The 3rd anniversary of Rana Plaza was yesterday, and I’ve been thinking about it so much.
How three years ago yesterday, I was searching through Google trying to find out if one of the vendors was one of the companies we worked with. The photos of the fabric being used as a slide to safety (so, um, health and safety definitely wasn’t tip top there, but then again, they sent people to work when there was a crack in the foundation), all the digging, the loss, the news that the owner had left the country (but then was found). Thinking about how complicit we are to fast fashion. How we are the problem. How we need more more more.
Case in point, I made a run to Target yesterday and bought a cute dress, as I don’t have many work clothes to wear in the spring. I forgot all about the anniversary in the face of a cheap dress. I am, we are, you are part of the problem because we are bombarded with shiny things to buy for cheap all the time.
And with all these thoughts, and knowing that I am part of the problem, I came up with a short list of things you can do to be a smart user of fast fashion:
- Think twice about buying bold patterns. They will quickly out of style vs. plainer clothes and will more likely worn less often and for a shorter period of time. The whole ‘do you have three items in your wardrobe that will go with that?’ adage definitely applies here. Want more pops of color? Try buying handmade jewelry that you can mix and match.
- Learn to mend. If your clothes are cheap, they’re going to rip, tear, and break. Therefore, learn to mend them so that they will last. A quick trip to YouTube will teach you what to do. And all darning doesn’t have to look the same, as evidenced here via Tom of Holland. If you’re going to buy that cheap dress, commit to the damn dress.
- Try thrifting. Think thrifting isn’t cool? Check out how much Stasia behind Stasia’s Style School rocks her thrifted clothes! She also gives tips on how to best rock them!
- Wash your clothes correctly. If you’re going to own fast fashion, at least treat it with some respect. Someone made that item, so take care of it. Learn how to best take care of your wardrobe.
- Know that things with beads and buttons are probably done by hand. Then ask yourself, what would I charge if I made this? (It’s probably more than that $10 price tag.) Some things can’t be made by machine and are done by subcontractors.
On that last point, in over four years at a workers’ right organization reading reports from some of the world’s top fast fashion retailers, not once did I come across child workers in their factories. In agriculture? Yes! But not in the places who make the clothes you’re wearing.
However, things get murkier when you look beyond the factory down the supply chain. Things become unregulated. Sadly, for most big name companies, their supply chains are still largely a mystery! This is a HUGE problem. And an effin’ mess.
So, if factories didn’t have children working in them, what was going on? The saddest thing was that factories would work to get their hours within a reasonable minimum and people would quit because they couldn’t afford to work there anymore without working 6o hours a week or more. They would get jobs at factories that had overtime because they needed it. They literally were cogs in the fast fashion system.
And what’s more, in cultures like China, conventional wisdom said that worker was just as fresh the 12th hour on the job as the 1st. From the supervisors to the workers, often people didn’t know the health effects of overtime.
But these are unsexy things. And not as exciting to get up in arms about. So they persist.
And we can campaign our little hearts out. However, what most people don’t get is that when it comes to fast fashion, cheap labor is what these factories are built on. They are counting on going under the radar. They are preparing for that audit visit. They make money based on the backs of workers without those razor-thin margins,
So campaign. But remember, these things take MONTHS to YEARS to fix because it’s so systemic. They are counting on you forgetting. They are counting on you to get distracted. They are counting on you to move on. Because that’s what we do best. But if you’re committed to the long haul, you just made make some magic happen.