The following essay was written as an assignment in Composition class; you will find it rather different from other blog posts. Originally it was entitled “Evicting the Demon of Fast Fashion.” I’ll be the first to say that I still shop at second-hand stores, but it has heightened my awareness and challenged me in my consumer habits and I present it as that.
Being consumed with fashion is not only dreadful stewardship, but also a stamp of a temporal worldview. The fast fashion industry mindlessly enslaves little, poor people (at least it is giving them a job) while polluting the world and consuming natural resources, nevertheless, the consumers are happy for a moment; entitled to look cool beside their neighbor. Buying into “fast fashion” with its throw-away mindset and self-obsession and its encouragement of child labor stands in direct violation to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
“Fast Fashion,” a term coined in the last thirty years, is the rapid-paced industry of providing cheap clothing with the latest designs, and compelling people to buy constantly to reflect the modern style. This style does not change by the month or season as in ancient eras, but by “micro-seasons” (Azevedo 1).
Cheap and rapid ward-robe turnover only began one hundred fifty years ago, after the sewing machine was patented in the US in 1846. Before that, clothes were hand sewn and made to wear and last. A century after the fantastic invention of the sewing machine, in the 1960’s, Mary Quant invented a new custom—special styles of clothing for youth. Suddenly it became affordable to “keep up with the Jones”. Today, clothing can be made in mad bulk, which dramatically lowers costs, and in turn gives opportunity for a necessity to become an ego-statement.
Zara, a Spain-based retailer, hit America in the 1990’s with the revolutionary ability to take an article of clothing from an idea to jacket-on-the-rack within fifteen days. This bizarre whirl jazzed up sales and consumption; it has revolutionized the fast fashion industry, drowning teens and grandmas alike in a flurry of buying the latest and greatest.
The fast fashion industry has become so widely accepted that today only about 3% of the clothes worn in America are manufactured here; a wild difference from sixty years ago when 90% of the clothes were manufactured this side of the Atlantic. A 2019 New York Times article reports that fast fashion has pushed producers to the point where 60% of the clothing is made from synthetic fabric. Most of this clothing cannot be recycled; pollution has become the cry as landfills overflow and furnaces burn after hours to get rid of the excess.
Europeans and Americans, the two world figures pushing fast fashion, are simply drowning in their own wealth. This incredible deluge of cheap clothing demanded by such selfish living has boomeranged to create dreadful waste. British MP Mary Creagh said, “We are sending 300,000 tonnes of clothes a year to incineration or landfill” (sic) (Liu 2). “According to the National Association of Charitable and Recycling Organizations, last year Australian charities paid $13 million a year to dispose of 60,000 tonnes of unusable donations” (sic) (Liu 2).
In response, new options have sprouted including Rent the Runway. For a set fee, one can rent a certain amount of clothing per month and thus be on the cutting edge of looks without overflowing the landfill. Efforts are also being made to recycle clothing. H&M, a company working towards global change, will pay 3c for every kilogram of returned clothing. “If this commitment was applied to the 6,000 kilograms of fast fashion dumped in Australian landfill every 10 minutes, it could add up to $180 every 10 minutes and $25,900 every 24 hours” (Liu 2). Liu argues that if nothing else, we should return clothes to the stores we bought them from and swamp our stores; piece by piece changing their buying policies.
The crisis alone is not only selfishness and waste, but child labor; a supporting pillar of fast fashion. When the US threatened to ban garments coming from Bangladesh, factory owners fired all children under 14, which forced them to find less profitable jobs and left one option for thousands of girls, prostitution. Questions become volatile. Which is the worser of the two evils? In Bolivia, child labor has been legalized because poverty is the worser demon.
According to the National Labor Committee, “contractors making clothing for Wal-Mart pay only 12 cents an hour in China, 20 cents an hour in Bangladesh, and 43 cents an hour in Honduras” (The Free Library 2). I beg you ask, “Are my spending habits supporting child labor?”
I propose, that instead of closeting a Pinterest-perfect wardrobe, as followers of Jesus Christ in a naked world, we don the pants and shirt that is in our drawer, and establish schools for the impoverished, making education a feasible and affordable option. What if the $13 million poured into landfills last year, burying unworn clothes, were distributed one dollar at a time; freeing the prostitutes in Asia, clothing the freezing in Russia, and giving literacy to the impoverished in Mexico. In conclusion, will we be guilty of tracking red footprints to the judgement seat in Old Navy boots while wiping blood off our Forever 21 shirts?
Azevedo, Andrea. “The Impact of the 52 Micro-Seasons on the Environment.” Blog. 2018. 31 Oct 2020. https://medium.com/@andreaazevedo_32670/the-effects-of-the-52-micro-seasons-on-the-environment-edd87951b74f.
Liu, Mark. “Time to Make Fast Fashion a Problem For Its Makers, Not Charities.” Viewpoint Essay. 2020. online.
The Blood Behind Those Bargains. National Education Association of the United States: The Free Library, 1999. 31 Oct 2020 https://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+Blood+Behind+Those+Bargains.-a061995570.