Fast Fashion as a Class Issue
Should fast fashion be treated as class issue?
There's genuinely something haunting about the fast fashion industry. With sustainability and ethical problems swarming around the trade, the question becomes; should working class people be expected to pay more for sustainable clothes, or should big corporations introduce innovation, and principles to their practices?
When Virgil Abloh, Cheif Executive of street style brand Off White, famously called fast fashion the Mcdonalds of clothes, he was, in his unique way, touching on the edge of a significant topic—are ethical clothes only for the privileged and the wealthy?
Three years later, nothing has changed
In terms of fashion, production practices, and sustainability, fast fashion is not… great, to say the very least. Did you know it takes 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton t-shirt, and that the clothing industry is the second-biggest polluter of clean water?
Many people don't consider toxic pollution or textile waste as they pick up their cheap garments. It's this attitude towards fashion, as some disposable, circular commodity, that is damaging and harming our planet in such a cataclysmic way. Importantly, it isn't the richest in our society that are damaged by climate change. It will be those with limited incomes, and no safety nets.
There are now 50 million people working in garment factories all over the world, 85 percent of whom are women. They are paid as low as $3 a day, and forced to work in sometimes abusive and dangerous conditions.
These aren't middle-class people trying to make it in the fashion world. These are working-class women, seeking to earn money to survive, so much so that they endure exploitative situations. It's not your favourite Instagram influencers who are affected by climate change or terrible working conditions—it's vulnerable women who have very little choices.
Many have suggested that the issue rests with the rise of social media, and these so-called "influencers." In the past, there was no issue with wearing singular pieces multiple times a week. Now, like some weird dystopian society, it's considered unusual to post a photo with an outfit on that you've previously worn. They should make a Black Mirror episode concerning that.
The elitist attitude towards fashion
But there's an air of elitism and snobbery revolving around fast fashion. It's like the liberal elite friend who boasts about their ethically sourced green tea, while the single mother has to scrape coins to buy school lunches. You can't judge working class people for choosing cheaper alternatives, nor can you expect them to pay ridiculous prices for an ethically produced t-shirt.
One thing that won't save the planet; judging those who shop at Primark, because you had the money to buy a 100 percent organic cotton item. Working class people are often demonised, and blamed for the world's problems, despite them having minimal options to live a different life.
Clothes have always been a class issue; I'm not making a revolution here. For decades they have been seen as a symbol of your wealth status. Now, they seem to be tying in with ideology, too. Those who flaunt around in their Boohoo pieces are trying to show that they're fashion-conscious, while also holding other priorities. Likewise, those that wear ethically sourced clothes are shouting about how principled they are.
There's no definitive way to say those who wear fast fashion are terrible, and those who wear sustainable fashion are inherently good.
The working classes aren't to blame.
The internet has made the design and advertising process in fashion, faster than ever before. High-street brands can copy clothes from the catwalk, and prominent celebrities—giving everybody, regardless of class, a chance to dress like the 1 percent. Should this be what we strive for, in any case?
Corporations seem to have played on our desires to have beautiful new things, leading us to behave in such excessive ways.
Are new clothes a pressing human right that we need to be entitled to? Has advertising, and social media made us believe that we need new clothes to feel good enough?
Have we confused our right to new clothes with the privilege of having new clothes?
The fact is, being waste-free, paying workers a living wage, and not destroying the planet becomes almost impossible for fast fashion brands. The industry is focused on speed, and in the process, ethical practices fly out of the window. For this reason, brands, and "influencers" need to take more responsibility.
Ultimately, the way fashion is seen as a cheap commodity hasn't been fueled by the working classes. Elite corporations have used our insecurities and desires to exploit workers, and gain money from those with limited funds.
Sure, it might be the working classes that buy their products, but it's the middle and upper classes that have created the underlying problem.