Ethical Style: An Introduction

By Anna Lee
Picture / Getty

What is fast fashion?

One minute a jacket is worn by jaw-droppingly gorgeous supermodels at New York Fashion Week, fashion packs ogling its exquisite detailing that took months to hand-bead. Two weeks later, a near exact replica is plonked on the two-for-$49.99 rack at your favourite chain store.

Welcome to the world of fast fashion, where shoppers are obsessed with having the latest and greatest, and your favourite on-trend products are cheaper than ever before. But is it really the glamorous world that it’s made out to be?

Drawn in by clever marketing and driven by fast-paced consumerism, consumers are buying more than ever before, with the average woman buying around 28kg of clothing each year according to environmental journalist Lucy Siegle. With demand at an all-time high, retailers are demanding more from overseas factories to deliver even more products in shorter time — with devastating consequences.

Why is it an issue, and why should I care?

Your bargain $29.99 ‘‘Made in India’’ shirt comes with a price tag — and an expensive one at that. Nearly two years ago, the illegally built, eight-storey garment factory Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed, killing more than 1130 garment workers and injuring thousands. This factory, among hundreds of others just like it, was a major supplier for the some of the world's most popular chain stores.

Millions of the modern-day slaves who make your clothes are deprived of basic human rights. They are paid unsustainable wages, work long hours in illegally constructed and dangerous factories and suffer sexual harassment and abuse. Many of the workers, often with no other options for work, live in squalor in cramped, dirty slums, and earn half of what they need to meet their basic daily needs and support their families. This is driven by everyday consumers wanting their clothes quicker and cheaper, meaning companies need to squeeze more bang for their buck from the garment factories. The workers are the ones who suffer.

After speaking to a number of garment factory owners on a recent trip to Bangladesh, I discovered that if companies were prepared to pay about 15c more per garment, none of this would be an issue.

Not only are the workers lives affected, but the environment too. According to the Guardian, more than 10.5 million tons of textiles weresent to landfill last year in the US alone.

What can I do about it?

Just as you have the option to buy free range as opposed to caged eggs, and fair-trade coffee rather than non-fairly traded, you have the option to buy clothing consciously. Though it’s an issue easy to ignore as it doesn’t directly affect us, it’s a serious one that can easily be changed.

Each week we will cover everything from ethical fashion brands worth knowing about to investigating where your clothes are made — all the things you ought to know to become a conscious, stylish and clever consumer. Know exactly what you're buying and where it comes from.

In a world where shoppers are hooked on quantity not quality, and a $19.99 T-shirt is considered a bargain, it’s time to take charge and change our unsustainable shopping habits. Let’s stop being slaves to the sales.

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