor and human lives. Even if results are hard to obtain, at least satisfying ones.
More than 140 international brands, which covered 1300 factories, immediately signed the Fire and Building Safety Agreement, with the aim to legalize the textile industry (and other ones) in Bangladesh. At March 1st 2018, 85% of the necessary interventions recommended by independent inspectors were completed and the number of those multipurpose buildings like Rana Plaza was cut in half. But 79 of them are still active.
Actually, poverty and exploitation are far from disappearing, unless we consider paying 20 dollars more per year enough, while the working time is undefined yet. Plus, we have to consider the systemic problem of Bangladesh, considered by the organization Transparency International the most corrupted country of the world for five years in a row. It’s not hard to believe that with these premises there’s a lot behind the official statistics.
Fast fashion, like any other sector of commercial production on a large scale, has to respond to the challenge of being able to conjugate convenience with ethics and sustainability, fundamental aspects from where benefits for everyone could come.
The famous Zoolander scene, where Derek is brainwashed to kill the prime minister of Malaysia, “guilty” for wanting to abolish underage work, with repercussions for high-fashion