Why is Fast Fashion a Social Justice Issue?
Slow Fashion for the Planet and People
One of our missions at eMpulse is not only to lead in sustainable creations but to also share knowledge that betters the fashion industry and our common world. Addressing our environmental concerns regarding fast fashion means nothing without also addressing the social crisis associated with it: they are intrinsically linked.
The environmental movement must be one of intersectionality, coined 30 years ago by Kimberlé Crenshaw, which draws attention to the overlap of social justice issues. As explained by @intersectionalenvironmentalist, “Looking at environmentalism with an intersectional lens asks us to take a deeper look into how environmental issues are compounded by other factors and social justice issues to create nuanced levels of environmental disruption.”
We must completely advocate for the planet and its people. To kick off our blog series interacting with this content, we begin with a brief introduction to the fast fashion industry and its deep connection with social injustice. As we shed light on this pivotal issue, we hope to see the slow fashion community grow and accompany eMpulse on this revolution.
The Fast Fashion Cycle
Visualizing the pollution, waste, and harm produced from our daily activities is sometimes clear: the smoggy, brown air circulating above your city on a hot day, the plastic clam shell that your strawberries are pre-packaged in, or the bits of garbage that wash to the beach with each new wave. Other times, the pollution, waste, and harm generated is much more sinister and hidden. Which leads us to the fast fashion industry…
Fast fashion emerged as the term used to characterize the constantly available, high quantity, and inexpensive apparel of today (Bick, Halsey, and Ekenga 2018). While consumers may love the price and plentiful styles, the planet and its inhabitants are suffering from the hidden costs associated with the fast fashion supply chain.
Due to strict policy and regulation in the U.S., garment manufacturers typically look to developing countries to provide the cheap labor and resources throughout the fashion supply chain. Ninety-seven percent of clothing manufacturing operates in developing countries (Morgan 2015). This allows the fast fashion industry to perpetuate unjust and sexist social systems around the world—think communities forced to live near toxic textile dye sites, low wages, and unsafe working conditions (Bick, Halsey, and Ekenga 2018). These externalities can no longer disproportionately burden populations of developing countries. The U.S. must be held accountable for where their clothing comes from and at what (hidden) cost.
The Fast Fashion Business Model
Fast fashion is a socially disruptive business model to the core, and it deserves exposure. Social injustice embeds itself in fast fashion on so many different levels, yet it is the millions of people around the world who physically, socially, and economically suffer from producing the world’s clothing. Exporting the production of clothing around the world also exports the burdens associated with it. It is a privileged, unethical, and discriminatory act of business conduct.
With about 74 million textile workers globally, 80% are women of color (Legesse 2020). Due to lax regulations in developing countries, these workers are forced to deal with numerous occupational hazards including dangerous conditions and discrimination (Lehmann et al. 2020). Workers along the supply chain have historically faced disease, cancer, endocrine system damage, adverse reproductive outcomes, injuries, and death due to workplace conditions (Bick, Halsey, Ekenga 2018). Just Google Rana Plaza to get your blood boiling and see how the deaths of 1,129 fellow human beings, 80% of which were women, could have been avoided.
Not only are these workers impacted at their workplaces but in their homes too. Operations like textile dyeing releases heavy metals and other toxins into waterways which adversely impacts nearby residents even further (Bick, Halsey, and Ekenga 2018). The fashion industry is one of water dependence. Meeting wastewater compliances are rarely policed, leaving accountability to the brands and factory owners. This leaves ink-like and toxic waters for communities to use as their only water source to farm, drink, cook, play, and perform household work with—it is inescapable.
Factory owners take advantage of women’s unequal position in societies around the world too. They pay them less, demand more, eliminate job security, and dimish their rights. More and more, research demonstrates that women experience physical and verbal abuses in these factories (Akhter, Rutherford, and Chu 2019). All too frequently workers explain that, “If we make very small mistake during work, the line supervisors scream at us. We do not say anything because we may lose our job. We cannot even talk with each other during work” (Akhter, Rutherford, and Chu 2019). Research further indicates that many factories currently fail to comply with minimum wage laws (Lehmann 2020). Even if they actually do meet minimum wage requirements, these wages are often times too low for basic needs.
To sum up the social justice issues of fast fashion...
