In 2013, the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh collapsed. The tragedy claimed the lives of over 1000 garment workers and injured many more. Immediately after the collapse happened, blame was pointed to several parties. The building was damaged and unsafe, so the mayor was to blame because he leased it out. Some pointed out that the workers were urged to come despite the risk, so it was the owner’s fault.

The real culprit exposed in this collapse was one that spans the globe, has infiltrated all our lives, and hurts the entire Earth: fast fashion.

The dangerous cycle of ‘fast fashion’ is one that’s ethically and environmentally toxic. This type of fashion is designed to sell as much new, trendy and cheap clothing to consumers. However, this decade’s long money hungry marketing ploy has done more than change fashion, it’s taken the heart out of it. Fashion has always been something that liberates people, gives them a chance to express themselves.

However, fast fashion has stripped this away from the industry, replacing it with oppressive sweatshops and a marketing scheme that focuses on making customers buy into fashion fads. But how did such a flawed process develop, and how can we, the buyers, do something to change such a global industry?

This global trail starts overseas, in third world countries where labor is cheap and much less regulated. Globally, there are over 40 million garment workers, and 97% of our clothes are made overseas.  Many safety concerns arise, such as a lack of fire alarms, workers not knowing where the emergency exits are, and buildings that are often falling apart. The worst pain felt by the garment workers is the abuse they must deal with every day.

In a Nike factory, workers revealed that “supervisors throw shoes at them, slap them in the face and call them dogs and pigs”. The sort of abhorrent abuse is made aware of to the brands, but is typically dismissed because brands say they have no control.

This type of workplace environment is extremely mentally and physically damaging to the workers. Work conditions like those in sweatshops would be considered unacceptable in Canada, the U.S, and many other countries. However, the profit gained from using cheap, almost slave labor in sweatshops seems enough to make brands turn a blind eyes to any cruel injustices.

Another damaging effect the fast fashion industry has is on the Earth itself. Here are some statistics: about 80 billion garments of clothing are consumed every year, which is 400% more than how much we produced and bought two decades ago. The way fast fashion is distributed, always giving new styles to customers at a low price, changes the way we view clothing and our mindset around clothing. We’ve started to see clothing as something much more disposable. This results in an average of 11 million tons of discarded clothing-from the U.S alone! Not to mention many materials such as cotton, that fabricates most of our clothing, is starting to have a serious affect on the Earth. Over 90% of cotton is now genetically modified with chemical and gallons of water are used to make it. Another fabric, polyester, a fabric frequently used to make clothes, sheds microfibers of plastic each time it’s in a washing machine. The microfibers make their way into bodies of water and accumulate to severely impact the plastic pollution in our oceans.

Dyes in clothing is the second worst polluter of clean water, and many of our daily clothes are made using toxic, hazardous chemicals. Many of the chemicals found in these garments are banned because they are so harmful, to the point of even being a carcinogen. Imagine, a chemical known to be a carcinogen on your t-shirt!

It’s clear to see that fast fashion is a toxic presence in our world. It hurts the people working in the industry, it can hurt us, and it hurts the Earth. Many brands refuse to take action and change their ways simply because it is easier and cheaper to follow fast fashion. So how can we, as buyers, force the industry to change? Many organizations have been created in order to help stop fast fashion.

As a buyer, choosing where you shop for clothes and how you shop can have a massive impact. Doing your research and discovering brands such as Reformation, Indigenous, PACT, and People Tree that are committed to using fair labor practices and sustainable material can take you out of the fast fashion cycle.

Simply investing in high-quality pieces that you will wear more than twice is enough to help. Buying reused clothing from thrift stores, or donating/selling old clothes instead of throwing them into the trash are more simple ways to reduce your textile waste.

Changing the fashion industry is going to take a long time, and it can only be done with the effort of a large group of people. One of the best ways to have a positive impact is to speak up for change as well as educate others and yourself as much as possible. Realizing how much our shopping habits affect the world around us is the first step to creating change in your own life. Seeing the bigger picture is what can truly make a positive impact. So, next time you’re at a mall and you want to buy that new trendy $12 shirt, remember the true cost behind that garment.

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