MSR Exposes The Reality Of Fast Fashion
The fashion industry is big business. Billions of garments are consumed each year and our appetite for cheap, ‘fast fashion’ is growing, leading us to buy more than ever, then discard as if the items are disposable, before heading out to the shops again.
Most of us don’t stop to think about how these items could possibly be so cheap. Is it the material? Maybe, but most likely it is that corners have been cut in the treatment of the garment workers.
One of the pitfalls that often tempts buyers is ‘fake-designer’ pieces that are promised to be as good as the best, but without the price tag. Unfortunately this is not always the case at all, more often then not you do get what you pay for. Cheap ‘knock-offs’ can seem to good to be true, and they really are when you discover the reality behind their manufacturing. The price for you might be low, but the cost to the workers can be enormous.
Many global fashion brands profit hugely from their use of cheap labour in foreign countries, with the majority of workers being women. Garment workers in these, so called sweatshops, are often the lowest paid in the world. Thanks to a series of legal loopholes, their rights are not protected. They are exploited for their cheap labor and are violated in terms of workers’, women’s and human rights.
One misconception that many people hold is that sweatshops are only really used for cheap fashion, while high end designer brands create their expensive clothing in places such as Italy for example. Unfortunately this romantic notion is not always correct, and occasionally some ‘designer brands’ use cheap labor from China and India too.
Is it possible that we have been a little detached from the “human factor” of our clothing?
We simply see something nice, purchase it and off we go, not considering the hands that crafted it; the hands that are not paid well or treated fairly. It is important that we learn about the fair practice and treatment of these workers to ensure that they are cared for and their voices heard.
Fortunately there are some fantastic brands that do demonstrate good morals, and this is where fair trade comes in.
What Is Fair Trade?
Fair trade can be defined as “a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency, and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade”.
Fair trade products seek to empower garment workers by ensuring that they earn a fair wage. This means that they will be able to support their families comfortably and grow in strength and confidence. The fair trade movement also seeks to protect children by abiding by local laws and customs. Children are to be kept in school and not forced to work. Fair trade invests in protecting the rights, well-being, safety and livelihood of many individuals and often this means the fighting of human trafficking.
Fair trade not only ensures that the workers behind the scenes are treated fairly, as well as paid well in order to support their families, but it also ensures that you are purchasing good quality garments that are made to last. It celebrates the creativity of diverse cultures that is displayed through a worker’s careful craft and skill.
Plus, by reusing and recycling materials, fair trade protects and conserves the environment for future sustainability. This is vital when you consider that eighty-two pounds of textile waste is produced per person in the United States, that’s 11 million pounds per year.
There are of course other concerns beyond whether a brand is a ‘fair trader’.
We touched upon the recycling of materials, but the overall environmental impact of cheap clothing production is enormous when you start to take note of the huge quantities of water used, as well as chemicals that are washed into water supplies. There are also concerns over animal testing by certain brands, and even the use of fur.
With brands that offer jewelry, there is the added worry about the source of gold and silver. Many companies do not take the time to find out exactly where their precious metals come from, and the roots can be in child labor and dangerous working environments.
When we purchase clothing and jewelry, we put our faith in the brand that the history behind each item is a good one. It can be upsetting to consider that people and the environment may have been exploited and hurt in their production.
Where can we find great brands that support Fair Trade ethics and qualities? There are many retailers cropping up, that maintain high moral standards. We have handpicked some of the best below.
Krotchet Kids seeks to offer affordable clothing while impacting the communities their products come from. This is a non-profit brand that empowers their workers in Uganda and Peru both through fair wages as well as education and mentoring programs. Each month, empowerment is monitored and evaluated, ensuring that every person in their program is being impacted positively.
Study NY is a Brooklyn-based company, which produces city-friendly pieces that are all made locally. They use organic cotton, linen, hand-dyed fabric and recycled materials for their pieces. They operate on no-waste pattern-making production and are part of a program dedicated to raising money for underprivileged children.
This company began as a charity, supporting disadvantaged communities such as Malawi in the production of their Fair Trade Clothing. Customers that support this company are supporting the hands behind their garment, as well as working to sustain the environment.
Inglis was recognized for her innovative designs and eco-friendly efforts. Based in Brooklyn, all garments are sewn in a factory, using sustainably sourced fabrics such as Japanese organic cotton, French vegetable-tanned leather and dead stock wool from New York’s garment industry. Now doesn’t that sound amazing?
This company seeks to be as transparent as possible. They take their time in tracking down the best and safest factories and work to build relationship with factory owners, thereby ensuring that the factory’s integrity will maintain ethical production practices.
Feral Childe produces unique one-of-a-kind pieces. Using sustainable fabrics in New York, they work to dispose of waste responsibly by either donating textile remnants to schools or by sending it to textile recycling factories. Furthermore, this company produces to order to prevent excess stock. Best of all, they will provide a transparent report on the manufacturing techniques as well as the fabric sourcing of the items you purchase.
Raven + Lily
This is a socially conscious brand that is dedicated to the empowerment of women through sustainable employment opportunities. Their clothing is eco-friendly and made with great love and care by at-risk women in Cambodia.
Designed in Vancouver, these garments are produced out of a self-run cottage industry in Indonesia. They are committed to the growth in Indonesia’s textile industry as well as to an environmentally conscious and socially responsible business model. They use textiles such as organic cotton, bamboo, tencel, linen, hemp, wild silk, pineapple, wool and up-cycled fabric.
Designed in Florence, Alabama, these pieces range from beautiful wedding dresses, to quilts and placemats. Each item is handmade by artisans in Florence, Alabama and uses a new, organic and recycled materials. They stress the importance of sustainability and “slow design” as opposed to “fast fashion”.
This company has won awards for its innovation over the years. They seek to bring consumers as close as possible to their workers. This works by sending you a tracking code with which to access exactly by whom your clothing is being made, as well as where the fabric is from, once you make a purchase online.
If you want to support fair trade products and take a stand against the unfair treatment of many undervalued individuals, it is important to know what to look for. Familiarize yourself with the Fair Trade Certified logos and always look out for this label. Organizations that are part of Fair Trade will have this information on their website, so look the company up if you are not sure.
As Lucy Siegle said: “fast fashion isn’t free. Someone, somewhere is paying”. Be sure that you know where your clothes are coming from.