I think a lot of us are guilty of shopping on fast-fashion sites, and if we aren’t, I’m sure some of our friends are. Sites like Boohoo, Romwe, Zaful, Fashion Nova, etc, operate on business models that offer insanely cheap trendy items, and turn over new items extremely fast. Fashion Nova has said they offer 600 to 900 new styles every week. They create as many cheap styles of clothing as they can, sell them as cheap as they can, maximizing profit by sourcing cheap labor and cheap materials. This business model manifests in unsafe working conditions, long hours, and a low minimum wage to laborers. The issue is, 80% of laborers are women, ages 18-24 years old, making less than $3 a day.
The rise of Fast Fashion is new. With the rise of industrialization and the global market, more and more factories have been closing down in the states, and sourcing cheaper labor overseas. In 1991, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 56.2% of all clothing purchased in the US was American-made; by 2012, it dropped to 2.5%. The shift is caused by capitalism, in the pursuit to make the most money, in the least amount of time. They depend on low-production costs, which means low wages, unsafe working environments, and long hours. One of the deadliest textile-industry accidents to date happened in Bangladesh in 2013, when the Rana Plaza collapsed. Out of the 1,129 people who died in the accident, 80% were women and some children. Those women were working 16-hour days, making 25 cents an hour.
These industries place offshore manufacturing sites in countries with the promise of jobs and wealth for their country. The reality is, they uphold poverty and disempower women, while also causing environmental destruction. According to The United Nations, Fast Fashion is responsible for 8% of carbon emissions, and textile production contributes more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined. Countries like Bangladesh, where many fast fashion factories are located, people are more vulnerable to the climate crisis than the Americans who are purchasing the clothing. In 2016 alone, extreme weather-related disasters displaced around 23.5 million people in Bangladesh. By 2050, it is predicted that 1 in 7 people in Bangladesh will be displaced due to climate change.
As feminists it’s important to integrate our values of social equity into our everyday lives, especially as consumers. I feel like in the age of instagram, fast fashion is specifically promoted by young women around our age. Influencer or not, people are buying A LOT of these products. The issue is, as young white women of privilege are worrying about their next outfit, they’re also contributing to the oppression of other women across the world. Systems like these hide in colorful packaging, that’s why it is so important to be aware of who is profiting off of your consumerism, and who is being hurt. Not only are these business models taking advantage of women’s fragile position in the workforce of other countries, but they also are exploiting the earth. Those who are at the highest risk of climate change, which happen to also be the women that slave away in those factories, will pay the price of our trendiness.
By spending our money on Fast Fashion we are uplifting these violent industries. It’s important as women, and as feminists, that we look into what products we are supporting, and know the true cost. It’s important for us to focus our consumerism on uplifting women. We can do this by shopping brands made by women for women, shopping locally, or shopping second hand. This site has a great list of brands that support the change we are all fighting for- check it out!