With the world of fast-fashion swirling around us it can be easy to forget where those $20 dresses and cheap knock-off’s come from, there’s an enormous shadow cast by our desire for cheap styles and to keep pace with an ever changing aesthetic. Every day another super low priced trendy website pops up selling clothing at startlingly low prices, but when examined this new fast-fashion economy has some devastating consequences for our planet and it’s people.
Fashion is one of the most labor dependent industries on earth as all clothing is physically made by someone (primarily women). If you have ever tried to sew a piece of clothing you know how involved the process is.
50 years ago almost all of our clothing was made within the country, now less than 3% is.
In order for the large fast-fashion brands to provide $20 dresses on their racks they have to source their textiles and labor in regions where the cost is significantly lower than it would be in North America. Unfortunately this leads to dangerous working conditions, poverty wages for overworked laborers, environmental pollution, and heaps of unwanted garments rotting in landfills.
Manufacturers compete for contracts with fast-fashion companies, by lowering their price-bid to the label they have to cut costs wherever they can- be it on the structure of their building (as seen in the 2013 Savar building collapse and all the deadly garment factory fires in Pakistan), the wages to their workers, or the environmental concerns (why spend the time/money to investigate the effects of your manufacturing methods on the local environment when you can just do it and get paid?).
Workers in these factories are mainly women, paid far below a living-wage. Companies say they are providing much needed employment to these “third world” nations by commissioning local factories to produce their products, all while maintaining no responsibility for the devastating poverty, abuse, mistreatment and terrible conditions these workers experience every day. All for cheap, disposable clothing.
These concerns have always been important to me when approaching our work. As we began moving from one-off designs to a collection we had options to take our production overseas. It would have kept our costs much lower but without an active and ongoing presence in the factories themselves we’d have no control over the conditions in which our pieces would be made. The effects of fast-fashion seemed too overwhelming to me, so this wasn’t something I could personally do.
We have kept our manufacturing local, the cost is significantly higher yes but it’s more than worth it. The people who contribute their skills and time to making our clothing are well compensated (and sort of like family to us to be honest). We have worked hard to locate suppliers who source their fabrics and notions with fair trade agreements and within Canada whenever possible (and without actually going to plants overseas to buy textiles at ethical prices we can never really 100% know, unfortunately). It’s an ongoing effort.
Why are our dresses so “expensive”? When you pay someone a fair wage to sew one it’s not a $20 dress anymore (heck, that would barely cover cutting it out). When you are sourcing fabric from local suppliers (rather than buying it from dodgy international manufacturers themselves) you pay more. We’ve always seen these costs as part of the soul of what we do. When you care about how it comes together, that passion and care is part of the product, part of what you do. We are all on this planet together.
Ways you can avoid contributing to these issues:
-Educate yourself on the topic. I found once I knew where things came from I became much more careful in how I owned them. The new documentary “The True Cost” is brilliant and covers all of these issues, and there are loads of other films and books and articles on the garment industries. The “Asia Floor Wage Alliance” has some great resources.
-Recycle your clothing when you are done with it, don’t just toss them in the trash. Re-sell items (either online or at consignment stores locally), host clothing swaps with friends, donate it to charity thrift stores. If something is no longer wearable (torn/stained/worn-out) I always cut the buttons off (if there are any, because buttons are always useful) and then either use the fabric for cleaning rags or re-purpose it for craft/sewing experiments.
-Buy from ethical labels, independent (as in can say they made the items locally/fairly) shops, or second hand. Many companies are choosing to move to an ethical model of operation (yay!) and that gives you loads more choices! Use your dollars to drive change in the world by supporting those companies. You can also find tons of diy and handmade sellers online who create clothing in their communities. When in doubt ask a company where they manufacture!