On April 24, 2013 the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh collapsed. More than 1,100 people were killed and more than 2,500 people were injured. The collapse is considered the deadliest disaster in the history of the garment industry — one that was the result of the building’s owner refusing to address warnings of cracks noticed the day before.
Workers were ordered to return to work the next day, many of them walked in but never walked back out.
We see them everywhere. Advertisements. Showing us what is trendy and cool to get us to spend our money on things we don’t need, things we already own but in a different color or a similar cut. We accumulate more clothing than we can wear, trying to keep up with the forever evolving trends that we would have never bought into without outside influences.
We didn’t always view clothing as disposable as we do now. We used to patch holes in jeans, revamp old T-shirts to fit new styles and we shopped with intention. That changed with the rise of the fast fashion industry. Now, in the US alone, we throw away about 11 tons of clothing every year.
Fast fashion allowed consumers to purchase trendy clothes at an affordable price, inspiring them to buy more. People started shopping all year, feeling like they needed to consistently be updating their wardrobe.
To capitalize on our desire to remain relevant, fast fashion brands started producing more, and now there are a number of brands releasing hundreds of new pieces weekly.
As brands increased the speed of production, the quality of the clothing started rapidly decreasing and in attempt to maximize profit on low priced garments, they needed to keep their costs even lower.
There are two ways these companies could cut costs. If the quality of the clothing is already low, the opportunity is in the production process. This means the workers producing these low quality garments are paid well below minimum wage.
Author and journalist Lucy Siegle exposed some of these implications of the fast fashion industry in the documentary film, “The True Cost.”
“Fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere is paying,” Siegle said.
The clothing is made in garment factories where mostly women and young girls are working long hours, underfed and often abused. The factories are not structurally sound and they are exposed to harsh chemicals. Their health is compromised for profits but they don’t quit because if they refuse to do the work they will be replaced with someone else willing and their options for other work is limited.
Awareness of the fast fashion industry is increasing and people are starting to consume more consciously. Minimalism is gaining popularity, as people are realizing they can live with less, even smaller closets. Thrift shopping is becoming trendy, giving people an opportunity to find unique pieces at a great discount and the slow fashion movement is getting consumers’ attention.
The slow fashion movement focuses on labor rights, mindful production, more natural materials and quality products. There are brands and consumers putting value in reducing the impact the garment industry has on the environment and the workers in production. Being a conscious consumer and making the choice to purchase from brands with responsible practices means you are getting quality pieces and are protecting those in the industry.