Fast fashion is the growing trend of clothing companies producing more styles, faster, and at cheaper prices. While this is great for shoppers, it frequently comes at the cost of extremely poor labor conditions.
Fast fashion companies are known for having their production facilities overseas, most frequently in Vietnam, Bangladesh, China, and India. This is primarily because the cost of labor is cheap in these places, allowing them to sell their products at a lower price. While lower prices are good, they are only possible because of the low wages and poor working conditions the companies provide for their employees.
A primary concern with fast fashion is that textile factory workers are not earning a living wage. A living wage is different from the minimum wage. Minimum wage refers to the lowest legal amount that companies can pay their workers. A living wage is a wage that is enough to provide the employees with a good standard of living. While it is possible that the minimum wage of a place could be considered a living wage, it is very uncommon, and what can be considered a living wage is typically higher than the minimum wage. Because of this, human rights advocates are calling on companies to take action and provide a living wage for their employees. The fast fashion industry is infamous for not providing workers a living wage. It has been estimated that less than 2% of textile workers in the fast fashion industry earn a living wage (LowestWageChallenge) which means that 98% of workers can't afford a reasonable standard of living.
Even Patagonia, a clothing company known for being socially active and aware, reported that in 2020 only 39% of their apparel assembly factories were paying workers living wages (Patagonia). While in an ideal world, that number would be 100%, it is worth appreciating that Patagonia is making an effort to be a leader in providing the fashion industry with better working conditions.
On top of the concern that workers aren't getting paid enough, there has also been many issues with the working conditions and safety within the fast fashion industry. There have been many questions around child labor and abusing workers. Some workers have been forced to work 14-16 hour days up to 7 days per week in the busier seasons. Earlier this year, many social media posts went viral showing phrases like "help me" and "need your help" on the tags of Shein clothing, one of the largest fast fashion companies on the planet. Obviously this is cause for concern as the conditions are so bad the workers are calling for help in any way they can. Other stories from workers include bladder issues due to lack of bathroom breaks, verbal assault, and more. There is a lack of visibility and understanding of just how bad these conditions may be due to the factories being across the world from where most of the stores are and the companies trying to hide their processes and human rights issues in their supply chain.
How YOU can make a difference:
Watch Where You Shop
Perhaps the easiest way to send the message to fast fashion companies exploiting their workers is by simply not buying their clothing. It can be as simple as walking past H&M when you're out shopping or not clicking on the Shein link to those cute pants you saw on TikTok.
Post on social media and talk to your friends about the labor conditions in fast fashion. Start the conversation. Be a leader.