EDITORIAL: What is the true cost of fast fashion?

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EDITORIAL: What is the true cost of fast fashion?

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We currently live in a society where our ego overpowers our concern for our planet and others living on it. We may not see the effects it has on us now but if we continue this constant cycle, we’re going to have to force ourselves to make a change. But what is the harm in addressing the problem now?

When we think of fast fashion, we think of the amazing bargains from Forever 21 or H&M, but that’s as far as our thinking goes. We don’t think about anything past the price of a basic shirt and rarely take the time to think of how it was made and its effect on our planet and people.

When we think of thrifting, many of us think about the story behind the article of clothing. Who wore it? Why did they give it away? Based on the fact that it was already owned by someone else, we tend to steer away from purchasing a thrifted item.

But what about the story behind clothes from fast fashion stores? Just because it wasn’t previously worn by someone else doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a story. Just ask yourself: Who made this? How much was this worker paid? How do the materials used to make this affect me or others around myself?

What is the true cost of fast fashion?

The reality is that cheap clothing is worth way more than you think.

Let’s start with what’s most important: what is it made out of?

Most of us don’t take the time to investigate on what our clothes are really made out of. I don’t blame you though, why add more effort in purchasing clothes when I don’t see the effects it has on my life? Well, you’re wrong. It really does have an effect on not only your life but those who sacrifice theirs in order to make it for you.

COTTON FARMING AND THE IMPACT OF TOXINS

You’ve seen ads that emphasize on materials being 100% cotton and probably disregarded the statement. We’re more familiar with having organic food but what about the clothes we wear? Can’t that affect our health too? I mean, I understand that one day we’ll have to find a way to substitute our crops as the population will have an increase which will eventually interfere with our food source but with all the added chemicals and toxins, we’re only hurting ourselves more.

As quoted in a September 2016 article by Huffpost.com, Jenna Amatulli states that “chemicals can permeate your skin, which is constantly eliminating and absorbing ― all day, every day. So, things that go on your skin can also go in your body. If you are wearing clothing coated in toxic chemicals, it’s possible that you’re absorbing a small amount of these chemicals through your skin and your body must process and eliminate them.”

Just because you’re not consuming it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an effect on your health. We may not see the effect it has on us, but it’s still something we should consider taking our time to investigate on.

In Taylor & Francis Online, Nanda Kishore Kannuri and Sushrut Jadhav states that “dermal exposure to hazardous agents can result in a variety of occupational diseases and disorders, including occupational skin diseases (OSD) and systemic toxicity.”

The demand is high for cheap clothes which forces farmers who grow the materials to find ways to quicken the time plants spend on growing. Farmers sacrifice themselves for our satisfaction and also their survival considering the fact that their family’s lives depend on this specific job.

Quoted in Taylor & Francis Online, it mentions that “during hot summer and windy seasons, many farmers who spray pesticides experienced dizziness, nausea and itching of the skin. Some of the farmers associated these chemicals with rising instances of cancer among farmers and their families, diabetes, graying of hair, mental instability, lack of physical strength, and youth taking to alcohol.”

Farmers in third world countries suffer from the negative effects of pesticides. One country in particular where most of our clothes are made is India. In addition to their physical well being, their mental well being is extremely affected by this cause. As the chemicals destroy their land, farmers mainly in India face discouragement which leads to suicide.

Taylor & Francis Online notes that “adverse climatic conditions, failure of the cotton crop and growing debts led to suicides specific to cotton farmers. The suicide rate among Indian farmers was 47% higher than the national average, according to the 2011 census. More than 300,000 farmers have committed suicide in the country between 1995 and 2014. This translates into approximately one suicide every 30 min.”

This doesn’t just happen in India or other third world countries. It’s also happening in other places like America, Australia, France, and the United Kingdom. With the negative effects pesticides have on land, farmer suicides will only continue to increase rapidly as the demand for cheap clothing increases and the likelihood of successful crops will decrease. Are we just going to let this continue all for cheap clothing that will only grow dust in the back of our closet for years or will eventually tear apart in a couple months? Is this all worth it to us; the lives of farmers who go through blood and tears just so we could blow our money on something that will never last forever?

I understand that pesticides allow for increased production but are we just going to ignore another big issue? These farmers do so much for us and should never have to face death.

