Leftists such as myself often said that there is no ethical consumption under capitalism; we live in a world that supports active exploitation of the working class. Shopping anywhere from a mom and pop shop to a gigantic mega-company like Amazon or Walmart, it is virtually impossible to find 100% ethically sourced product that is then sold to you by workers with fair pay, vacation, daycare, and proper health benefits.
Unfortunately, we don’t yet live in a world that prioritizes the individual over the labour that they can or cannot produce, making virtually any purchase an unethical one. Getting off my soap-box for a minute, I’ll tell you firsthand that I’m a normal 20-something—I enjoy spending money on trinkets and ordering nonsense online sometimes makes me feel good, I’m by no means exempt from the issue.
However, one of the answers to quick and environmentally sustainable consumption has been the rejection of fast-fashion, with prioritization of slow-fashion. If you don’t know what those two terms mean, don’t worry, I’ll get into it. What you need to know is that blind support of slow-fashion regardless of circumstance can be problematic at best, and oppressive and hateful at worst. We’ve seen a large increase of gate-keeping and judgement from these movements, coming from people in positions of power and privilege, why? Let me tell you what I’ve been thinking.
What is Fast Fashion?
According to thegoodtrade.com and their very informative and more in-depth coverage of fast fashion entitled What is Fast Fashion, Anyway? By definition, “Fast fashion is a design, manufacturing, and marketing method focused on rapidly producing high volumes of clothing. Garment production utilizes trend replication and low-quality materials in order to bring inexpensive styles to the public.”
Basically, fast fashion is categorized as very, very cheap clothing that is produced quickly and follows fast and fleeting trends—it’s produced quickly and with little cost and thus sold for a very low price to the consumer, who in turn will wear it briefly and throw it away when it’s no longer trendy or when it ultimately breaks from its poor quality material.
There are several issues regarding fast fashion that need to be addressed. Still, we’ll just do the top three that I feel need to be mainly addressed for the sake of this explanation, most issues regarding fast fashion will fall under sub-categories of these three topics.
The exploitation of Labor to Produce Fast Fashion Cheaply and Quickly
Fast fashion retailers like H&M, Forever 21, and Zara continue to use sweatshops to keep their production cost very, very low. Sweatshops are nothing new and known for their horrific conditions that overwhelm and even kill the people (children) who are put to work there. Sweatshops are known to pay their workers as little as three cents an hour, with over 100 hour work weeks, and according to theworldcounts.com: “1 in 6 children between the ages of 5 to 14 years old are still in some form of child labor in developing countries.”, meaning several of the workers in any given factory are underage and being heavily exploited for their time and effort that should be put towards being educated.
Because the materials used in fast fashion items are of poor quality and designed to follow quick and passing trends, the window in which they can be worn is very small. It’s almost a running joke with the women I speak with, you get something from H&M or Forever 21, and you wear it once, then it falls apart. Fast fashion is like Cinderella’s clothing—by the end of the night, it falls apart and turns into the garbage or a mouse or something.
Because of this tiny window of time in which you’re able to wear your clothing, a lot of it ends up in the trash at the end of the night. Donating your clothing works of course, but many fast-fashion items end up in the trash first because they usually fall apart first or get a hole in it before a donation can be made.
This kind of careless turnover ends with tones and tones of fabric and plastic in landfills. In Canada, the average person throws away 81 pounds of textiles annually, and across North America, ten million tones of textiles are sent to landfills each year.
Financial Toll on Consumer
Suppose you’ve ever heard of Terry Pratchett’s Boots’ Theory of Wealth. In that case, you’ll understand why although fast fashion markets itself as a very cheap and “affordable” way to buy clothing, ultimately it will cost the consumer more in the end.
Essentially, The Boots Theory of Wealth goes like this: A man-made $38 monthly, and a good pair of boots cost about $50, but a cheap pair of boots cost $10. A poor man would buy the $10 pair of boots because it’s what he could afford, but the cheap boots break down quickly leading the man to buy multiple pairs per season. The good pair of boots for $50 would last two or more seasons no problem, so ultimately, though the initial cost of the better boots was higher, over a period of time the man who could only afford the cheap boots would spend more money replacing them. The theory, in short, is that it’s expensive to be poor.
This is the same concept for fast fashion and cheap clothing, although their price is quite low, to begin with, over time the consumer ends up spending more money than if they had purchased an expensive and well-made clothing item that stood the test of time.
What is the Slow Fashion Movement?
At its very core, the slow fashion movement is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a movement that acts to diminish our reliance on fast fashion and works to normalize and encourage wearing sustainable clothing and making our textiles work in many ways before throwing them away.
