If you have spent time looking at your impact on the planet you have probably heard that fast fashion is not eco-friendly or ethical. They often exploit their workers and take advantage of workers in countries with really lax labour laws were they can pay them super small sums of money for really hard and detailed work.
However, I think that the demonization of people who purchase fast fashion completely erases the intersectional challenges to being eco-friendly. There are so many reasons that people may continue to buy fast fashion, they may not be aware of the impacts of fast fashion on the workers and the planet, they may not care, or they may not be able to afford to spend the money or the time to seek out ethical and eco-conscious brands. Money is the obvious one, sometimes you or entire groups of the population may not be able to financially afford to spend money on natural fibre clothes, made by people who are paid a living wage, made with organic cotton or wool harvested from well-farmed sheep. Time, I think, is often the more forgotten part of affordability. I have spent a lot of time researching plastic-free beauty options, consuming media about micro-plastics, et cetera. I also know that there have been times when I have not been living my most eco-conscious life because I have been working three or four jobs to put myself through grad school and any spare moment you have is spent on homework, showering, or sleeping; and that’s without having a partner or children!
Time is a privilege.
Thrifting of course is always an option. However, if you have been in a Value Village, Salvation Army Store, or a Goodwill lately you will notice that prices have been creeping up. At the end of the day places like this are businesses, and they have taken note of the fact that it is “cool” to thrift again and that it isn’t just low-income peoples who are shopping there now and slowly and slightly increasing their prices. This has the potential to force out people who truly need that shopping option to clothe themselves and their families. I’m not saying never shop at Value Village, Salvation Army Store, or Goodwill, but I think those of us who can afford it should shop at consignment shops, small, local vintage shops, and online places like DePop, ThredUp, and Poshmark or even the Plato’s Closet, Style Encore, and Buffalo Exchanges of the world. Also you can get some truly amazing pieces at consignment shops.
The other issue with thrifting is that sometimes you want something new, or you don’t want to buy your underwear, socks, swimsuit, shoes, whatever used because it grosses you out or you just don’t want to. That’s totally acceptable as well.
There are also times (not so much in a pandemic but in our old lives) you have an event with a dress-code. You need a black dress, or a white dress, or a blazer and you do not have one and you thought you had so much time but all of a sudden the thing is tomorrow or that night and you don’t have anything that meets the dress code. So you go to H&M because you can almost always find something at H&M.
So what I want to do with this series is research all the big fast fashion brands and see if there are any that aren’t as bad. Maybe they have started using recycled plastic for their synthetic fibres, they have safe working conditions for their labourers or they pay them a living wage. I don’t know if there will be any or if it will even be possible to find information to answer any of these questions. Fast fashion and low-cost clothing is essential to a huge portion of the global population. It is not acceptable for humans to walk around naked!
So far my research questions include:
- Where are the clothes made?
- What are the labour laws of that country?
- What are the workers paid?
- Have the workers gone on strike in the past 10 years? If so, what over? How was it resolved?
- Is there any evidence of having a workplace health and safety policies?
- Is there any traceability to their materials?
- Do they mostly use synthetic fibres? Any post-consumer recycled materials?
- What do they do with product that doesn’t sell?
My list of brands so far include Joe Fresh (my favourite fast fashion), Old Navy, American Eagle (and Aerie), Forever 21 (this is going to be low on the list because they aren’t in Canada anymore), George (Wal Mart and Asda’s clothing line), and H&M and then I might get into some of those online retailers like Pretty Little Thing, Asos, Boohoo, Fashion Nova and the like. These will probably be sporadic and pretty spaced out because they are probably going to be pretty difficult to research.