The fast fashion industry and labor law violations

I wrote a post a while back about sustainable fashion and its impact on the environment. Since then, I’ve realized a few things. First of all, some aren’t as concerned with the environment as others and some don’t believe the environment is being impacted negatively by our wastefulness at all (to each their own). Also, there is so much more to ethical and sustainable fashion than just using less textiles or emitting less CO2 during production. There is a human element to the production of clothing and beauty products that needs to be addressed as well.

So, in an effort to encompass all issues surrounding the fashion/beauty industries, I want to humanize the problem.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the fast fashion industry, it is a growing industry of clothing manufacturers and stores that work to quickly transfer fashion trends from the runway to their shelves. This means that their clothing is of lower quality, sold at a lower price, and has an extremely high turnover rate. Some of these brands include Forever 21, H&M, Zara, and TopShop.

Some of these brands, such as Zara and H&M, have made efforts in recent years to create more environmentally friendly and sustainable clothing for consumers. H&M has their Conscious Collection and Zara has the Join Life collection. This is a good start.

However, other brands (most notably Forever 21) continue to drop their prices and provide even cheaper runway trends to consumers without making any effort to move toward sustainability.

In 2014, Racked reported that Forever 21 opened their first F21 Red shop in Downtown Los Angeles. F21 Red is a store that offers a selection of Forever 21’s clothing for men, women, and children at the lowest entry prices the brand offers. Clothing prices start at $1.80 and the price of denim jeans sits at around $7.80.

Awesome, right? Wrong.

How can these prices be so low?

First—low quality manufacturing.

Think about it. When you go into one of these stores, are you expecting to find the next staple item for your closet? Probably not. We want trends, and we want them now. The Huffington Post reported that the entire life cycle of a garment from Zara is around two weeks. TWO.

“Zara can design, produce, deliver, display and theoretically sell a piece of clothing in just 14 days. This may help justify the high price of a pair of Christian Louboutin pumps versus the affordable, red-soled versions from Zara.” – Rebecca Adams, Huffington Post

Basically, if you’re looking for clothes that will last, these aren’t the stores you turn to.

Second (and most unethical)—terrible labor practices.

Forever 21, Ross, and many other fast fashion companies are supplied by manufacturers in Southern California. These manufacturers are notorious for shady labor practices.

In 2012, the US Department of Labor issued a subpoena to Forever 21 in order to receive documents about their manufacturers after a multi-year investigation that revealed unethical labor practices. Here’s a great quote to sum it up:

“Since 2008, our investigators have identified dozens of manufacturers producing goods for Forever 21 under sweatshop-like conditions.” -Ruben Rosalez, regional administrator for US DOL

The company refused to provide the documents. This was five years ago, though. Things must have improved since then, right? Wrong again.

In November 2016, the LA Times reported that 77 local garment manufacturers that supply some of the largest chain retailers in the country had cheated their employees out of about $1.1 million from April to July. Employees were paid as little as $4/hr, but the average was around $7/hr. The minimum wage is Los Angeles is $10.50/hr.

Many of these employees are working out of basements.

Well, why aren’t these retailers feeling the heat?

The LA Times article goes on to explain that many layers of supply chains protect the retailers from the awful business practices of their suppliers. They essentially have no legal responsibility.

We like to think that unethical labor practices and unfair treatment of workers are phenomenons that happen outside of our borders. We want to point fingers companies who outsource to Mexico or China and pick apart their labor practices for violations. But, what about the practices in our own backyard?

These workers barely have enough money to feed their families because we have bought into this fast fashion model without thinking about the consequences. Demand more from retailers by researching where your clothing comes from.

Next time you think your closet is lacking or you’ve got the shopping bug, check out some of these brands instead.

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