The High Cost of Your Fast Fashion Life

1021 lives. 1021 mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, brothers, and sisters. If this was the cost of one low-cost accessory- one cheaply priced shirt, would you pay it? You may think this is an exaggeration but unfortunately, it’s not. 

The tragedy I’m referring to, is the Rana Plaza tragedy of 2013 in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in which 1021 garment workers perished after being told to return to their factory for work despite concerns about the building foundation.

This is unfortunate, yes, but has nothing to do with us, right?

Wrong. Those 1021 lives were the cost of an ever-changing wardrobe. The cost of consumerism in the 21st century. The cost of fast fashion. 

What is fast fashion?

You may not be familiar with the term, but you are familiar with the concept. How often do you think you shop a year? How many of the clothes you’ve bought? How many have been worn more than a handful of times? How many times have you fallen in love with a floaty dress or a well-cut blazer on the racks, and left it sitting in your wardrobe collecting dust? If this is you, you’re not alone. 

This is the result of a fashion industry that changes seasons more than 52 times a year. 52! There are only four seasons so why on God’s green earth (or Buddha’s or Shiva’s or whoever’s) does a store need to have more than 52 seasons? I’m sorry… “micro-seasons”. If you’re not understanding, this breaks down to one new “collection” a week. So that those clothes you found on sale last week? They’re already out of fashion.

We're in such a frenzy to stay on top of the latest trends that we're constantly buying items, wearing them once or twice, and then leaving them in our closets for the next year or two because we don't want to be seen wearing the same items again. Sound familiar? It should. I for one, am guilty as charged. 

How many of you end up going shopping for something new to wear every time a special occasion pops up? Or buy cheaply made items that fall apart after you wear it once or twice? How many of you end up tossing or donating a bag of clothes every few years, in which the majority of the items you've only worn a handful of times? How many of you buy an outfit one year- only to look at the same outfit a year later and think, 'Sure I liked that when I bought it, but now it's just not my style'?

Guilty. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.

The fast fashion industry thrives off of low cost, low quality clothing. The more they make, the more they make.

But have you ever thought about who made that $10 bohemian print blouse sitting on the sale rack? The one you got rid of after wearing it for a season because it didn’t look so hot anymore?

Have you ever stopped to think of how much of the cost actually trickles down? 

According to the Anker Research Institute’s March 2021 report, the cost of a decent standard of living in Dhaka is 34,187 TK or 403 USD per month. How much are they actually seeing? 21,648 TK. The equivalent of 255 USD.

That’s a $148 difference.

When you consider housing, medical expenses, transportation, and food… are they even living? A 2020 article in Forbes tells the story of Keya Akter and Sharif Hosain who were forced to sell their baby to pay the hospital bills.

All because we need 52 seasons worth of clothing.

The European Parliament calls this “slave labour”. Their words, not mine.

But this can’t be true for everyone, right? Well, as an Oxfam report tells it in 2019, no Bangladeshi garment workers and just 1% of Vietnamese garment workers earn a living wage.

Companies like Fashion Nova, Pretty Little Things, and Shein are appealing to us because of their ability to crank out trendy clothing quickly for low costs. The truth of the matter is though, that these fast rates and low costs come at a high cost to human life and the environment. 

Extreme pressure is placed on factories (mostly in developing countries) to produce mass amounts of clothing at fast rates. A shirt you found for $10 might have cost less than half of that to make. If it cost $3 to make, how much of that realistically, would the garment worker see?

I say we start putting the actual production cost and employee wages on the label too.

Think you’d still buy that $10 top if the label says $.50 cents paid to garment worker?

As a result of our consumerist culture, families are being forced to live in squalor or separately and factories are being forced to cut costs at the risk of their employees’ safety. 

If the cost to human life doesn’t have you thinking yet, let’s talk about the environmental impact of fast fashion. It turns out that the fashion industry is the world's second most polluting industry after the oil industry. 

