For decades, we’ve known that fast fashion and sustainability do not go hand-in-hand. Most of our clothing is produced in countries where workers’ rights are limited or non-existent. The primary reason is that brands are always looking for new locations where they can cut down on labor costs. Child labor, abuse of human rights, lower wages, and environmental impact are just a few of the many effects of fast fashion that you need to take notice of now, more than ever!
So let’s understand the repercussions of this dark industry, in detail.
Effects of fast fashion on workers
Many facts regarding fast fashion are frightening, and very few people understand how bad the business model is. It negatively impacts workers, people, and local communities. Here’s the reality about working conditions that the fast fashion industry doesn’t want you to know.
1. Minimum wages
Approximately 98% of workers in the fashion industry are likely living in poverty and unable to meet their most basic needs. Women between the ages of 18 and 24 account for 75% of these workers. – Fashion Revolution, 2022.
When it comes to fast fashion, many brands promise that the people who make the clothes are paid “at least the minimum legal wage.” But, what does that suggest? It means that other brands do not even pay the legal minimum pay to their workers. In fact, companies that brag about paying their employees fairly are actually paying them much lesser than they deserve; for instance, this happens in textile manufacturing countries like Ethiopia, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.
2. Excessive working hours
Textile workers are often forced to work more than 16 hours a day to meet the fast fashion brand’s deadlines. Every month, if not every week, several unethical fast fashion companies introduce new trends and collections. This is frequently due to consumer demand, as new collections need to be pushed to high-street stores in a short period. Furthermore, since the workers’ base salaries are so low, they cannot refuse overtime. (In some cases, this is even unpaid labor.)
3. Forced and child labor
Fast fashion contributes to forced and child labor in places like Bangladesh, India, China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Fast-fashion sustainability and ethicality are essentially non-existent in most cotton fields and garment factories, as these labels don’t even oversee supply chains like they should. To keep production costs low, immoral fast fashion brands exploit and abuse farmers and laborers in such circumstances.
4. Physical and sexual abuse
When it comes to the effects of fast fashion, it isn’t just about long hours and lesser pay. There is also the darker side of physical and sexual abuse. Because of widespread prejudice against women, the female factory workers in these fast fashion companies are subject to gender-based abuse and harassment at work. Some garment supply chains also incite violence because of the immense pressure to reach production targets. Several incidences of injustice against women working in supplier factories have been recorded across Asia.
5. Health and safety issues
Some fast-fashion enterprises are so large that they are unconcerned about the processes that an employee must go through, to provide what they display in their stores. Since most fast-fashion products are made in some of the world’s poorest countries, such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and the Philippines, these workers are exposed to hazardous working conditions. These brands and retailers put pressure on garment producers to keep labor costs low, resulting in unsafe buildings, toxic chemicals in the air, and poor ventilation.
Effects of fast fashion on the environment
We all know the effects of the actions by fast fashion companies on their employees, who work hard day and night to make the clothes you wear. Now, it’s time to look at fast fashion’s environmental impact as well. The industry, which accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions, is the second most polluting industry after the oil industry.
Another problem is that since fast fashion companies produce up to 150 billion clothes each year, people discard them in favor of new pieces regularly, as the materials used are cheap. Many of the chemicals used to manufacture these low-cost garments end up in landfills and are released back into the environment, after being discarded.
When it comes to fast fashion sustainability, it’s almost non-existent, as 500,000 tons of microfibers, or small non-biodegradable materials, end up in the oceans every year. So, before making any purchase, think twice (or even ten times) about the environmental impact of fast fashion.
After reading these heartbreaking facts about fast fashion companies, let’s look at how to spot them among the many fashion labels available in the market.
How to recognize fast-fashion labels?
Most fast fashion brands aren’t entirely open about their sources or how their items are created. They frequently introduce new collections, using greenwashing strategies to mislead consumers into keeping up with the latest trends. In addition, unethical fast fashion brands share no information about what they’re doing to reduce their environmental impact.
Let’s look at some such fast fashion labels that should not be part of your ethical wardrobe:
Even if Shein established (or has established) strict measures to limit waste and energy consumption, such a high production rate makes it difficult to be sustainable. In other words, Shein is not good for the planet. Shein’s packing materials have also sparked debate online, as each product is individually wrapped in a plastic zip-top bag. In addition, thousands of products are shipped out every day, which means a lot of plastic garbage ends up in landfills.
This well-known Swedish brand is the world’s second-largest fashion retailer and one that we should avoid! Despite its commitments, the brand failed to pay a livable wage to 850,000 garment employees in 2018. In addition, it is an unethical fast-fashion brand, despite significant progress in eliminating harmful chemicals from its products! It was also revealed that several female workers were physically and sexually assaulted. The brand does have a textile recycling program; however, only about 35% of its clothing is recycled, and instead of donating old clothing, they burn them.
3. Forever 21
Cheap-chic clothier Forever 21, based in the US, sells low-priced clothing at a social and environmental cost. According to US Labor Department investigators, workers at a factory in LA were paid as little as $4 per hour, far less than the state’s minimum wage. Forever 21 has also refused to sign the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety, showing no concern for its employees. In addition to being accused of body shaming after delivering diet bars to clients who requested plus-size items, the company has also been blasted by PETA for selling wool.
4. Victoria’s Secret
Victoria’s Secret is a well-known lingerie brand in America. However, despite signing the Greenpeace ‘Detox My Fashion‘ campaign, which aims to remove all nasty chemicals from the brand’s products and supply networks, there is little to no information on whether they have done so. Not to mention the charges made by the brand’s models, notably Bella Hadid, who claim to have been bullied and sexually abused by company execs.
This brand is one of our top fast fashion brands to stay away from! Romwe prides itself on “only producing 50-100 pieces per new product to ensure no raw materials are wasted.” But, as soon as the product is in high demand, it introduces new collections at breakneck speeds! Unfortunately, along with Shein, Romwe was also caught selling animal fur marketed as faux fur.
6. Fashion Nova
This American fashion brand has gained a lot of traction thanks to Instagram influencers and celebrities. In 2021, however, the brand received a 0% score on the Fashion Transparency Index. In addition, its clothing is made of synthetic materials like polyester, acrylic, and nylon, making it far from sustainable. Fashion Nova is also accused of working with Los Angeles factories that underpay their employees.
Now, you know the facts about fast fashion brands, and how they negatively impact the planet, their workers, and the communities around them. Finally, it’s a matter of avoiding fast fashion brands or asking yourself these quick questions before choosing one.