Giving people jobs is not an excuse to buy fast fashion.
Talking about ethical fashion is hard. When you begin discussing the topic with someone who hasn’t heard of issues in the fashion industry, there’s a point in the conversation when they realise; the problem is them. They are the consumer, they are wearing clothes made by individuals exploited in third world countries, and they are holding the H&M shopping bags.
This is also the moment they throw you the comment: “but I’m creating jobs for people in third world countries.”
Okay, sure. Sorry, I hadn’t realised: you can continue going about your fast fashion habits and I’ll stop talking about ethical fashion. See ya later.
There’s something wrong with this situation. ‘Giving people jobs’ is not an excuse to buy fast fashion.
1. There is power in consumer demand, and nothing will change if consumers sit still.
I’m a big believer in the idea that we don’t have time to think of ourselves as ‘just one person’.
If Ghandi thought of himself as ‘just one person’, or even Mother Teresa and David Attenborough, the world would be a different place. Consumers get stuck on the idea that if they change their individual buying habits, nothing will happen. The saying goes “it’s just one straw, said 3 billion people”. It’s the same with fashion.
The way we use our money, reflects the type of world we want to live in: consumer buying power is underestimated. Whilst we cannot all be raging activists, if we vote with our pockets, and encourage others to join us, the tide of fashion can be turned. Purchasing from ethical fashion companies who pay their workers a living wage, and respect them as human beings (the least they can do in my opinion), shows fast fashion companies what type of fashion industry consumers are willing to support.
Why give people jobs in fast fashion factories, when you can give people jobs in ethical fashion factories?
2. Silence is deathly.
We have seen what happens when demands for fast fashion become out of control.
In 2013, The Rana Plaza (a sweat shop factory) collapsed, killing over 1,130 people, and injuring thousands more. This was the direct result of consumers wanting fashion fast and cheap, but instead of factories hiring more staff, increasing pay, and establishing systems to support their new demands, workers were pushed to their limits. It appears giving someone a job in a factory that could end up as a pile of rubble, is worse than not giving them a job at all.
3. The truth to the statement, “but I’m creating jobs for people in third world countries,” holds only a dash of truth.
The ‘I’m giving people jobs’ excuse makes sense if every individual globally made the decision to boycott fast fashion instantaneously. It would be a nightmare. Thousands would lose their jobs, and who knows the economic repercussions. But nothing ever happens overnight.
A gradual awakening and forceful slow fashion movement, means factories change their standards as the consumer demands. According to the World Baptist Aid Ethical Fashion Report 2018, “the percentage of companies publishing full direct supplier lists has increased from 26% to 34% in the last year alone.” The aim of this report is to bring transparency to supply chains in the fashion industry, and provide a rating system for customers to be able to shop with their values. This is a direct example of consumers changing the tide. Companies like Country Road moved from a B+ in 2017, to an A- in 2018, due to the increase in customers demanding transparency and fair wages for those who made their clothes. If we all hung around thinking we were being great by ‘giving people jobs’ when purchasing fast fashion, we’d never see change (and it’s crucial that we do).
The issue with fast fashion is far from simple. To change, there will be successes and failures, hurt and harmony, but we cannot hold onto the excuse that we are giving people jobs in third world countries. Consumer actions have proven to drive positive change, and it’s our responsibility as the consumer to continue making conscious action towards a fashion industry of respect and fairness.
Let’s stop making excuses, and start making change.
Written by Kate Hall, of Ethically Kate.