As members of a consumerism society, fashion is a part of our daily lives and we can’t get enough of it. We have access to everything, production is quicker and we can have more. We can all wear the latest trends and enjoy them until the next new style dominates our universe. But that is no coincidence. There are some problems the fashion industry faces that comes at a human, social and environmental cost. Below are some things you may not have known about the industry and why it is importance to understand their significance.
1). Introduction of Micro seasons.
In 2014, the industry introduced 52 micro seasons, before it was only 2 seasons. If you want more, you’ll spend more, and with a business model of low quality/high volume the industry thrives on consumers spending money. In Elizabeth Cline’s book Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, she points out that H&M and Forever21 get daily shipments, while Topshop introduces 400 styles a week online. With numbers like that, we can never keep up.
2). Clothing is designed to fall apart
Ever have a shirt unravel after one wear? Faulty design falls apart or shrinks after one wash. Does it even matter? Oh, Yes. With most of clothing today being made with synthetic, petroleum based fibers, it takes decades to decompose. Even luxury designers like Vivienne Westwood are speaking out. “Buying less and choosing quality means that designers can make better fashion, not just lead by marketing and commercial interests,” she says. “Fashion is a part of culture, but not at the moment.”
And despite the common belief, outlet clothing is not a deal. Those products never even see a regular store. Outlet broker deals are generally just an increase of companies bottom line, who put their labels on cheaply made clothing made in low quality factories not affiliated with the brand.
3). Chemicals in clothing
Cotton accounts for 40% of all world fiber production. The US, China and India produce over half of the world’s cotton. Did you know a 500 pound bale can make 800 men’s shirts? A pair of jeans takes 24 ounces. Its a natural, animal free material, however, there are arguments about some environmental consequences. World Wildlife Fund and National Geographic made a video about how it requires 2,700 liters of water to make just one shirt. Cotton Today has challenged that cotton is naturally drought crop and requires less water than most crops. Cotton growers also use less pesticides than 30 years ago, about .38 ounces on cotton for that single shirt. Due to technological advances, it’s possible to grow more cotton on less land.
Garment makers use chemicals in many different ways. While it is understandable that treatments are needed for shelf life and fiber protection, many are using restricted substances. For example, before American Apparel went bankrupt, they were found to be using 250 controlled substances in production.
Another example is the process for stone wash denim. It is known to expose workers to cotton and silica dust which are linked to lung disease. The harm that can be inflicted just isn’t worth the risk of making the cheap clothes in the first place.
Some brands who have been attuned to sustainability using repurposed, organic, vegan, low impact and other green innovations include but are not limited to Givenchy, Versace, Yves Saint Laurent, Calvin Klein, Armani, Viktor and Rolf, Stella McCartney, Rogan Gregory and Katharine Hamnett.
4). Health Risk
Pointy toe shoes are a fashion staple, but can be bad for foot health. Doctors have warned us before about high heels causing Metatarsalgia, a painful condition that causes ball of foot to become inflamed.
Another concern is Neuroma, or Morton’s Neuroma. It arises from irritation of a nerve, leading to scar tissue forming. Commonly occurs painfully between 3rd and 4th toes. Surgery might be needed if it becomes serious, but is alleviated by wearing arch supports, foot pads, wider toe shoes or flats.
5). Beading and glitter.
This one in particular breaks my heart. Industry estimates suggest between 20-60 percent of beaded and sequin production is sewn at home by informal workers. Many often require their children to help because of their small hands.
Small children as young as 8 have 16 hour work days.
Machines that apply sequin and beading that looks like handiwork is expensive and unlikely that a garment factory would invest in the machinery, especially with “fast fashion” companies usually not regulating the sources of their clothing. The lack of accountability or interest in ethically sustainable machinery is disgusting.
The excuse has been overseas factories helping nations in poverty. The fashion indusrtry currently accounts for 80% of Bangladesh foreign trade, and it seems like that would be beneficial, but for a $20 item only $1 goes to the person who made it. The monthly salary in Bangladesh generally is $630 while living expenses average $1400. While products with a ‘Made in America’ tag may have a high retail value, production facilities in US are regulated and have workers with higher wage and higher production cost that will actually be profitable.
6). Spec work for designers.
It takes hard work and dedication to become a successful designer.
Just because you have the degree doesn’t mean you can get the job. Aside from the internships that are available at some companies, there are many instances where potential hires work for free to hopefully make a favorable impression so they may be offered the job. In most cases labels expect a whole line to be created before a designer may be hired. One woman was expected to make 6 dresses, 5 blouses, skirts and jackets in the course of one week. This discourages many from pursuing fashion and that career path altogether when portfolios and resumes should speak for themselves.
There are other issues in fashion, one of them is vanity sizing. In 1958, a size 12 was the same as someone who wears a 6 today. Fluctuations from brand to brand are partially consumers fault because they are more likely to buy an item with lower size number. Another issue is that the age fashion models are so young, largely because they are cheap labor. The problem is that designer labels are not that accessible to young shoppers. Middle and older age women have the most disposable income and they are hardly catered to like they should.
You would expect a powerful industry that is an integral part of so many people’s lives could and would be transparent. But consumers are also responsible for not being more informed about the products they purchase. With the high demand of fast fashion, there is little expectation for clothes to be made well or sustainably. But sustainably produced textiles last longer, have positive impact. Clothing made from organic material and renewable fibers are far less toxic and more durable. Workers can be compensated for meaningful, skilled work. By choosing to reduce waste, cut back on consumerism and be aware of where and how are clothing is made, we can change fashion for the better.
Photos and information courtesy of Huffington Post, Refinery29, LiveStrong, Flickr