In addition to pesticides, chemicals like dimethylformamide, azo dyes, phthalates, nanosilver or anything that claims to be static resistance, stain resistant, or wrinkle free also have an impact on our health. These also can disrupt hormones and lead to cancer.

REALITY OF SWEATSHOPS

Cotton farmers aren’t the only workers who are affected by fast fashion, people in third world countries working in sweatshops experience the heartbreaking impacts of mistreatment in factories.

We’re all familiar with the poor working conditions in sweatshops. We know that they’re often not paid enough or spend hours each day just working. But there’s more than just the stress sweatshop workers go through. Some individuals travel miles away from their families in order to provide for them. Some are unable to see them for a year. Some are unable to see them ever again.

As it states in WaronWant.org In Bangladesh, 3.5 million workers in 4,825 garment factories produce goods for export to the global market, principally Europe and North America. The Bangladeshi garment industry generates 80% of the country’s total export revenue. However, the wealth generated by this sector has led to few improvements in the lives of garment workers, 85% of whom are women.”

Garment workers earn far below living wage and that’s only one problem. Nearly every worker experience cramped and hazardous working conditions which can lead to work injuries, factory fires, and factories literally falling apart. Yet, many factory managements could care less.

6 years ago, workers in Rana Plaza in Bangladesh’s Dhaka District were concerned about the cracks in the wall of a multi-story building but were still told to come back to work the next morning. On April 24, 2013, the building collapsed with the workers still inside and soon became the site of the deadliest garment factory disaster ever. Over 1,134 garment workers died and over thousands were injured. The effect it has on we as consumers is that many of the companies we continue to support were involved like The Children’s Place, Primark, Walmart, and the list goes on.

On Racked.com, Nadra Nittle states that “after the disaster, murder charges were brought against 38 people connected, and more than 200 apparel companies from 20 countries signed the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh to prevent similar tragedies from happening.”

Why did it have to take the lives of hardworking people for people to realize that this is an issue that we should be concerned of?

What can we learn from this horrible situation? Even to this day, companies in the garment industry still refuse to improve the working conditions in sweatshops. What can we as consumers do to fix this?

In an April 2017 article by NPR, Ashley Westerman says “it does matter to consumers.”

Many of us continue to support these companies who mistreat their workers to this day. If you think a poor quality t-shirt is worth more than the lives of suffering people, you need to reevaluate your values.

ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

In a Green Matters article, Koty Neelis mentions that “the apparel industry accounts for 10 percent of global carbon emissions and remains the second largest industrial polluter, second only to oil.”

Not only that, many fast fashion items are often worn a few times before it ends up being thrown away due to lack of quality. It’s poor quality also sheds plastic microfibers which will eventually end up into the oceans. Thus, entering our food chain. The negative environmental impact fast fashion has just continues to go on.

WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT THIS?

The best thing we can all do is switch to purchasing from sustainable brands. But for teenagers or anyone for that matter, it’s a difficult switch. Sustainable brands can often be expensive and obviously not everyone is able to spend that kind of money. Instead, look through alternatives like thrifting or simply taking the time to ask yourself: “will I actually wear this?” when shopping at fast fashion stores. The little changes like that can do so much when you look at it in the bigger picture. Learn to be more conscious of your purchases and be aware of your ecological footprint and also how fast fashion really affects you and others.

Realizing the impact fast fashion has on us is one step for a change and actually taking action is another step. It’s never too late to rethink your values and considering it being a new year, it’s time to start making a change for the better.

Sources Used:

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/these-are-the-gnarly-chemicals-in-the-cheap-clothes-we-buy_n_57d6e494e4b03d2d459b92ff

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13648470.2017.1317398

https://uk.lush.com/article/fast-fashion-slow-cotton

https://waronwant.org/sweatshops-bangladesh

https://qz.com/967197/fourth-anniversary-of-rana-plaza-disaster-fast-fashions-dirty-secrets/

https://www.racked.com/2018/4/13/17230770/rana-plaza-collapse-anniversary-garment-workers-safety

https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2017/04/30/525858799/4-years-after-rana-plaza-tragedy-whats-changed-for-bangladeshi-garment-workers

https://www.greenmatters.com/style/2018/08/28/ybXGX/fast-fashion-impacts-environment

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