"It is cheap and accessible for everyone."
Across the globe, cities are filled with fierce and trendy fashionistas. However, it is likely their favourite clothes come from corrupt, fast fashion brands.
Popular stores like Primark and SHEIN, which are some of the largest retailers in the world, hold a grip over most people’s shopping habits.
But, these constantly expanding corporations are surrounded by controversy.
Their speedy supply chains rely on outsourced and often underpaid labour from workers in countries, like India.
However, who is to blame for fast fashion, greedy fashion companies, or frantic consumers? DESIblitz investigates.
What is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion is the mass production of cheap, poor quality, disposable clothing.
Fashion company Misguided releases about 1,000 new products monthly, and Fashion Nova’s CEO has said that it launches about 600 to 900 new styles every week, as reported by Coresight Research.
Therefore, the rapid rate at which new collections are released feeds into shopper’s desire to buy more and keep up with the newest trends.
So, what is wrong with fast fashion?
Many large fashion houses have been criticised for sourcing their products from “sweatshops” employing “slave labour” in Asian countries, including India and Bangladesh.
In India, factories were closed in March 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Workers were not paid as American retailers cancelled their orders.
Bangladesh is one of the main actors in this industry, with as many as 8,000 garment factories operating in the country.
Moreover, this means that the livelihood of both the country and its workers depend on Western fashion brands.
Additionally, to maintain the low prices of items, fast fashion companies demand developing countries to mass-produce clothes.
These countries labour and environmental laws can easily be exploited by big corporations.
Overall, to maintain the low prices of clothes, workers are forced to work in harmful conditions and receive very little pay.
Also, it can take up to 200 tons of fresh water to dye and finish just one ton of fabric.
For example, in Bangladesh alone, 22,000 tons of toxic waste from tanneries goes straight into the waterways per year.
Extinction Rebellion and the UN have also reported that 3.6 billion people, almost half the world’s population, are at risk of water scarcity at some points during the year.
Ultimately, this toxic water affects the health of people and the wildlife, polluting the sea.
Is it the Consumer’s Fault?
Fast fashion has democratised luxury trends for everyday shoppers, but it comes at a greater cost.
Financially, for the consumer, it seems to be a harmless industry.
However, people are paid next to nothing to make these clothes, and it can be dangerous to their physical and emotional health.
In December, the New York Times published a report on Fashion Nova revealing that many factories making Fashion Nova clothes were under investigation by the US Labour Department for underpaying workers.
Moreover, when a store says, “buy one get one 50% off”, they are not losing money.
Even with a 50% discount, they are still profitable.
India pays their workers less than what Asia Floor Wage Alliance thinks is a liveable wage in India.
Fortunately, because of social media, many users are exposing, cancelling and dismantling these companies.
They are now raising awareness and spreading facts on the treatment of workers and the impact on the environment.
Despite this, these fast-fashion companies are still earning vast amounts of money and thriving.
Thus raising the question, is it the fault of consumers?
Therefore, if people are aware of how companies treat the environment and their workers, why do people still support these brands?
Perhaps it is due to the convenience of fast fashion because it is cheap, quick and reliable.
However, many do not realise the small changes they can make to help the environment, and underpaid labourers whilst being a fashionista.
What Do Desi Shoppers Think?
DESIblitz caught up with Desi shoppers outside Birmingham’s very busy Bullring shopping centre to hear their opinions on fast fashion.
Simran Kaur, 22 from Birmingham, calls herself a “shopaholic”.
Her favourites stores are Zara and Primark.
When speaking of fast fashion and the treatment of labourers, she said:
“It is horrible, and there should be more support for these workers.
“I love shopping, it makes me so happy, but when I hear about how companies treat their staff and how it is impacting the environment, it makes me want to return all my clothes.”
Despite believing these companies are wrong for treating their workers poorly, Simran will continue to shop at these stores.
“I don’t think I will stop.
“Everything is just so cheap.”
“But, I do feel guilty.”
However, Aman Singh, 19 from Wolverhampton, believes people should stop having a “lazy attitude” towards the environment and fashion.
“People who say fast fashion is bad, and then they continue shopping at these companies, are stupid.”
He believes it is the consumer’s fault.
“There are so many ways to help stop the companies from growing.
“People show fake activism online, they pretend they care, but they really don’t.”
Whereas Kiran Dhaliwal, a fashion student from Birmingham, calls people who do not shop at fast fashion brands “privileged”.
