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Fast Fashion: A Human Cost

The world has become numb to a nagging issue that has become a persistent problem over the past 20 years.  Imagine you’re in a clothing store and you are astounded to see signs stating “$5 and Under,” “Buy One Get Two Free” and the most famous of all, a four-letter word that sends shivers of delight to any die-hard shopper  –  “SALE.”

As you approach the checkout, you are beaming. There is no feeling quite like the one when you are making a clothing purchase. Almost addict-like, you swipe your card and take your new clothes home. Yet, did it ever strike you to investigate where they were made? Sadly, the answer is usually no.

In a recent episode of HBO’s “Tonight With John Oliver,” Oliver simultaneously poked fun while highlighting this serious global matter  –  how major retail corporations, such as the Zaras and Gaps of the world, have their clothing manufactured in miniscule factories in third-world countries. It is in these factories where issues such as child labor and labor-union laws come into play, where over-worked and under-paid employees make thousands of garments every week to sell in the United States and other first-world countries.

In recent years, the most popular clothing trend with the consumers has not been the high-low skirt or even the crop top, but the ideals behind these coveted items. It’s safe to say that in the modern world of on-demand information and instant gratification we get from social media, that fast fashion has become an expected part of consumers’ lives. We want the merch  fast and we want it now.

Oliver focused his monologue on the mentality major corporations have in regards to their idea of fast fashion. Essentially, major retailers concentrate on high volume clothing sales, meaning that clothing has to be mass-produced in order to meet the increasingly high demand.

Meanwhile, consumers are hunting for the coolest and hippest clothing they can get their hands on, without having to pay the steep price. And at these fast-fashion powerhouses, a “trendy” item is usually found to be much cheaper than that of a so-called “classic” item. Working with this kind of trend cycle means that brands have a small window of opportunity to work with resulting in design and production turnarounds as quickly as three weeks.

High-end designers are feeling the threat of their volume-producing competitors such as Zara, that are able to produce mirror copies of the runway creations to sell at a fraction of the price. Luxury brands are now focusing more heavily on the materials, as well as the craftsmanship of their products. They are aware the fast fashion brands cannot copy them in terms of their fabrics, due to the fact that the cost to produce the same level of garments at a mass-market level would be impossible.

John Oliver summed up the whole idea of fast fashion in the modern world  –  “imagine yourself in a supermarket trying to find something to eat, when you find something frozen, possibly quick and easy to throw into an oven, even a microwave, thus having it ready to eat in minutes. As a nation that is always on-the-go, we don’t always stop and ask ourselves ‘What’s in this?’ or even ‘what is this made of?’ because we are in search of that instant gratification day-after-day. It’s the same when it comes to our clothes, where we try so desperately to fit in and be at the center of a trend, when have we asked the question ‘Who made my clothes?’ It may make our purchase of that beautiful new sweater just a little bit sweeter.”

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