Designer Dilemma

Words by: Malena Frey
Art by: Jake Porter

There’s no denying that the latest fashion trends bombard us wherever we look. Whether it’s through Facebook or Instagram, the Kendall Jenners and Tammy Hembrows of the world (and every influencer
in between) seem to be constantly flaunting one trend or another, which can make us feel as though we needed to have ‘it’ yesterday.

Yet if the outfit they strutted by Gucci is far beyond your price range, you can rest assured that it will become available in mass at H&M in just a matter of weeks, and at just a fraction of the price. The cheap material and labour involved to churn out these trendy clothing collections at such a rapid pace is what constitutes fast fashion — an industry often built off incredibly low wages, child labour, long hours and sweatshops. 

While boycotting these labels has been called for as a means of ending these deplorable practices, apprehension exists as to whether a boycott of these brands would actually leave the workers who produce these clothes worse off — jobless and with no income at all. 

Some economists argue that sweatshops offer a means of escaping poverty, with studies indicating that sweatshops often pay three to seven times more to their workers than alternatives such as agricultural practices — which pay as little as 10 cents a day. Hence, while the $13 a day earned from working in a sweatshop in Honduras may seem completely dismal in comparison to the average wage in a developed country, it can actually provide a far better living standard when compared to the $2 a day 44 per cent
of the rest of the nation’s workers earn in other industries. This exhibits that when combined with proper working conditions, not every sweatshop is bad. However, the vast majority of sweatshops aren’t reducing poverty at all. Despite offering a consistent pay, many sweatshops increase the probability of injury and death, which was tragically exemplified when a garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed in 2013, taking the lives of more than 1,100 people. 

Enquiring into the practices of brands and boycotting or campaigning against those with unacceptable practices is necessary in ensuring this work is of the kind that benefits vulnerable workers. When Nike was criticised and placed in the public eye in the ‘90s for the low wages and inadequate conditions it provided to its Indonesian workers, the risk of having a tarnished reputation meant that Nike improved wages and began conducting regular occupational health and safety audits on its factories. Holding these fast fashion labels accountable is critical — we need to tell the brands we purchase from that if they want to keep us as customers, human rights must first be met. 

In order to put a stop to sweatshop conditions, avoid fast fashion and instead opt for fair trade labelled products, shop locally or second hand, and seek out ethical companies. While these alternatives can be more expensive, this money supports a living wage and safe working conditions. More importantly, if you think shopping ethically is a privilege for the wealthy, consider purchasing less altogether. Are you unable to afford that more expensive jumper because of its price, or because you tell yourself you need a different jumper for every day of the week? Perhaps the bigger issue is living in and normalising a culture obsessed with constantly wearing something new. Instead, advocate for and gain an appreciation for personal style. Consider aiming for a timeless, capsule wardrobe, as opposed to placing pressure on ourselves and those around us to always have the latest. Remind yourself that outfit repeating isn’t a crime, but that the human cost of producing fast fashion is. 

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