“Fast fashion is growing because it is cheap and accessible for everyone.
“So I think it is unfair when others are judging people for shopping at these stores.
“People need to be kinder and more understanding because not everyone can afford expensive clothes.”
Serena Williams, 35 from Dudley, spent her day exploring the different charity shops in Birmingham.
“I prefer shopping at charity shops because it might not solve the issue of underpaid workers. But, at least it’s helping the environment.”
Serena is always looking for new ways to shop more sustainably:
“It makes me feel awful that young children are making our clothes.
“So, I try to shop as ethically as I can. It is hard. But, if I can help one worker, as well as the planet, then I’m happy.”
However, she explains that her family and friends do not care about fast fashion.
“Fast fashion doesn’t bother them.
“I don’t understand, especially because we are Indian, and Indian workers are mistreated.”
“I don’t understand why they would not care.
“It really upsets me.”
Many believe corporations care more so about money, which is why consumers must take a stand in stopping fast fashion from growing.
Overall, there are mixed opinions when it comes to who is at fault for fast fashion.
Social Media and Fashion Influencers
Moreover, new fashion pieces instantly become viral across Instagram and Tik Tok, prompting fashion lovers to quickly purchase these products.
Social media, the most powerful form of communication, can make or break a retail company.
From Bollywood stars to the Kardashian family, the rise of influencer culture and marketing has opened up a niche for fast fashion brands to flourish.
The average person now publicly document their life in outfits on social media, which is usually inspired by their favourite influencers.
However, most influencers are gifted these items and paid to promote them.
Fashion influencers and celebrities, arguably drive the fast fashion economy.
They can make anything popular and influence how people consume fashion. It is a dangerous cycle.
So, What Can People Do?
Rather than consistently purchasing new clothes, people instead should style their clothes in different ways.
Using basics like plain, block-coloured clothes is ideal. These looks can dress up with jewellery and heels or down with trainers.
Additionally, this can be applied to Desi clothes, as a sari blouse can also be worn to a fancy bar.
The possibilities are endless.
Moreover, not only is the beneficial for the environment but also saving money.
Research is vital in finding out whether ones favourite brands are sustainable or what changes they are making to become more sustainable.
Moreover, there many articles and blogs listing different affordable sustainable brands to buy from.
Lastly, people can also research how to help the environment if they can only purchase from these fast fashion brands.
Invest in Better Quality Clothes
Furthermore, sustainable brands and designer brands produce clothes of a better quality, which is more durable and lasts longer than fast fashion garments.
Therefore, it is beneficial to invest in long lasting garments, that are not easily ruined.
Rather than binning old clothes it is more environmentally friendly to donate or recycle.
Alongside sibling hand-me downs, donating clothes and accessories to charity shops will be helpful to those who are in need.
Moreover, now in many high street shops like Primark and HnM, there are recycling boxes, where people can bring their old clothes and will be recycled for them.
Buy Second Hand
Fortunately, technology can also help the environment, and encourage people to avoid spending their money at fast fashion companies.
People can sell there clothes on popular apps like Depop and Vinted, which are credited and used by thousands.
Moreover, vintage and charity shops have hidden treasures like unique clothes and accessories that are usually in great quality, and affordable.
Ultimately, highlighting the many ways people can avoid shopping at fast fashion companies, and being environmentally friendly.
Are Brands Becoming More Eco-friendly?
After many protests, reports and campaigns, many fast fashion companies are now attempting to rectify the damage they have caused.
It is difficult to blame consumers or companies, as they both contribute to the cycle of fast fashion.
Therefore, it is vital to encourage conversations on fast fashion and how consumers can shop more ethically.
Companies must understand how their production of clothes is dangerous and acknowledge that their consumers want ethically sourced clothes.
Consumer attitudes, particularly toward sustainability and corporate transparency, have pushed companies to revaluate their labour practices and environmental impacts.
For example, H&M has shown notable improvements in materials it sources, renewable electricity used in stores, and the expansion of its ‘conscious’ clothing recycling program.
In July 2019, Zara’s parent company, Inditex, pledged all of its material for clothing will be sustainable, organic, or recycled by 2025.
Some people were sceptical of the plan’s since Zara did not promise to produce less clothing or slow down its manufacturing process.
However, it is great that fast fashion brands are now improving the logistics behind their companies.
But, this is only because of consumers protesting and fighting for change.
Overall, fast fashion might still be growing, but educating and encouraging people to shop more ethically will force companies to evaluate how they treat their workers and the planet.