Chances are, if you’ve ever bought a piece of luxury fashion, you’ll know the full backstory of the garment. You’ll know where it was made, who it was made by, you’ll probably even know how long it took to produce the garment, so, why don’t we know this much about the $10 t-shirts we purchase on a whim because it was “too good a bargain to pass up”, or the $4 underwear you’ll buy from Target every few weeks? It seems as though we have become so immersed in the culture of throwaway fashion that we are quite quickly distancing ourselves from the tragic human cost of such rapid consumption.
On Wednesday the 24th of April 2013, Rana Plaza, a garment production factory in Bangladesh that produced goods for U.S., Canadian, and European retailers, collapsed (BBC 2013). It remains as the garment industry’s deadliest cataclysm to date, and the deadliest structure collapse in modern history behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The factory collapse claimed the lives of over 1000 factory workers, orphaning 800 children (Mastro 2013).
Sadly, the deaths of factory workers due to poor conditions and buildings not meeting any kind of structural regulation are not uncommon – so why has it taken such a significant loss of life to turn people’s attention to their habits of consumption? The simple answer is that the dominant standard of market competition in the garment industry at the moment is low prices (Brooks 2015). Low prices mean inconceivably poor conditions for factory workers, poor quality of goods, and larger, more severe environmental impacts. Low prices also mean market growth, larger profit margins for multi-national corporations and brands, and of course, a happy consumer (Brooks 2015).
In order to provide better working conditions for factory workers who have no other source or option of income, we as the consumer must harshly criticise our attitudes towards fast fashion. Shifting the standard of competition to not merely consider, but to prioritise fair working conditions and environmental sustainability will result in corporations notorious for their exploitation of factory workers to follow consumer demand and inturn, improve their practice.
BBC, 2013, ‘Bangladesh factory collapse toll passes 1,000’, BBC News, accessed 12 October 2015, < http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-22476774>
Brooks, A 2015, ‘The Ethics of Fast Fashion’, Royal Geography Society, accessed 7 October 2015, < http://www.rgs.org/OurWork/Schools/School+Members+Area/Ask+the+experts/The+Ethics+of+Fast+Fashion.htm>
Mastro, A 2013, ‘”Fast Fashion” Isn’t Just Trendy and Glamorous: It Has Consequences’, newdream.org, accessed 7 October 2015, < https://www.newdream.org/results/fast-fashion-has-consequences>