As the fall air dries up the golden leaves on the ground, and the days get just a little bit shorter, the theme of “gratitude” lingers through months leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas. In this celebratory time of the year, people gather around beautiful tables decorated with an abundance of food, family, and friends all the while expressing appreciation for the multitude of blessings in their lives. However, the day of giving thanks is quickly interrupted by the day of packed malls, sleep-deprived drivers, and euphoric shopping. Every year, Black Friday seems to come sooner and sooner. The minute the hinges on the doors open that Thanksgiving night, thousands of shoppers are determined to successfully cross off each item on their shopping lists. We live in a fast-paced society that centers around the consumer’s high demand and resistance against satisfaction with what we have. Think about the clothes that hang in your closet. How many of them do you actually wear more than a few times? As shoppers, there’s an ecstasy we feel as we browse through the clothing aisles, imagining venues to exhibit our new outfits. Whether it’s the first day of school, a New Year’s Eve party, or just a rainy day, the articles in our closets no longer have much authority in our outfit decisions. Consumerism gushes through our veins as humans. Side effects of this infectious disease include feeling a need to buy more of what we already own, feeling we are not enough without the product, and constantly believing the lie we will be happy once we have this “one thing.” Companies have no problem telling us consumers we need the latest fall collection because they know we think so too.
There once was a time when Americans bought clothes a couple times a year, or whenever it was necessary. Clothes were manufactured to sustain. In today’s culture, clothes are made for fashion, and fashion is made to become unfashionable. Notice the cycle? It’s more of a trap, really. With the approach of each new season and holiday, companies shoot out advertisements and promos in hopes buyers will enter their stores ready to max out on the great “deals.” While stores use words like, “Hurry! Sale ending soon…,” the cyclical nature of the business assures there will be more sales and more clothes for pleasure just around the corner. There is now a very fast turn-around in this fashion business. Because of the consumer’s high demand, there is a stronger push for quick and constant supply by the manufacturer. This idea is where the term “fast fashion” comes into play. The phrase sounds playful, right? Not quite. Fast fashion is the trendy, inexpensive clothing that transfers designs quickly from the catwalk to the stores to keep up with the trends. New products can be introduced as fast as every week.
Because of this fast turn-around, there is a high pressure to keep costs low. Usually, this method results in unsafe and unfair working conditions for employees. Not only are garment workers put at risk without basic human rights, but further down the working chain, farmers have been found to work with chemicals that can leave shocking impacts on their mental and physical health. Consumerism is the driving force of fast fashion. While buyers may enjoy the fast-paced industry that so-easily offers the best-fitting jeans and warmest sweaters, the children and women working in the hazardous conditions feel otherwise.
Bangladesh is the world’s second largest garment production location due to its rapid manufacture and low prices. On April 24, 2013, vibration of generators in the upper floors caused the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh to fall to the ground killing over 1,000 people and leaving many more injured. Over half of the fatalities were women garment workers and a significant number were their children. This building was a disaster in the making. A building that was built for floor and office space occupied as a factory as well. In the eight-story building, there were four illegal upper floors built upon a boggy foundation. Most of the recognizable brands instantly found in this disaster were Primark, Walmart, J.C Penny, and The Children’s Place. A year prior to this tragedy, a TV channel showed footage of cracks in the building, and it was immediately evacuated. Later that same day, the owner of the building deemed it safe and that workers ought to return the next day. The manager in one of the garment factories threatened to suppress a month’s pay for any worker that did not show up.
It’s easy to think there is no way to stop this cruel and inhumane treatment of workers. What is one person’s store decision going to do? In all honesty, not much. Fashion is and always will be a progressive industry. However, if enough people take a stand against fast fashion and shop at fair-trade companies, not only are they supporting ethical brands, but are declaring for themselves and others that they are against the injustice. This concept also leads to less textile waste in landfills. All in all, living ethically will inadvertently lead to a life of sustainability and simplicity. Clothes not made for fast-fashion will last longer and our consumeristic desire for more will disintegrate with time. The best ways to work towards a brighter future for these sweatshop workers is to buy second-hand or buy from a fair-trade business. This concept means avoiding stores like Zara, H&M, Topshop, and many others that supply cheap clothing quickly. At the end of the day, the less we buy, the better off we are.
The injustice in the fashion industry is real and happening all around us. It’s so easy to blind our eyes to the struggles of workers when the connection between us and them seems so thin. However, we make choices daily that leave a global impact. This holiday season, companies are already setting up traps for their hungry consumers to fall into. While the price tags may be slightly higher to shop at ethical stores, it still doesn’t compare to the price of a child’s life in Bangladesh. The shirt you want to buy is not worth the $50 when it costs a fraction of that to make and even less to pay the worker making it. Avoid the trap of consumerism this season and shop ethically. Mindfulness about the production environments of our clothes and thoughtfulness for the ones making them cannot stay in the realm of ideals; it must be transferred into deeds.