10 Reasons why you should rethink your fast fashion choices
Hey there! I've stopped buying from fast fashion companies and I want to tell you why.
This post might be slightly long, because I don't want to break it down into separate articles - we need to understand each issue feeds into another, and they all come together in a vicious loop.
So before we begin, can we stop and think - how many clothes do we own and how many do we actually wear?
1. It is cheap.
Yes, I said it, it is cheap. It is cheap in the stylistic sense, and it is cheap in monetary value. Yes that’s definitely a trendy blouse you’ve got there, and I believe how much you love it because you’re wearing it all season.
But take a look around your closet, how many pieces of similar blouses you have already bought, loved, and abandoned? This can either mean: (1) you seem to have very short-lived passion for each piece of clothing you own, or (2) you don’t mind splurging on similar pieces of clothes because they are cheap, or (3) the designs are copycats from different brands.
Yes, it is true. You think that top looks familiar? Yes, because a fast fashion giant has sent photos of clothings from runways, local designers to factories and asked them to replicate the exact piece with slight alterations as one of the 52 seasons they push to consumers every week. When big brands gets copied, they call the copycats 'counterfeits'. When the fashion giants copy, they get away with it because they are 'too big' and 'too rich' for a lawsuit. Or people just can't be bothered to file a lawsuit - the 'trends' changes 52 times a year anyway. See links below:
2. If it's not a counterfeit, is it better? No.
I know I sound a little bit snobbish here, but cheap is cheap. There's a fine line between something being made using lower value material vs 'cheap'. The former is made with producer with integrity, not charging high premium for some shit, and the latter is producer scamming your money.
Something being 'cheap' means a disproportion between quality & price. A 'cheap' product can be expensive or low in value. When you deliberately buy something because it is 'cheap', you get what you pay for:
- It is bad in quality.
- It charges high price margins for these fast fashion giants, despite the product being 'low in value'.
- For workers who had bled and sweated for producing these garments, the cheap clothing produced is thought of as disposable and “easy to make” because they are so cheap.
3. I don’t see how it is bad in quality - what do you mean?
Let’s get this straight. Do you know what ‘quality’ means? I didn't. We are all so used to fast fashion pieces that we have zero idea what is of ‘better’ quality than a piece that doesn’t fall apart after 20 washes. We think that as long as there are seams and there are ‘no loose threads’, and that the colours don’t go off during their first two washes, the clothing are ‘good in quality’.
Not trying to play the expert here, because I’m also figuring out what quality clothing is like. But from my researches I found that there are things that a good piece of clothing can fulfill, see more here:
- the fabric has to match with the purpose, season, and the cut
- the seams depends on what the fabric is
- the cut pairs well with your body shape
- it actually fits you
- it is comfortable on skin, durable, and most importantly, classic in style
No one would say that they’ve bought a quality outfit if it is what Kanye West has designed, no matter how good the fabric / cut is. (ooops)
4. What’s wrong with companies charging high price margins? It’s a commercial world.
There’s nothing wrong with companies wanting to gain more profit. But at some point, we must stop and think - from where are they getting profit? We, the consumers, definitely is a source of revenue. But there’s only so much we pay, 80 HKD for a top maybe? Another way would be to cut costs. Cheaper fabric. Cheaper labour.
Those garment workers:
- work 16 hours a day with less than minimum wage
- if, unfortunately, they work in factories where dangerous chemicals are used, they are NOT provided the necessary equipment to protect themselves (more here)
- no fixed date of salary payment, and their salary can be reduced arbitrarily for no reason (sometimes the reason is that they had been late for 2 days, which did not actually happen, or excuses like that)
- they might be cut off from basic health amenities such as washrooms, and there are no water supply (or that they don’t want to drink water to avoid going to washrooms). It is not uncommon for workers to die in the factory.
- additional stories are built on factories with NO fire escapes, windows are barred and blocked with boxes, a deadly place when fire breaks out
- i’m not even joking, thousands DIE working in these factories (see what happened in Dhaka in 2013)
- are mostly uneducated girls who are earning less than enough to afford education for their offspring. the vicious cycle continues.
