The Devil Wears Fast Fashion

India, Old Delhi, August 2016. The streets are vibrant and buzzing with colour and life. We walk through ancient streets and enter a narrow corridor in between high reaching walls. We walk through a door-less entryway and into a dark, small room. There are two men sitting embroidering traditional Indian patterns and motifs onto saris, spending days on each design. We are honoured to view these traditional techniques up close and sit watching them thread with absolute precision.

India has a long, rich history of textile and fashion design. Although there is still traditional textile design in the Indian marketplace, today it is a hotbed for fast fashion manufacturing. Globalisation has accounted for the manufacturing of fashion garments in third world countries, where labour is cheap and the conditions that workers operate in are not aptly regulated. What manufacturing meant traditionally to Indians, has changed from creating familial saris, to sewing as a means of survival.

In Australia, trade barrier liberalisation in and globalisation in the 1990’s has attributed to the move from domestically produced garments, to outsourcing to third world countries where make costs are far cheaper and production is faster. This is not so much a bad thing for developing countries, as long as they have the infrastructure and safe working conditions available to support workers. It is our responsibility as consumers and businesses in the West to ask for transparency from garment factories, to ensure to uphold worker’s rights and make sure that we produce in an ethical and sustainably viable way.

“Transparency encourages scrutiny, vigilance and accountability. It’s like opening one’s front door and allowing others to look inside; not yet the full picture, but an important step towards openness and public disclosure. And of course, the more doors are open, the more the picture becomes clearer, the better we can understand and ameliorate supply chain workers’ lives and the environment.”  -@fash_rev’s 2017 Transparency Index.

The extreme growth of fast manufacturing since the 1990’s put constraints on developing countries, which don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate production demands. Probably the most notorious example of the effects of this is the collapse of Rana Plaza, in April 2013, Bangladesh. Over 1100 people lost their lives due to neglect and improper building structure. This event sparked efforts for transparency and ethical fashion movements.

As Consumers - 
The reason that we don’t invest in cheaply made and designed motor vehicles is because we are afraid of the risks that may entail. The reason why we as a society are moving away from the gross consumption of cheap, fast food is because we are aware of the repercussions on our body and the environment long term. As a society we are a) not informed of the damages to the environment with the mass production of clothing goods and b) the risks associated with the manufacturing and production of these goods on the individual do not directly effect us. However, as Christians, we must love our neighbour. Love in action does not look like buying into the production of fast fashion when you are aware of the impacts it has on garment workers and communities, not just in the third world. We have choice. We have the freedom to choose between endless products. We drive the consumer demand of products and our shopping habits determine the future of fashion trade.

Some ways we can become informed as ethical shoppers are:

1)   Where was your product made? The country of origin will tell you a lot about the quality.
2)   Price.

Not everyone can afford luxury items. However, I think the value that we place on garments due to globalisation, competition and mass production driving prices so low is unrealistic.

I want to break down for you how fashion brands make profit- margins. The margin is the profit difference between retail cost and production cost. Generally, it’s a 60% mark-up. For example, as an extreme let’s you are spending $5 on a t-shirt. When we minus costs such as fabric, cut, trims, overheads and delivery cost, you are left with an estimate of 80c for make. I can tell you that your shirt would on average take a garment maker 20-30 minutes to make. Depending upon difficulty levels. Garment workers are not given that 80c per shirt though. The owner of the factory receives some of this. I’m not able to say much each owner would deduct- it’s dependent upon them. However, 80c is a clear indicator of how garment makers are underpaid and mistreated. This is not even mentioning the tragic conditions workers are subjected to. You probably understand my point. It is demand and supply. Brands demand lower prices, so factories in turn demand higher units. We are left with cheap, fast fashion and an immeasurable amount of landfill compounding annually.

3)   Research into the brand you are interested in buying from. A quick Google search will allow you to gauge what the company’s ethical values are, in particular there sustainability efforts and production transparency.

4)   External research. Have a look at websites such as the following which have gathered information on various fashion companies:

-       www.baptistworldaid.org.au/faith-in-action/behind-the-barcode/

-       www.ethicalclothingaustralia.org.au/

-       www.projectjust.com

-       www.walksewgood.com

-       www.fashionrevolution.org

5)   If you would like to invest in securing the safety and fair working conditions of garment maker see the following:

-       www.workshelter.com

-       www.tcfua.org.au

6)   Invest in fewer items of clothing per year and wear them numerous times. Most likely, the item that is dearer has been designed with more intention and you will enjoy its use more so than fast fashion.

In conclusion, as consumers we drive the demand for product. As ethically sourced and produced garments become increasingly popular, the need becomes more prevalent in the marketplace. There is growing demand for transparency and fashion brands wanting to profit in the current market need to account for this if they want to move with the times.

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About Elsie May Lawrie

Elsie is a fashion designer with a keen interest in sustainability and ethical fashion. She has worked for over two years in the Australian fashion industry, assisting in designing and producing high-end garments.

Asha Grudzinskas