By Rebecca Golub
Photo Courtesy of Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
We shop for fashionable clothes because we want to increase our social status and make ourselves feel great. We do our best to remain innocently ignorant about the impact this lifestyle has on the environment, the global economy and on workers in the fashion industry.
The fashion business is a lucrative source of income for clothing exporters, which include developing countries like China, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Cambodia, Mexico and some Caribbean basin nations, according to Lawrence Delson, associate professor of international trade at New York University.
With fashion influencing our purchasing decisions and with so many countries involved in the industry, it might be surprising to find out that the fashion industry is only two percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP), according to Mark Greiz, adjunct professor of international marketing at Fashion Institute of Technology, in New York, NY.
Fast fashion and high fashion companies like H&M, Zara and Forever 21 “create additional jobs in manufacturing, distribution, and retail, and contribute more tax revenue to local governments,” said Patrick Yanez, professor of international trade, global marketing and economics at Fashion Institute of Technology.
The fashion industry is also detrimental to our environment, exploiting natural resources and polluting the land, air and water.
Fashion companies can alter their manufacturing processes to make them more ethical and have the power to increase benefits, pay their workers more and better the working conditions and factory facilities for their employees.
Fast-fashion companies have this authority over their manufacturers, especially in Southeast Asia because they “are the greatest beneficiaries,” said Delson. In short, everything fast-fashion companies sell, they order from their manufacturers in bulk—making-up the sum of the factories’ incomes.
On the other hand, upscale department stores have less influence over the manufacturing of the clothing they sell. Clothing purchased at Nieman Marcus, for example, can be imported from other countries because designer clothing is not purchased in bulk. Nonetheless, there are a few companies like Karen Millen and Eileen Fisher who have internal auditors, ensuring that all safety and health standards are met in the workplace. These are marketing devices for companies, as it makes customers feel even better about the purchases they are making, according to Delson.
In the end, it seems that price matters for buyers. When buyers purchase clothing at low prices, it allows them to raise the price of the clothing to make a profit, while still making it ”affordable” for the average customer.
However, it doesn’t add up for the factory workers. According to studies in The Economist, the average daily salary in Indonesia is $8.60.
According to the EPA Office of Solid Waste, Americans throw away more than 68 pounds of clothing per person per year, and “clothing and other textiles represent about four percent of the municipal solid waste.” In comparison to all the other sources of waste humans exert, that is a high percentage for the U.S. alone.
Now you might be asking yourself what you can do to take action against these fashion companies. Start purchasing from stores who don’t partake in these actions in order to show retailers that you can take your business elsewhere. Don’t be afraid to speak up in favor of a change in business plans for fast-fashion companies. That is when you begin to have a voice.