We make a lot of excuses for our unapologetic consumption of fast fashion, none of which is particularly concerned with where it comes from, how it’s produced or what impact it has on our wallets. But a new book by British author Lucy Seigle makes the case that fast fashion might just be ruining the world.
Seigle’s book, To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out The World? is framed as an expose of the fashion industry, and its passages on fast fashion strip the retail method of all its sparkly, satisfying convenience. The Guardian, where Seigle writes a column about ethical living, posted an excerpt of the book, and from what we’ve read, a whole lot of ugly goes into your favorite pretty pieces from stores like H&M and Zara.
Seigle’s research found that on average, people buy more clothing now than they did 20 years ago, but are able to do so for less money because of the popularity of fast fashion. Where the fashionistas of a generation ago might have bought a few good pieces and cared for them like gems, today’s shoppers don’t have that burden: clothes are so cheap (and so cheaply made) that if they tear, it’s often more appealing to buy something new than to repair something old.
And that’s because of the genius business models from retail giants like Britain’s Primark, Topshop and Spanish-owned Zara, which is credited with having one of the fastest supply chains in the retail world. Because Zara’s producers can produce relatively small batches of runway lookalikes very, very quickly, its stores can offer, say, a striped Prada knockoff within weeks of it coming down the runway, and can lure customers attention with the knowledge that if they don’t buy it today, it’ll probably be gone tomorrow.
But it’s not just the way that the chains keep customers in their stores that Seigle investigated. She also delved deep into the underbelly of the manufacturers who keep the chains running. The operations, called cut, make and trim shops, are often little better than sweatshops. From Seigle’s book:
Research shows that many western companies place vast orders with southeast Asian CMT facilities with cursory calculations as to what they can handle. Garment workers are therefore under extraordinary pressure to complete orders on time. Enforced, often unpaid overtime is one of the most contentious issues. The most serious allegations include working days that are habitually stretched from 10 hours to 15, with workers locked inside factories at night to finish orders, subjected to intimidation and even violence to make them feel they have no choice but to stay. There is evidence of workers simply being locked into factories until they have finished. The fire escapes are locked, too.
Sorta sounds like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, doesn’t it? Love it or hate it, fast fashion is a domineering part of this industry we love so much. Whether or not Seigle’s book will change that remains to be seen.
Why fast fashion is slow death for the planet [The Guardian]