Whether you agree with this concept or not, it fails to acknowledge one thing: slavery still exists worldwide. We forget how privileged it is to discuss righting the wrongs of the past while so many are still suffering. Furthermore, millions of people in first-world countries unknowingly contribute to modern-day slavery without even realizing it.
How? Fast fashion.
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What Is Fast Fashion?
Fast fashion is a term for inexpensive, low-quality clothing produced quickly and cheaply available to customers. Have you ever ordered clothes online, only to have them arrive and look nothing like the model, plus they feel like cardboard? That’s fast fashion.
With its clickable photos and unbelievable prices, I’d be lying if I denied ever giving my credit card info to questionable websites. Once the pieces arrive, however, they fail to meet expectations, and then just fall apart after a single wash.
What’s the Problem with It?
Besides the poor quality, most fast fashion brands use forced and/or child labor. H&M worked with child factories in Myanmar where 14-year-old children had to work shifts longer than 12 hours a day. Last year, the United States launched an investigation into UK-based Boohoo over forced labor allegations. In 2007, a British newspaper reported that 10-year-old children were sewing clothes for Gap in New Delhi. Shein’s cotton has links to Xinjiang, a region where the Chinese government has committed crimes against humanity against Uighur Muslims. Abercrombie & Fitch, Calvin Klein, Gap, H&M, and Victoria’s Secret also have links to forced Uighur labor.
Besides the poor quality, most fast fashion brands use forced and/or child labor.
Even Zara, despite their much higher prices, allegedly uses slave labor. In 2011, a Brazil sweatshop inquiry accused the renowned fashion brand of unsavory conditions. Workers reportedly faced 16-18 hour days, six to seven days a week, and were only paid about $150 a month. In 2013, another investigation alleged child labor and sweatshops in Zara’s Argentina factories.
The Global Slavery Index’s 2018 report revealed that G20 countries imported $127.7B worth of garments at risk of including modern slavery in their supply chain, accounting for 80% of world trade.
Child and forced labor in the fashion industry is just one form of modern slavery, and purchasing from these brands perpetuates the human rights abuses occurring.
Where To Shop Instead
Looking at the list of retailers caught using forced labor is daunting. But don’t panic – you don’t have to change your whole wardrobe all at once. Slowly shifting away from these brands, even if it just means replacing a few pieces per year with ethical alternatives, makes a difference.
Here are six alternatives to start your shift away from fast fashion:
Probably the most well-known sustainable fashion brand, Madewell has nailed combining style and sustainability. Madewell has commitments to responsible sourcing and forestry, animal welfare, limiting chemicals, and combatting slavery and human trafficking. This likely contributes to their steeper price tags.
To combat slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains, the company conducts factory inspections, audits, trainings, and remediation in the facilities that produce their goods.
Look out for sales, which typically range from 30-60% off, or shop their resale through Thredup for a better deal. I personally love their Perfect Vintage Jean, which has a high-rise, waist-accentuating fit – plus, they’re super comfortable. For a baggier fit, try one of their straight-cut jeans.
Everlane is a great go-to for staple and layering pieces. The style is akin to Madewell, but a bit more simplistic. Prices run about the same as Madewell, if not slightly lower.
Everlane is committed to ethical factories and uses compliance audits to evaluate factors like fair wages, reasonable hours, and environmental impacts. Due to the high-quality materials used in their Grade-A cashmere sweaters, Italian shoes, and Peruvian Pima tees, their products will stand the test of time.
One of my favorite items is the Boxy Oxford shirt. Layer it over a tank top with some high-cut jeans, and you’ve got a super cute and comfortable weekend look.
Honest Basics is a fantastic option for staple wardrobe pieces. Their pieces are inexpensive and produced in ethical partner factories in Bangladesh and India, which they visit to ensure sustainability standards. The factories are also checked against the standards of the International Labor Organization by independent agencies. Child or forced labor and excessive overtime are forbidden.
Plus, Honest Basics uses GOTS-certified organic cotton, which ensures the elimination of the most hazardous and carcinogenic chemicals in fabric production and sewing.
Their turtleneck jumper is a great winter staple. It can work as a standalone piece, accentuated with a fun necklace, or layered under a printed blazer.
Harvest & Mill
Harvest & Mill products are 100% made in the USA with sustainable business practices. Their simple, neutral pieces are reasonably priced, spun from organic, American farm-grown cotton, and made from non-toxic, undyed, unbleached natural finish fabric. They work only with small and independent American farms, factories, and mills, which hire local workers, use local services, and reinvest in their own communities.
All of their sewing takes place within 15 miles of their California studio in family-owned factories that the company regularly visits to ensure working conditions are up to par.
Since they have a 100% U.S.-based supply chain, they are able to ensure fair wages and safe work environments. Their American roots also ensure that all contracts and guarantees are legally enforceable. At a very reasonable price point, Harvest & Mill is a great choice to support American businesses.
Harvest & Mill is definitely a go-to for comfortable, ethical loungewear. I love their natural packs for weekend wear. These can definitely work as pajamas or lounging around the house, but are even cute enough to wear on your weekend shopping trips paired with a flannel and beanie.
Toad & Co.
Toad & Co. has a wide variety of style options, from outdoorsy to office attire. They are committed to promoting fair labor practices and safe working conditions. They visit vendors’ facilities each year to ensure the meeting of ethical standards. All Toad & Co. clothing is made from eco-friendly materials, such as organic cotton and hemp, to minimize toxins and pollution.
Their Scouter Corduroy Jumper dress paired with a printed turtleneck is a trendy choice for winter. The super flattering Cue Wrap dress is the way to go for work attire. For outerwear, the Forester Pass Sherpa Parka will keep you warm all winter long.
Vetta can help totally transform your wardrobe if you’re willing to spend a little more upfront. Their Vetta capsules give you five pieces that create at least 30 outfits. You can buy individual pieces as well if you’re not quite ready to commit to a capsule.
Vetta’s woven clothing comes from a family-run New York City factory. Their sweaters are from a partner factory in Los Angeles. The LA factory is audited annually for social and environmental compliance. Vetta also has Fair Trade Certified factories in India and Peru. These locations utilize non-profit organizations to provide employment opportunities to women, education, and child and medical care.
The capsule you choose depends totally on your own style and where you want to wear the clothes. I personally love the Tuscan Capsule for its easy-breezy style.
You don’t have to throw out your whole wardrobe to start shifting away from fast fashion. Buy a few investment pieces here and there to accumulate more ethically sourced garments over time. Plus, brands focused on sustainability often produce higher quality clothes, meaning you’ll keep each piece longer and buy less over time. I can’t even estimate how many Forever 21 shirts I’ve cycled through over the years. Even such small steps will gradually help mitigate the impacts of the fast fashion slave trade and shift away from our consumer, throw-away culture.
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