It’s a Saturday afternoon, and you are walking through the mall, aimlessly texting your friends on your iPhone, which happens to be manufactured in China. You peer up from the screen briefly and see a cute dress in the window of H and M, and decide to go in to try it on. The tag tells you two things: it only costs $9.99, and it was made in some country in Asia. You are ecstatic about the first fact, because you only made $30 babysitting last night, but you disregard the latter, because you are too excited about this cheap deal! You try it on, and it fits great! So you reach into your wallet for some money to pay for the dress, and you can see the little “Made in China” sticker stuck to the inside of the coin pocket, but again, it’s not really a big deal to you. 

This is not an unreasonable scenario to imagine. The fashion industry makes around 3 trillion dollars a year, and 97% of our clothes are manufactured overseas, so the little gold stickers on our purchases no longer phases us. It is not something westerners enjoy thinking about, due to the guilt it induces, so we just deny it. We deny the fact 1,129 people died due to a garment factory collapsed making clothes for us in Bangladesh. We deny the fact that there are workers making a mere 27 dollars a month, because western society demands cheaper clothing. We try our best to avoid these facts, because we want to keep living guilt free with our giant closests filled of clothing made in sweatshops. When we do finally sit down and read up on the heart wrenching situation we are putting these women and children in, then, and only then, can we begin searching for a solution.

To put it bluntly, when you purchase clothes from H and M, Zara, Old Navy, Walmart, and hundreds of other popular unethical brands, you are directly supporting the big companies and sweatshops that are abusing their workers. 85% of these workers being subjected to abuse and discrimination are women. They are beaten, given extremely low wages, and are forced into horrifically poor work conditions. “Poor” does not even begin to explain the environment and hours they are subjected to. In the documentary “The True Cost” (available to stream on Netflix), a young mother by the name of Shima Akhter tells her story. She is the president of the workers union at a sweatshop in Dhaka, Bangladesh. When the union sent a list of demands to their managers, they were brutally attacked. The managers beat them with chairs, throwing their heads against walls, and abused them in other ways. This is not an uncommon situation for sweatshop workers. They are given no rights, and are hardly paid. So, why is western society ok with this? The answer is simple: fast fashion. 

The fashion industry moves at an extremely fast speed, with styles constantly rising and falling. Big brands are feeding society with a never ending stream of new products, and we fall for it every time. Fast fashion has caused a stem of issues, mainly poor working conditions and pollution. Fast fashion is not only a crime against Human Rights, but a crime against the environment. According to Elizabeth Cline’s “Where Does Discarded Clothing Go?”, there has been a 500% increase in how much clothing Americans purchase since 1980. America produces around 10.5 million tons of textile waste per year, and Americans only donate around 15% of their old clothing. 85% of our clothing ends up in a waste pile, when it could be reused. Fashion is the world’s second most polluting industry after oil, but this issue is hardly ever faced.

There are several easy steps you can take to help solve this issue. The first, while it may seem difficult, is necessary if we are ever to see and end to this problem, and it is to stop buying from big brands who abuse their workers. Buying fair trade and/or second hand is key. There are tons of fashionable brands that are 100% ethical, it only take a simple Google search to find them (and see below for my recommendations!). There are also loads of ethical brands, and they aren't as expensive as you might assume. A dress at Urban Outfitters might cost you around $60-$130, and a dress from People Tree costs around the same. The go-to opposition to this step is regarding cost. It can often be expensive to buy all fair trade, but that does not mean you should succumb to the dirty brands who manufacture overseas. Shopping second hand is a low cost, clean way of avoiding supporting these brands. Sure, a lot of the clothes you find at Good Will are from Forever 21 and Walmart, but you are in no way supporting them when you buy the clothes second hand.

By refusing to buy from unethical brands, you are telling them "No, we do not accept how you are treating your workers, and there must be change." These workers have little to no voice, so it is up to us to support them and tell the greedy companies that their abuse is not permitted. Yes, there are very rare occasions where we are put in a tight spot, where it is almost impossible to buy ethical, but reducing our purchases from such brands is needed. 

The next step, after eliminating these brands from your shopping list, is spreading awareness about the cause! There is a wonderful, informative documentary on Netflix titled “The True Cost”, as I previously mentioned. Watch it, recommend it to your friends, do everything you can to get others informed. Below I have compiled a few other sites that are great for learning more about the issue.

Finally, remember what you are fighting for. When your friends invite you out to shop, it is extremely tempting to buy from the unethical brands that plague the mall. It is extremely easy to forget about the women struggling in sweatshops, because they seem so far away. It is so very easy to say “Well, this won’t hurt anyone, its just a dress.” When you choose to buy from unethical brands, you are making a conscious decision to support abuse and sweatshops. It is sad, but unfortunately true. We MUST put an end to this unethical manufacturing, but we need to work together to accomplish that. 


-Feel free to message me to discuss the issue, and learn more on Instagram (@c.eeh)

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Article by: Claire Halloran (@c.eeh)
Photos curtsey of Getty Images