Pesticides are poured on cotton fields. Chemical washes are generating an increased amount of greenhouse gases. Not to mention our discarded textiles take as long as 200 years to decompose. 

What about those clothes that we donate? In actuality, the thrift stores only keep about 3% due to the sheer amount of clothing people donate. The other 97%? They get outsourced to developing countries where they undermine the local economy. 

This post was meant to be about slow fashion, but to be honest, it’s impossible to understand slow fashion without first understanding fast fashion.

So now that we have an idea of what fast fashion is and how it impacts us, the question is what do we do about it?

This is where slow fashion comes in.

So what is slow fashion?

It’s the exact opposite of fast fashion. Slow fashion is the idea of being mindful in our consumer practices by supporting ethical and sustainable fashion. It’s about respecting the production process, quality of clothing and the people developing those clothes. 

Slow fashion is important because whether we know it or not, we are the ones driving the demand for cheap products. This isn’t to say that we have to buy expensive clothing. A lot of us just don’t have that kind of money. This is to say, however, that we need to be more aware of the effect that we have on our surroundings.

According to whowhatwear, slow fashion can be one or all of the following: sustainable fashion, ethical fashion, and lasting fashion.

Sustainable fashion: This is the idea of respecting the environment by reducing our carbon footprint. The chemicals used in dye along with synthetic fibers have a negative effect on our surroundings. 

What do we do about it then? Choose natural fibers! It takes less energy to produce, it’s safer, and it will naturally biodegrade over time.   

Ethical fashion: Fair treatment of labor through fair pay and safe working conditions. This is something that all people are entitled to regardless of whether you live in a developing country or a first world country. 

We can engage in ethical fashion by seeking out ethically produced leather or leather alternatives. Instead of buying mass produced items, support locally produced brands or buy from companies that are WRAP accredited (organization dedicated to promoting safe, lawful and ethical manufacturing practices). 

Lasting fashion: Choosing quality pieces that last and surpass seasonal trends. 

Rather than getting swept up with the latest trends, fall in love with one outfit! Recycle and reuse pieces to get the most wear.

Buy CLASSIC pieces. A little black dress that can be dressed up or down! A chic blazer that can go with literally anything. A basic white tee. Fitted jeans. The great thing about these sorts of items is that they look amazing, they never go out of style (so you can keep them for the long term), and can be worn and re-worn and still look completely new and different depending on how you style them.

According to Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner, author of 'You Are What You Wear', the majority of people only wear 20% of their wardrobes 80% of the time. 20%! We might as well cut the other 80% and save some money, don't you think?

Another way of investing in lasting fashion? Go thrifting or have clothing swaps! Not only is it fun, but you can consume less and save money. 

How can you make a difference, though?

I’m not telling you to get mad and burn your entire wardrobe. On top of looking crazy, think about the effect you’d have on the environment! What you can do though, is start small. Be aware. Think before you purchase.

As a sustainable fashion brand, we try to learn as much as possible and educate others in order to reach our goal of reducing fashion waste. One source that we've found helpful on this journey is the Netflix documentary ‘The True Cost’. 

As the founder of Emmi's Closet, Michelle, is striving to start a fashion line while reducing the high human and environmental costs. While her attempt to be less wasteful and more sustainable is only a beginning, it is a beginning.

Before watching this documentary, I never thought twice about who was making my clothes, and what impact I was having on them. I never once thought my desire to look good could ever result in a tragedy like the Rana Plaza disaster. Sure- I care about the environment, but I thought I was doing my part by recycling. I didn’t know that my clothes played an even bigger part in ruining the earth than the plastic bottles I dislike. 

I know we’re not directly responsible, but indirectly, we are. 

This being the case, we owe it to ourselves, each other, and the world to just be mindful. We won’t solve the problem overnight, but with some education and overall awareness, we might just make a dent.

To learn more, check out the links below:

Racked - Rana Plaza Collapse

Slow Fashion Movement

The Apparel Industry's Environmental Impact in Six Graphics

How to Tell if a Fashion Brand is Sustainable