There are many ways to participate in slow fashion-
- Buying from thrift shops
- Buying from local and handmade businesses
- Donating your clothing to thrift stores or women’s shelters
- Participating in clothing swaps
- Participating in hand-me-down traditions with friends and family
- Up-cycling your clothing into something new
- Buying one good quality item over several low-quality items (if financially permitted)
The slow fashion movement is a quality idea, and where you can participate in it—where you fit into the movement—I encourage you whole-heartedly to join and do what you can. I also know that participating in fast fashion for many people is necessary because of where they are financially or their size.
When talking about fast fashion, many of us neglect to consider the people who cannot participate, labeling those who do not/cannot participate in slow fashion as uneducated, lazy, or selfish, where for many people this is not the case? We see many instances of thin and rich people gatekeeping this movement, and turning poor and fat people into the villains, and this is where I draw the line.
For People Living Below the Poverty Line
A lot like the Boot Theory, people of low economical means can’t always participate in the slow fashion movement. If you have to choose between buying a sustainable winter coat or paying rent/buying groceries, I think it’s safe to say that a thirty-dollar jacket from Forever 21 will suffice for the time being.
One thing to remember is that the fast fashion industry preys on poor people, they know that people who don’t have a lot of money—i.e. the young and the poor—are going to be their main demographic. When you have to buy new work pants and only make $14 hourly, a $120 pair of slacks can be very daunting and simply undoable.
You might be saying “then go to the thrift shop!”, though the thrift shops are a good option in some instances, in other instances they can be absolutely useless. If you’re looking for a specific item, like a white blouse for work, or a pair of winter boots for riding the bus, sometimes you luck out and find your size in the exact item you’re looking for, but this is very rare. Options at thrift shops are not abundant.
Another issue regarding thrift shops is their pricing. As thrifting has become popular and trendy, we’ve seen a rise in prices. Personally, the local consignment shop that I’ve been going to for years has had this shift in price as well—when in 2015 I could get a T-shirt for $4, now it costs $10-$15.
I’ll get into this more later, but we also see an even more noticeable lack of selection in thrift shops as thrifting has become popular because people buy the cute thrift clothes cheap and re-sell them for a huge profit.
For Plus Size People
Plus-size people are also very much excluded in the slow fashion movement. Especially with slow fashion’s rise into being trendy, it is often targeted towards thin, able-bodied, white women. Trend and cost of material often excluded plus sizes from handmade and sustainable fashion, some clothing not going past a size large, leaving women who fall into extra large and above excluded from the movement.
Considering that the average woman is a size 18 to 20 (large to extra-large), a lack of sizing in the slow fashion movement alienates a good amount of the population, while places like Shein (the fast fashion website) can go up to a size 5X in trendy clothing, making it sometimes the only option for plus size people.
Thrifting is also not always a practical option for plus size people. As we talked about above, finding your size and style as a regular-sized person can be difficult and sometimes rare. This is implemented tenfold in regards to plus size women. Many of the clothing available to plus-size women are old, conservative, and usually not women’s clothing at all, but men’s clothing because that’s all that’s available.
The Exploitation of the Movement
So, just briefly I’ll touch on the exploitation that happens throughout the slow fashion movement. Because thrifting and second-hand fashion has become very popular and considered cool, there have been several instances of exploiting the movement for monetary gain, and thin, white, rich women have primarily dominated this.
Websites like DePop and Poshmark have been created to sell used. Vintage clothing (sometimes internationally), although this has the potential to be great by opening up your thrift selection—making it more likely you’ll find your size and style—some people have taken this as a way to exploit places like Good Will and The Salvation Army (places that are meant to sell affordable clothing to people who are living below the poverty line, and places that are donation-based).
There has been an awful new trend of people thrifting for very cheap vintage clothing and reselling it on these websites for astronomical mark-ups, taking clothing from people who potentially need it and selling it to other wealthy people for the same price as a new article of clothing.
These little schemes make thrifting and sustainable fashion for poor plus-size people even more difficult, and in turn, these people are being ridiculed or judged for buying fast fashion when it’s their only choice.
Give People a Break
My advice for this one is simple, short, and sweet: give people a fuckin break! Jeez, Louise! Yes, doing our individual part to reduce waste, clutter, and environmental destruction is great, and I think we all need to do what we can to help, but notice I said do what we can not do everything perfectly at any cost! Before you buy another t-shirt with a little catchy saying on it:
- Consider what you have at home.
- Consider if you’ll genuinely get use out of it.
- Consider why you’re buying it.
When it comes to fast fashion, our beef shouldn’t be with each other; we’re just trying to get through the day! Our beef should be with these multi-billion dollar industries that exploit the poor, the working class, and the marginalized.
Instead of getting up my ass for being fat and daring to want something cute to wear, let’s hold our favourite companies accountable, and demand better for workers all over the world.