I have a confession to make; I have a lot of clothes that were bought from Primark.
I grew up in a family that didn’t have much money. Now, that’s not to say we were of the worst off in the country at the time, goodness knows there were others that had it worse. We did not have the disposable income needed to go beyond the basics in the way of clothes. We were thrifty and to that extent, we still are. Clothing was passed around from sibling to sibling. However, when clothes were bought new they were bought cheap. A cheap coat will not last as long nor look as good in six months as a better, more expensive one; but growing up we simply didn’t have the money to buy the better one. This was my experience as a child. We didn’t care about the people who made our clothes because their suffering meant that we could afford to wear the things we needed. Television brought the Viet Nam War (ed. Conflict) into people’s living rooms, likewise, the Internet has brought the conditions of factory workers from all over the world directly to our monitors, tablets and cell phones.
We have all seen the many articles attempting to educate consumers as to why independent and couture is more expensive than cheap high street fashion. Netflix aired the documentary True Cost aimed at exposing conditions in factories where high street brands make their clothing. John Oliver produced a segment outlining repeated incidents of fashion companies taking advantage of it overseas workers. Google it and you’ll find hundreds of results thrown at you. As a fully fledged adult, I have to acknowledge that I cannot ignore the conditions of others to benefit myself.
When did, “I simply don’t have the money.” become, “I deserve cheap Fast Fashion.”?
There is a lot of talk about buying ethical. Fast Fashion Companies make such an effort to create an image of ethical superiority and honestly, people tend to buy into it. This is because it’s easier to turn a blind eye to a thing than turn away a bargain.
The first step in creating ethical fashion is manufacture in the same place where you intend to sell. Before the mid 80’s and Nixon’s trade deal with China (You know, the one Trump is always complaining about?), clothing was made and sold nationally. In the US and the UK trade unions dictated wages, quality of production, shipping – the whole supply chain. Prices reflected in clothing that was more expensive but also made to last years. And why wouldn’t it be? Client feedback to the manufacturers was immediate and face to face. But that all ended when 98% of the manufacturing went abroad.
Here you can view 1978, American union worker’s plea with the public to buy local goods.
The Blame Game
The first step in creating Fast Fashion, also termed Throwaway Fashion, because it is so cheap it only lasts for one wear, is to manufacture in countries where empolyess rights are nonexistant. Where the minimum wage does not equal a living wage. For example, the cost of living in China is estimated to be one-half of what it costs on average in the UK. Yet, minimum wage per month for the average factory worker (est. £169.47) is less that 1/8 of average UK monthly minimum wage earnings (est. £1200). Even if rent, utilities and food here were half the cost, could you imagine only having £169.47 in your bank account to cover it all?
“[Chinese factory worker] she works 11-hour days, six days a week, and shares a dormitory with nine other women and gets to see her husband only once a week.” – Guardian
Love your extremely expensive iPhone, right? For the last 7 years, 2010-2017 multiple news agencies (Guardian, Telegraph, Forbes, CNN, BBC…) have reported mass suicide protests by the Chinese workers in the factories producing iPhones for inhumane treatment. Foxconn, the owner of the manufacturing complexes have had to install nets around the tops of their facilities to catch the bodies. The late, and not so great, Steve Jobs pointed out that 10 actual and 18 more SUICIDES as protests were “within the national average“. Shop at GAP? Their history with offences involving the use of child labour is not just that one time and their health and fire safety violations are ongoing. Calvin Klein and Tommy ready to wear lines are being moved by PVH to India and Ethiopia.
“A company trying as hard as it can [to improve work standards] has been not infrequently connected to labour violations in multiple countries over two decades.” John Oliver speaking of GAP and work, health and safety violations in 1995, 2000, 2007, 2010, 2013…
How can we trust brands and big labels who spout that their goods are made ethically if the evidence screams otherwise? And why are we still buying? Cheap clothes mean only one thing: the person who made it is being abused.
What can we do?
So in all likelihood there’s a couple of items (or a lot) in your wardrobe that come from throwaway fashion stores. I’m not asking you to throw open your wardrobe and burn your wears like some sacrifice to the fashion gods. There’s definitely less painful way of making a change for the better.
- Stay out of stores such as Primark – it’s much easier to keep away from the temptation of cheap goods if you’re not surrounded by them.
- Try Independant Designers! Most indie designers manufacture in the UK or even in their front room. Support new design and find the quality is better too! Check out the Reviews section to find ethical designers you may not have heard of.
- Think essentials – It can be much better to invest in a few items that are well made, well fitting and long lasting.
- Phase out the trash – Like I said, you don’t need to instantly abandon your favourite shirt right away, wear it until it’s life is over – which probably won’t be that long anyway – and then get rid of it. If you’re particularly artsy, you could reuse the fabric for some craft project (god knows Pintrest has enough of them) or you could donate the items to charity. Oxfam have been running the Wastesaver campaign for the last 30 years and will take your garments regardless of condition. Things that can be worn again are placed in stores for others to buy and or sold to enterprises that fund livelihood programmes in West Africa. Items that can’t be reused in the conventional way are broken down to the threads and used in other, totally new products.
- You don’t have to buy new – speaking of charity shops; if you’re like me with a budget the size of a garden pea, you can make the most of your cash by shopping in thrift stores. It can be a great way of picking up a preloved item that will help keep workers safe and won’t make you give up the other things you love (like chocolate and gin). See the pics below from a sample of plus size items from Chartiy shops in Cambridge.
Lastly, I wanted to say this; reading this article can feel like a guilt trip, especially if your addicted to buying cheap. But please don’t turn a blind eye to this. People seem to believe that millenials are ruining the world. Well, this is bullshit to an extent, but if we continue to fuel an industry that forces workers away from their families, pays them 1/8 or less of the UK minimum wage and makes workers feel as though the only way out is to end their life, we really are ruining the world.
They say ignorance is bliss and well, we cannot pretend to be ignorant any longer.
Vive la revolution and all that.