Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Fast Fashion

Fashion has played a fundamental role in the social, cultural, and biological identity of our civilisation.  The phenomenon of low-cost and instantly available clothes, which has cynically been named "the democratization of fashion," is both a social and ecological disaster. Although it has given people in developed countries the possibility to wear watered-down runway fashions for a fraction of the designer price tag, the overproduction required to constantly satisfy consumers has also severely impacted tens of millions of people in the rest of the world.
"The problem is the ever-increasing demand for fast fashion. Fast fashion will never be sustainable as its business model is based on producing huge volumes, incredibly quickly, very cheaply so that we can buy more clothes," said Livia Firth, founder and creative director of Eco Age, in a "Business of Fashion" survey about fast fashion. The lives the industry employs have become just as disposable as the collections it churns out.

The collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh on April 24, 2013, killed 1,129 garment factory workers. The truth is that very little has been done in spite of various promises made after Rana Plaza. Amy Hall, director of social consciousness at Eileen Fisher, added that "very little has substantively changed for the factory workers. Wages are still obscenely low, hours obscenely high, and overall transparency unbearably murky."

According to a recent study by Sarah Labowitz and Dorothée Baumann-Pauly published by New York University's Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, 3,425 inspections have taken place since October 2015 in Bangladesh, for example - but only eight factories passed them.

"There are two reasons why so few factories are successfully being fixed. First, the most essential upgrades to make factories safer, such as electrical improvements and moving to purpose-built facilities, are expensive," says the research, estimating the average cost of remediation to $250,000 - $350,000 (230,000 - 322,000 euros) per factory. The second reason, according to the research, is that brands see it as the suppliers' responsibility to pay for these expensive factory repairs.

Chains such as Primark, Zara, or H&M are not the only ones to outsource their production. According to the "Wall Street Journal," about 20 percent of all goods by Prada, the leading Italian luxury brand, are made in China, and several lines by Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and other expensive names are produced in Cambodia and Romania, among others.

Low wages, hazardous conditions, poor legislation, a lack of transparency in production lines and the brands' denied responsibility are not only characteristic for the industry in Bangladesh, however. On April 1, for example, a factory in Karachi, Pakistan, caught fire, and just two weeks later, an explosion in an unregistered sweatshop killed two in Cambodia.

The photographer Jost Franko's describes how the failures of the garment industry are systematic. In 2015 and 2016, Franko visited Bangladesh and Burkina Faso but also Romania, and his experience was similar in all countries. "Employees in the garment sector are one of the lowest paid workers in the European Union. Their wages are often lower than in factories in China," he told DW. 

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