5 Facts About the Fashion Industry They Don't Want You to Know
Some Not-So-Glamorous Facts About the Fashion Industry
What is a secret that the fashion industry has notoriously tried to push under the rug for years and years?
Let me introduce you to fast fashion.
The model that this dirty side of the industry relies on is to have brands churn out new collections monthly, or sometimes even weekly, or in the case of fast fashion giants such as H&M and Zara, new styles land on the shop floor almost every day.
But what exactly is fast fashion?
Fast Fashion is cheaply produced, poorly constructed clothing which copies the latest catwalk styles, pumped quickly through stores to maximize on current trends.
Below I have listed few of the many examples this industry is negatively affecting our society and planet to help bring awareness to these issues and maybe even inspire you to be more eco-concious when it comes to your apparel choices!
1. Not-So-Faux Fur
With the general public becoming more aware of cruelty to animals, clothing retailers are seeing a growing demand for faux fur compared to the real skins of animals. Animal rights advocates are right to be horrified to find out that many products that are advertised as containing fake fur instead actually contain real fur. In many cases for manufactures, it is cheaper to use less expensive animal hides, like rabbit or raccoon, than it would be to manufacture synthetic fur.
The Federal Trade Commission includes fur as one of the major issues found with retailers and explains to consumers how they can personally identify real versus fake fur. The Fur Act was originally created in the 1950s to protect buyers from purchasing furs labeled as “mink” that were actually much less valuable rabbit or muskrat furs. The same law now applies to retailers who lie about fur being fake. So when you get the chance, check out the FTC's website to protect yourself from this practice. Another tip to help eliminate the possibility of this happening to you is to never buy any fur product online from a retailer you are not previously familiar with.
2. Mountains Of Waste
According to the Council for Textile Recycling, the United States alone produces 25 billion pounds of clothing waste every single year. A mere 15 percent gets donated to thrift shops and charities. That other 85 percent ends up in landfills. The vast majority of Americans who cannot afford or simply do not care about name-brand fashion purchase their garments from places like H&M, Walmart, and Forever 21 as they have cheaper prices due to the cheap quality of their stock. Once a cheap garment has fallen apart, people feel that they do not even have the option to donate their clothing to a thrift store or reuse it for another purpose, so then it ends up in the garbage.
Clothing waste increased by 40 percent between 1999 and 2009 and continues to grow every year. Even the clothing that is donated amounts to well over three billion pounds, while the entire US population is only 319 million people. In short, if companies stopped receiving and accepting shipments of new clothing from third world countries and sold their current stock for a year straight, clothing donations to thrift stores could very literally dress the entire country. As you can probably imagine, organizations like Goodwill get more donations than people can consume. Clothing is shipped to rag companies and also gets shrink-wrapped in huge cubes, or “bales,” and is sent to third world countries. Despite all of these ways to reuse clothing, literal tons are still being put into landfills.
3. Child labor
The use of child labor is systematic and ongoing, not just a thing of the past. Sometimes the scale of disheartening news in the world can feel a bit much. However in the political environment we live in today, one thing I hadn’t thought about for a while is child labor. The UN defines child labor as “work for which the child is either too young – work done below the required minimum age – or work which, because of its detrimental nature or conditions, is altogether considered unacceptable for children and is prohibited.”
In the height of Uzbekistan’s worst practices, their government decided to shut down schools in order to force children as young as 7 to work on cotton fields. The International Labor Organization estimates that there could be as many as 170 million engaged in child labor; many of which are being forced out of education to produce garments for the fashion industry. That is the equivalent of 11% of the children in the world. Now how could companies possibly benefit from using children in their labor chains? Their small hands are more suited to pollinating cotton and cause less damage to the crop and they’re very compliant. Once away from their parents, they’re unlikely to question authority about their working conditions, probably not even aware that they have rights. This makes them very susceptible to manipulation from high levels of authority.
Between the inhalation of pesticides in cotton fields and the exposure to toxic chemicals in tanning factories, producing leather goods (and everything in between), these children are experiencing a terrifying diversity of long and short term health issues and issues that are prone to develop with age.
4. The Cotton industry
In conjunction with the previous fact, this particular industry is riddled with exploitation and environmental harms. Not only does this industry harm our society, it exploits our environment on the same level. It can take 20,000 tons of water to make 1kg of cotton, which is the amount of cotton it takes to make a t-shirt and a pair of jeans. That’s 90,922 liters of water. In India, this is just another industry depleting the country’s water resources at a rate that is dangerously unsustainable. This contributes to the fact that there are more than 100 million people in India without access to safe water. Cotton production heavily relies on the use of pesticides to ensure maximum yield, or to make sure they are getting as much cotton as possible from each plant.
This means that workers are exposed to toxic chemicals daily. 350,000 farmers die as a result each year. And not only that, the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan had completely dried up. The sea was once the world’s fourth biggest lakes but lost all of its volume to furious cotton irrigation, greatly affecting the local fishing communities and agricultural industries that revolved around the lake and its water resource.
While there are still many dangers surrounding the cotton industry, some good news is that the Aral Sea, thanks to efforts of the local communities and funding from the World Bank, is now being revived and looking like it might be able to resemble what it once was.
5. Dangerous working conditions
Fast fashion exposes hazardous substances and unsafe production processes to workers. Safety systems are limited or even non-existent.
Does anyone remember the 2013 collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh? The collapse killed more than 1,100 workers. This was the world’s largest industrial disaster since 1984. Unfortunately, this is not a unique scenario. Other garment factories have caught fire or collapsed causing deaths to workers that remain unaddressed by our global society. We need to address this ongoing issue.
Since 2005, the death toll in Bangladesh alone has risen up to 1,800 workers. Factory fires and building collapses are the main contributors to these deaths.
The fast fashion industry also supports a system of poverty. In order to meet their basic needs, workers must work extremely long hours for minimal pay.
A few informative documentaries exist on the social injustices of the fast fashion industry.
Check out The True Cost on Netflix or Fashion Factories Undercover on Youtube to learn more about the fast fashion epidemic.