Opinions: Fast fashion is sew shady

Zara employees attempt to reach out to the world through hidden tags

Brett Young // Contributor

In the US, over 10.5 million tons of clothes are found in landfills every year. Most of that clothing is cheaply priced, cheaply made and not meant to last so customers will continue to buy. As for the clothes themselves, we try not to think about where they were made and in what conditions. We all know and often ignore that small, fine print tag on the inside of our clothes that reads “Made in Bangladesh”. We know this means we’re partially contributing to the disgusting truth behind fast fashions and where they come from.

According to a Nov. 3 Business of Fashion article, Zara shoppers in Istanbul discovered tags found in garment pockets that read, “I made this item you are going to buy, but I didn’t get paid for it.” A Fast Company article on the same topic explains that Bravo Tekstil, the Turkish manufacturer company these Zara employees worked at closed its doors in 2016 after the fraudulent disappearance of the factory owner. The workers had not been paid for at least three months, nor did they receive severance allowances. The workers are now trying to spread the word and gain support for their campaign for fair wages and improved labour conditions.

This is not the first time Zara has been accused of abysmal working conditions. The Spanish fashion giant has previously been sued for the working conditions and slave and child labour of young Syrian refugees. As customers, it’s always alarming to hear such disturbing stories about brands we love. Yet we continue to shop at stores like Zara, H&M and Forever21. Where we choose to spend our money is a show of support, no matter how unconscious. But this doesn’t make customers solely accountable. Zara is more than pro table enough to afford proper factories with fair working environments, and frankly, if you can’t afford to pay employees and keep them safe you shouldn’t be in business.

It’s an uncomfortable situation exacerbated by the declining economy. Not everyone can afford high-quality fashions from fair trade areas, although most people would want to. Zara capitalized on this a while back by launching a “sustainable” collection made of organic materials to give the appearance of lowering their environmental impact to cater to concerned patrons. However, this campaign was a greenwashing tactic— their strategies for business remained the same. They may talk the talk but Zara is far from walking the ethical walk.

Customers who want to make a statement could boycott fast fashion altogether, but in this day and age it’s impractical at best yet financially and pragmatically impossible at worst for everyone to do. A more reasonable solution would be to shop second-hand, buying affordable clothing and not adding to the clothing landfills. But again, a billion dollar company is far more responsible for ensuring proper working conditions for employees than customers will ever be.

The company isn’t always directly at fault. Sometimes the manufacturers further outsource their work to other factories who have poorer conditions without the clothing company’s knowledge. But the company is directly responsible for more stringent policies and follow-ups to stop and prevent this from happening. This fast fashion vicious cycle may never completely end, but it can improve. It should start with clothing companies being held accountable, improving the working conditions of their manufacturers and ensuring they actually get paid for the work they do.

Consumers can do their part by staying aware. If you’re conscious of where your clothes are coming from, you’ll be more likely to question your urge to buy those $5 tee shirts.

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