People are constantly threatened with the loss of their job. Human rights violations are the norm. Workers face the possibility of death on the job. This is all made possible since developing countries are desperate for the business that multinational apparel companies bring (Morgan 2015). The constant threat that these brands will relocate to other locations with lower operating costs allows governments to hold down wages and working conditions for workers. These companies do not own the factories, so they are therefore able to avoid accountability.
It boils down to accountability. It falls on these fashion brands to work with manufacturers to demand fair, accountable, and transparent operations along the supply chain. Which they refuse to do, even though fashion is a $2.5 trillion global industry (JEC 2019). The financial resources are present to initiate equitable changes in the system, so why are our fellow humans still being subjugated to this treatment? Treat every human like a HUMAN. They are not machines. They are not disposable. Each and every one of their lives matters.
Check out our next blog issue which takes a deep dive into the environmental damage encountered by fast fashion, as well as the tenets of the slow fashion revolution. We take a look at how consumers and fashion brands can opt into slow fashion and advocate for a clean, safe, transparent, and accountable supply chain. It is our job as a rational, free-thinking society to put an end to environmental injustice in the fashion industry.
Continuously Questioning The Norm,
eM and the eMpulse team
Follow some of our favorite professionals, activists, and organizations to stay current:
@intersectionalenvironmentalist (IE: Intersectionality Is The Only Way. Protect People + The Planet.)
@greengirlleah (Leah Thomas: “Intersectional Environmentalism. Activist + eco-communicator.”
@fash_rev (Fashion Revolution: Global movement for a fashion industry that values people and planet over profit. Ask #WhoMadeMyClothes?”
@goodonyou_app (Ethical Fashion: “Your go-to source of trusted brand ratings, articles and expertise on ethical and sustainable fashion.”)
The True Cost (a documentary on Fast Fashion): truecostmovie.com (also available on Netflix or Amazon Prime)
The Patriot Act | The Ugly Truth of Fast Fashion with Hasan Minhaj : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGF3ObOBbac (also available on Netflix)
Ted Talk | Fast Fashion’s Effect on People, The Planet, & You, by Patrick Woodyard: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPM9lhackHw
@intersectionalenvironmentalist. Instagram Post. July 30, 2020. https://www.instagram.com/p/CDRz-LOH_Rx/.
Akhter, Sadika, Shannon Rutherford, and Cordia Chu. 2019. “Sufferings in silence: Violence against female workers in the ready-made garment industry in Bangladesh: A qualitative exploration.” Women’s Health 15 (December). https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1745506519891302
Bick, Rachel, Erika Halsey, and Christine C. Ekenga. 2018. “The Global Environmental Injustice of Fast Fashion.” Environmental Health 17 no. 92 (December). https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s12940-018-0433-7.
Eder-Hansen, Jonas, Caroline Chalmer, Sofia Tärneberg, Thomas Tochtermann, Javier Seara, Sebastian Boger, Gabriele Theelen, Sebastian Schwarz, Lise Kristensen, Kristina Jäger. 2017. “Pulse of the Fashion Industry.” Global Fashion Agenda and The Boston Consulting Group. https://globalfashionagenda.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Pulse-of-the-Fashion-Industry_2017.pdf
JEC. 2019. “The Economic Impact of the Fashion Industry.” Joint Economic Committee Democrats, United States Congress. https://www.jec.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/democrats/2019/2/the-economic-impact-of-the-fashion-industry#:~:text=Fashion%20is%20a%20highly%20sophisticated,apparel%20and%20footwear%20in%202017.
Legesse, Kalkidan. 2020. “Racism at The Heart of Fast Fashion- It’s Time for A Change.” The Guardian. June 11, 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jun/11/racism-is-at-the-heart-of-fast-fashion-its-time-for-change.
Lehmann, Morten, Gizem Arici, Faith Robinson, Eva Kruse, and Alice Roberta Taylor. 2020. “The
CEO Agenda.” Global Fashion Agenda. https://globalfashionagenda.com/ceo-agenda-2020/#climateChange.
Morgan, Andrew, director. 2015. The True Cost. Life Is My Movie Entertainment and Bullfrog Films. https://www.amazon.com/True-Cost-Stella-McCartney/dp/B07PPTJJWY/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=true+cost&qid=1596681586&sr=8-1.