‘I couldn’t resist’ or ‘it was just so cheap’ are excuses we constantly use to justify buying our fifth stripy top – which looks almost identical to the fourth one we’ve only worn once.
The line between need and want becomes blurred in a consumer society which treats buying clothes as a solution to life’s everyday stresses. Had a bad day? Scroll through ASOS. Free next day delivery! It’d be rude not to buy this jumper and I can even get student discount!
Fast fashion gives us the instant satisfaction we crave. But this happiness is transient. Clothes are treated as disposable items for consumption. Inescapable advertising has created a toxic discourse surrounding fashion, driven by social media influencers flaunting five different jumpers in one ‘haul’ video claiming they are all wardrobe staples.
Since 97% of our clothes are made overseas, we are sheltered from the fatal effects of our retail habits. The globalised fashion industry is increasing the disparity between developing and developed countries by maximising profit for the owners of clothing brands and violating the human rights of garment workers.
In our quick, mindless transactions we fail to realise the true cost.
Factory owners in developing countries – desperately competing for brand investment – are forced to make cuts to workers’ pay so they can keep up with the demands for cheap production. Moreover, this modern slavery takes place in countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia where there are no trade unions; workers are beaten and sometimes shot if they engage in peaceful protest. A horrific example of complete disregard for health and safety is the collapse of the Rana Plaza complex in Dhaka in 2013 – in which 1335 garment workers were killed. Before this catastrophe, workers had spoken out about the building’s unsafe structure, but were ignored by the factory owners who were preoccupied by the focus on mass production.
This life-threatening destruction of livelihood is not solely restricted to the factories. Entire towns are transformed into production sites with complete disregard for the health of residents. Pesticides and fertilizers used on expansive cotton plantations cause mental and physical disorders for people in nearby villages. Within these communities, rivers are polluted with toxic chemicals such as lead, which lowers the IQ of children.
Brands escape responsibility for their actions by pinning the blame on the factory owners and the lack of laws surrounding workers’ rights in developing countries, as if their Western superiority is a ticket to ignore the problems their industry is causing. In Stacey Dooley’s latest documentary, Fashion’s Dirty Secrets, she contacts major fast fashion brands to arrange interviews, but all of them decline. Their refusal to simply engage in conversation, means the industry’s horrific reality is kept hidden from consumers. It is time for corporations to take responsibility.
Next time we see that £4 ‘basic’ t shirt in ten different colours on the shelves of H&M, we must look beyond its manipulative marketing and recognise the true cost of fast fashion: basic human rights.