Fast Fashion: A 21st Century Twist on Slavery?

Gone are the days when most brands and retailers updated their stock seasonally. Now it’s more weekly. Why? Fast fashion. There is a constant craving for more…and for cheap. We’ve become greedy and brands and retailers are constantly churning out more goods to satisfy our appetite.

Clothing rarely stays on the racks for more than 12 weeks before it is marked down in the sale. Our bargain hunting has lead to excessive stock, constant markdowns and a vicious circle of overconsumption.

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The ugly side of fashion

Fast fashion refers to the mass produce of apparel and accessory products with as little money and time as possible. These high street fashion brands mass manufacture to get designs out as fast as they can and as cheap as they can. The constant repetitiveness and speed workers have to face in addition to the poor conditions they are forced to work in is essentially 21st century slavery.

It’s now a catch 22; 60 percent more clothes are bought throughout the year by consumers, and they are worn for only half as long as before, meaning there is a constant need for more. The slavery is engrossed in everything we purchase and present ourselves in. Whether you like it or to by buying cheap, mass produced clothing you are contributing to the modern slave trade.

The ugly side of the fast fashion industry involves sweatshops and trafficking which many companies turn a blind eye to in an effort to satisfy their customers. Isn’t it high time that retailers take full responsibility for how their clothes are made. Making the excuse that they didn’t realise how their clothes were made is a cop out and retailers should start becoming accountable.

Is it worth it?

Sweatshops are a torturous epidemic in which employees are either drawn into by the façade of the luxurious brand they could be working for or the simple fact that they are desperate to earn money to live. Consequently, by no fault of their own, workers are made to work long 14-16 hour days, earning pennies along the way. These overworked employees are often forced to work in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, barely receiving even the most basic human rights. It is known that some employees of sweatshops will sleep, live and eat in these factories; some even going on to die from malnutrition, exhaustion and physical abuse.

Small brands aren’t the only ones to blame for using fast fashion methods to excel; even luxury fashion brands have been accused of using the same methods. With so many brands becoming a part of the slavery it does seem impossible to find a way out. There seems to be nothing a person without power can do about it. Most consumers are unaware of the extreme cases of slavery that they are buying into. If more people become aware of what happens in the process of creating their favourite piece of clothing the world may stop ignoring the injustice of these fast fashion workers.

Saying this, organizations such as Fashion Revolution are trying to target the problem by sharing their project the Fashion Transparency Index. This document reviews and ranks 100 of the biggest global fashion and apparel retailers on the level of information they disclose regarding their suppliers.  Therefore, consumers are able to consider if they still want to purchase from said retailer depending on their methods used to produce their stock. Fashion Revolution offers a way to help the cause with donations and your own voice. Donations can be made through their website, along with options on how to get involved with events and awareness on the subject. Increasingly, more brands are getting involved with the end of fast fashion by posting a supplier list so their customers are able to learn if the company is ethical or not.



How to help

ASOS, one of the biggest online fashion stores in Britain, is constantly getting involved in the movement to try and end modern slavery. They were amongst the first of the major retailers to speak out and target the problem. The brand constantly makes their suppliers public for consumers to access, proving that they dedicated to protecting their workers’ rights. In a bid to combat modern slavery ASOS recently teamed up with the British High Commission in Mauritius to host an event highlighting the need to protect worker’s right. Mauritius was highlighted as location at risk of systematic labour violations. This came about after a review of the 11 factories ASOS use in Mauritius.  In late March ASOS will co-host an event at The House of Lords with Baroness Lola Young, Co-Chair All Party Parliamentary Group on Ethics and Sustainability in Fashion and Anti-Slavery International. the event will identify and address shared risks in the apparel sector for ASOS’ supplier base.

Other ways of getting involved and finding a voice in the battle against modern slavery is by downloading the mobile app Good on You. Here you’ll learn more about the labour used and ethics of your most treasured brands. Documentaries are also a good way to stay educated on the matter, such as Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price or The Machinists.

With this dark side is fast fashion really worth it? Is the loss of  dignity and even life of another human really worth the clothes you pride yourself in? The worst form of human exploitation has been exposed within the fashion industry. And unfortunately the public continues to turn a blind eye. It’s sad that we value the clothes we drape our body in more than the life of those forced to make them.  Simply because we don’t want to want to pay a little but more. The industry will only get faster; which means that conditions will worsen.


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Take back the power

Fast fashion has changed the amount we consume and has caused the exploitation of less developed countries. In these countries a job is hard to find. Locals are often desperate and wages are limited. With every sale and cheap version of a product, we purchase another life is deteriorating. Ignoring the issues of modern slavery is what enhances the growth of fast fashion. There seems to be a consequence to everything; this time it’s a human life.

Slavery is illegal in every part of the world. However, there is a problem with enforcing the law and the governments do not take it seriously; as it is not affecting the rich – it is, in fact, making the rich only richer. Consumers have the power to make an end to slavery as no one else will. Consumers have the power to not be involved with fast fashion. After all we are the end user.

More and more people are being exploited every day with no possible way out. The end to this kind of slavery starts with you, with me, and with us…

Post Author: Shauna Hill

Shauna Hill
I'm an aspiring fashion writer, currently studying Journalism in Leeds...

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