Opt Out Everyday, Not Just Black Friday
By Allie Eklund
I’ll admit, I’m a bargain hunter extraordinaire. I love a good sale, especially on clothing. It pains me to admit, I’ve been that Black Friday shopper, up at the crack of dawn to fight the crowds. But after watching a documentary about the ugly, exploitative side of fashion, there is now a voice that I cannot turn off in my head. It’s the voice that tells me I have been ignorant for far too long, and that our society has turned a blind eye, because what’s out of sight is out of mind. As for me? I’m guilty as charged.
True Cost Movie, displays the unethical side of the fashion industry that the majority of the Western world will never face. This is not the side that lights up Time Square, or that dominates fashion weeks all across the world, or our Instagram feeds. Fast fashion as it’s been coined, is focused on quick trends that literally last as short as a week. Last season’s trends are not a first world problem, they’re a global epidemic.
After watching the film in horror, my excitement about fall fashion fell flat on it’s face.
The fashion industry, which is estimated to produce $1,200,000,000,000 in annual revenue, is taking its toll on human capital in our most disadvantaged parts of the globe. Working conditions have literally pushed thousands to the brink of death.
Designers, CEOs, boards of directors, and consumers are demanding faster, cheaper products without ever asking how it will be done. It’s done by sacrifice, and it’s resulted in deadly working conditions. It’s crazy to think that most of the articles of clothing many of us will buy because they’re in trend cost more than what is paid as a weekly wage to the women, men, and children that created it overseas.
Marc Bain of The Atlantic explains this is made possible because “overall, clothes have been getting cheaper for decades, ever since apparel manufacturing started moving to developing countries, where production costs are significantly lower.” Bain also notes that, “While retail prices of goods overall have gone up, clothing prices have generally decreased.”
A mix of both high end and low end designers are making astronomical profits from the outsourcing and cost cutting that’s taking place. Where are they going? To the most underdeveloped nations where workers are paid literally in cents- Cambodia, Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Haiti, Myanmar, to name a few.
Just how bad are working conditions? Read about the horrific Rana Plaza accident where the Savar building collapsed due to lack of oversight and maintenance. The Savar Building collapsed in 2013 (picture below), at a time when our world has the means to engineer sound structures. Over 1,100 lives were lost, making this garment factory catastrophe the worst our world has ever seen.
I was so taken aback by this on so many fronts. First off, my own closest is heavily peppered with items from the biggest culprits of this concept of fast fashion at the expense of others.
Second, I was conflicted because I work in finance. I buy and advise on buying stocks from companies that often make their money by these very practices. That is conflicting. One could easily write this whole socio-economic dilemma off by chalking it up to a game of supply and demand. For shareholders, such cost cutting activity is cheered on. I should appreciate these shrewd business practices. Except that I am a human and I have a soul.
Third? Textile waste is a thing. If you’re like me in that you believe that your bag of “give-aways” are going to a good home, think again. Your bag of old, unwanted clothing may cycle through the local thrift shops, but much of it that just ends up polluting our world. Key point: there is more than enough clothing being produced to clothe the humans of this world. These fast trends that we buy for one season and give away the next are often shipped off to underdeveloped countries where the local economy doesn’t have the resources to properly get rid of all of our waste. The picture below is proof.
Alas, as a proponent for human rights, I again feel deeply conflicted. I have a fire in my belly to help women create opportunities for themselves, to become financially independent, and to close the wage gap. Reality check? I am not helping any of this when I buy into fast fashion.
The garment industry is largely staffed by female textile workers, at a rate of about 85%. If I really care about bringing better career standards and giving women a more fulfilling work life, why would I not think twice about the person whose hands created these items?
I’m challenging you, as I was also challenged, to consider the ethics, the sustainability, humanity, our world, the people of our world. Let me be explicit: this isn’t another challenge to boycott, it’s a challenge to be mindfully aware.
What we can do is this: vet designers, and do merchandise due diligence. A quick Google search can point you in the right direction. If our society continues to be more focused on the aesthetics of the self (insert your OOTD) and forgoes awareness of human impact, I believe this is reason to be concerned for tomorrow. Oh, and opt out, not just on Black Friday.
(Allie Eklund is an advisor for Tridea Advisors www.trideaadvisors.com).