This article addresses the impact of fast fashion and analyzes the e-commerce platform Shein.
By Antônia Tauanne Rodrigues de Sousa | AJN
Apparently, it was just another ordinary day. However, the fear installed in their hearts was more real, since the night before the building they were working on suffered a huge explosion due to a power failure: there were now cracks in the whole structure. Despite this, the order of the factory’s owners was explicit: if they did not show up for work the next day, they would be fired or their wages would be delayed, at the very least.
“From the one-bedroom houses and the huts where the workers live, you can see multi-storey concrete blocks crossing the skies of the region.
On the roofs, reinforced steel beams are visible, in the hope that another floor full of sewing machines will be erected.
It is a sign, for critics, that the “clothing boom” has crossed the line in a desperate attempt to fuel the West’s appetite for cheaper clothing.”
The excerpt comes from an account of the BBC Southeast Asia correspondent Andrew North, who was present at the site of one of the greatest industrial tragedies of all time. On April 24 2013, the Rana Plaza – a building housing textile factories on the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh – collapsed: 1.135 of the workers employed there died and almost 2.500 other employees were injured.
The disaster, caused by a series of omissions and by greed, suggests questions on the fast fashion business. Where does this disaster come from? How was it produced? Who are the people involved in the manufacture of each piece of clothing that we buy? What is the real price behind the label sticked on the clothes?
Before we get to the heart of the matter, it is necessary to understand the model that permeates all of this: the concept of “fast fashion”. The term refers to a model of creation, distribution and sale of garments based on 5 pillars: hidden intermediaries, sales margins in quantity, material of unknown origin, cheap labor and scarce business transparency.
Well, if we consider the great volume of production, we can be easily led to believe that this means that fashion is more accessible. In fact, that great volume amounts to nothing more than using low quality raw materials and, because production is focused on results, quality is overlooked and major defects and wear are generated.
Although this transition is sometimes heralded as the “democratization” of fashion thanks to which the latest styles are available to all classes of consumers, the risks for human and environmental health associated with cheap clothing are hidden throughout the life cycle of each piece, according to a study carried out by the Environmental Health Magazine.
It is true that, driven by the logic of ease and an apparent accessible amount, it is quite easy to ignore the impact of a single choice of clothing without being aware of the scale of the problem, thus contributing to the increase in the consumption and manufacturing of such clothes.
At the same time, in order to keep these prices affordable, production is shifted to low- and middle-income countries, responsible for 90% of the world’s clothing production. In these countries, laws are more precarious and workers can be easily subjected to dangerous conditions for low wages and no basic human rights.
And today, several international fashion e-commerce platforms are booming. It is the case of the Chinese brand “Shein” which became popular due to the many digital influencers, youtubers and celebrities from all over the world who started to advertise its pieces of clothing.
However, there is scarce information about the brand. What is known is that it was founded in 2008, but there persist doubt and uncertainty about the founder. In addition, the brand has recently collected more and more negative comments for cultural appropriation cases, such as selling Muslim religious rugs as home decor and a swastika necklace, and for stealing designs from independent designers.
A practical example of the company’s lack of transparency materialises by doing a quick research of the its website’s versions customized for different countries: there is no equivalence among them with regard to “Social Responsibility”. On the US webiste, there is the following statement on the topic of child labor: “We strictly comply with child labor laws in each of the countries in which we operate. Neither we nor any of our partners are authorized to hire minors. Any partners or suppliers that have violated these laws are immediately terminated and reported to the authorities”. But the statement disregards the fact that child labor laws vary significantly from country to country. In Bangladesh, for example, where many fast fashion factories are located, its amended child labor laws allow children aged 14 to 18 to work. However, according to a research published in 2019, 17.5% of Bangladeshi male children aged between 7 and 14 years work.
Finally, to understand more about this reality, Netflix released the documentary The True Cost, which addresses the impact of the fashion industry on the environment and on people’s lives.
Given all this, it is necessary to re-think fashion: it is not just a matter of catwalks, glamour or shopping, but a process made possible by individuals whose lives must be acknowledged as worthy of rights and not as gears of a destructive system. Only then would the fashion industry cease to occupy the position of second largest pollutant in the world.
Want to read more about the topic? Take a look at these references:
Collapse in Bangladesh reveals dark side of the clothing industry – BBC News Brasil website (last accessed 28/04/2021)
The Rana Plaza tragedy revisited – Público PT website (last accessed on 28/04/2021)
THE “SHEIN EFFECT” AND FAST-FASHION CONSUMPTION – Nova Consumer Lab website (last accessed 28/04/2021)
Is SHEIN Ethical? Deep Dive Into Their Greenwashing – Imperfect Idealist (last accessed 28/04/2021)
Fast-fashion sells necklace with swastika and is criticized by consumers – Capricho Magazine (last accessed on 28/04/2021)Social Responsibility – Shein website (last accessed 28/04/2021)