Who pays the price of low cost?
Updated: May 8, 2021
The fashion industry is responsible for approximately 10% of the greenhouse gases emissions around the world, polluting the atmosphere more than the combined use of ships and planes. This information, released by the UN Fashion Alliance and the documentary “The True Cost” (2015), wide open just a fraction of the countless damage caused by the fast fashion. In fact, this new way of doing fashion harms the environment and the people as a whole. Therefore, this essay aims to invite you to reflect on the change of our consumption habits in a globalized world, with the help of the information brought by the mentioned documentary.
With the coming of Globalization, fashion came to be seen as an increasingly profitable market. If you know big brands, like Zara and H&M, you may have noticed that every time you enter their stores there’s a different clothing collection, sold at a very cheap price. This happens because these brands promote a fast fashion that accelerates the creation of new trends, as well as the process that goes from making to consuming clothes. How is this possible? The main factor that holds together this speed of fashion is the outsourcing of the clothing production to less developed countries. In these places, big corporations find characteristics that allow them to expand their profits, even if it is at the expense of nature and the garment workers. The unfairly low salaries, the abundance of raw material and the government incentive for foreign investments through the relaxation of the environmental protection and labor rights laws, create a supply chain that only benefits the companies behind this sector.
Among the harm that the fashion industry causes to the environment, the documentary lists the huge waste and pollution of waters, the pesticide dependence on the cultivation of natural fibers, and the early disposal of clothes that end up in landfills while releasing dangerous gases into the air. And, as expected, there’s an intersection between the environmental and social damages, that is, by polluting nature, we equally shorten our existence. “The True Cost” exemplifies this by citing the region of Punjab, in India, where the intense use of chemicals to produce cotton has increased the cases of birth defects, cancers and mental illness. Besides that, the documentary cites polyester — a pollutant plastic made from fossil fuels — which is non-biodegradable and, when washed, releases microplastics in our waters. Then, when fish feed on microplastics and we feed on fish, these particles accumulate in our organisms, causing even more negative impacts on human health.
However, the social losses are not only those derived from environmental pollution, after all, the fashion industry is the most labor-dependent one in the world: 1 in 6 people is employed by it. According to the documentary, in Dhaka (Bangladesh), garment workers earn around 3 dollars a day and, in some cases, their salary does not exceed 10 dollars a month. As if earning little was not enough, it happens that many workers pay the price of fast fashion with their own lives, in face of the terrible working conditions that facilitate accidents. Specifically, 1,334 lives were lost, paying the price for cheap clothing, and more than 2,500 were injured, in the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in 2013, also in Bangladesh. “The True Cost” shows that the owner of the building, which used to house textile factories, ignored the need for evacuation in the face of poor infrastructure. This is yet one more example of the overlap of profit in relation to human life, as a consequence of fast fashion.
Often — and especially when coming from a privileged position — we are faced with a “ready” life: we consume what we used to see our parents consuming, and this is normal. We do not stop to question two things: the real need for such consumption, and how what we consume is produced. When we talk about fashion, it isn’t different; paying 5 dollars for a new shirt does not sound weird, but, if that is the final price of this product, how much did the person who produced it earn for their job? Still, it is important that we, as consumers, recognize that we have power over the directions of the fashion industry. It only perpetuates such a harmful supply chain because the consumers endorse it, either through ignorance or connivance. As we become aware of the impacts behind the making of a simple piece of clothing, we become responsible for contributing to change this reality and make fashion more sustainable. There are already enough clothes; what we don’t have is a planet able to withstand our inconsequential and incessant consumption habits.
Thus, on our Instagram account, @garotaspelo_mundo, we published projects with which you can engage to stop the wave of fast fashion, making your consumption more conscious and focused on environmental protection as well as the preservation of social rights. Among them, there’s a project meant to combine sustainability with animal protection; it is a solidarity thrift store that donates its profits to a group of volunteers that rescue abandoned animals, and you may check their Instagram account: @brecho.apap! Also, get to know other initiatives like the app Moda Livre and an upcycling store.