There’s no promise that when those fast fashion giants start charging premium prices for their clothing, they are transferring that money to these workers.
5. It’s the perception of ‘cheap’ that’s so problematic.
- consumers are accustomed to clothing being so cheap that they are unwilling to pay more
- clothing companies, in order to fight for survival, have to lower their prices to be competitive
- the perception of how clothing can be cheap is further reinforced
- what is worse, when an object is perceived as cheap, it becomes ‘disposable’
- the fashion industry has now become a vicious cycle when consumers constantly pressing for cheaper prices and constantly buying new pieces
and soon we will all be asking, how much cheaper can we go before we get pieces that are completely trashed after 1 wash?
6. What’s the problem with buying new pieces?
You won’t stop buying.
There is nothing wrong with buying new pieces that complete your wardrobe. But both you and I know this is not the only piece of black leggings, white blouse, or cute patterned top that you are going to buy.
We don’t have a wardrobe of an infinite size.
Abandoned clothing either goes to donation, or to the landfill. Is it really?
These don’t seem to be an issue, but read this:
DONATION: The majority of donated clothing are not sold. Clothing has become so cheap that even developing countries are likely to be able to afford them. People who used to buy secondhand clothes can now afford to buy new pieces thanks to cheap prices.
LANDFILL: Most of the cheap clothing are made with non-biodegradable fabrics, namely, polyester, which are no different from non-biodegradable plastics.
7. Why can’t we recycle polyester if we can recycle plastic?
Good question. Recycling polyester is difficult because
the fabric has chemical backing, lamination or other finish,
clothing is mostly made with blended fabrics (e.g. 70% polyester, 25% cotton, 5% nylon). There is currently few technology to help us separate polyester from the rest.
Unlike the mechanical methods above, chemical methods can separate polyester from other fabrics, but it is cost and time consuming for a lot of factories / businesses to do.
There are some news lately that there is technology separate cotton-polyester blends (see link here) but I’m not sure how this works if polyester is blended with other fabrics, or what the cost looks like from doing so.
8. At least, we are helping developing countries. Are we?
To some extent, yes, we are paying these fast fashion giants to invest in developing countries. But there’s a catch - they are also exploiting their labour and natural resources. We are only helping if workers get paid enough to climb the social ladder, but very often this is not the case.
It is a no-brainer that when prices are low, demands will be high. When more and more consumers buy from fast fashion brands, these companies have orders so big (often hundreds of thousands units) that they are too big to reject for factories. With such big orders, companies holds tremendous power to exert pressure on factories to lower their manufacturing costs (“take it or leave it” mentality there!) And at the end they have to take the order and force workers to work longer hours at cheaper price to survive.
Lower wages means workers cannot even afford basic living standards, let alone education. Without education, they are forever stuck. The vicious cycle continues…
9. Don’t companies have their code of ethics and CSR policies?
Well, the trick is that most of these fast fashion companies cannot trace their full production lines. Their factories sub-contract their orders, and sub-contractors do not necessarily need to adhere to the companies’ “code of ethics”.
10. Why can’t workers resist?
Anyone who initiates protests or discussions with management for better welfare are beaten, threatened or fired. In 2014, Cambodian garment workers took to the streets for slight increases in minimum wages, only to have armed police killing 3.
In these developing countries, garment export takes up such a large part of the country’s national income that corrupted government will make allies with garment factory owners to suppress actions that will increase costs of manufacturing.
Fashion fades, style remains.
I have attempted to give a brief summary of what I have understood about the fashion industry today. Seems like a gloomy picture out there. But the thing is, we can make a difference.
When you pick up a lovely skirt in an H&M or Zara next time, think again. Are you buying ‘fashion’ or are you buying ‘style’? By being more conscious and buying well-thought-through pieces that really complements your very own curated closet, you are one step closer to saving a part of the world.
See more on how to identify quality pieces, select suitable fabric for your style, and construct your very own closet that truly represent your style, please see my other blogposts!