| Fast fashion is unethical & environmentally damaging. Every piece of clothing you own will have an impact on our planet. Think before you buy a cheap dress.
Cheap clothes from online stores: what are they like in real life, and what is their environmental and social impact?
With the rise of direct-to-consumer sites like Wish, Romwe, Shein, Fashion Nova and of course mega-giant Amazon, the cost of clothing has drastically reduced in recent years, allowing consumers to spend no more than a fiver on a brand new outfit. But as a result, not only the quality suffers, but the ethics surrounding production and distribution do too.
In these videos by Youtube star Safiya Nygaard, actual products from Wish and Romwe costing just $5 are tried and tested to see if the ‘deals’ are too good to be true. The result, as you might expect, is that both retailers are pretty hilariously bad, with some surprising exceptions.
Today an op-ed for The Atlantic was published about companies allow the general public to shop at essentially trade prices for goods made in China, including garments, accessories, electronics and homewares. Alana Semuels concludes that,
"At the end of the day, it seems, you still get what you pay for."
As Sophie Benson commented in her Fashion Fix Daily article about fast fashion e-tailer Miss Pap’s "living wage wardrobe", when you break down the costs of actually making and selling a garment are completely at odds with what we pay; we have become psychologically disconnected from the people within the supply chain, and the craft and skill of what fashion and textiles once were.
"A fiver will just about get you a cup of coffee in a pretentious cafe…but in this situation it’s buying fabric, thread, packaging and – most importantly – labour. You need people to cut the panels for our hypothetical skirt; to sew it together; to sew in labels or zips; to embroider it or add sequins; to check it passes quality control and to pack it up to send it to the warehouse. Factory owners and bosses can only haggle so much on physical resources like fabric, so what gets squeezed as prices are driven down? Wages."
The real issue at hand here is value. Do we value our clothing as important and precious, something to be cared for over time to make it last? Or do we see it now just as a disposable commodity? Paying less for fashion is arguably not only democratic but highly desirable for the mass population, meaning class no longer plays a huge part in how we look. However, we can all agree that unlike food or shelter, fashionable clothing is not a necessity and we could all afford to pay a little bit more for a little bit less; the speed at which we consume clothing is neither a necessity not a right.
In a piece for Refinery 29, Tabi Jackson Gee poses the following questions:
- Are new clothes a right, or a privilege? Is access to new clothes a human right? Or has advertising and the media just made us think this way?
- Are ethically produced clothes a privilege for the wealthy?
- Should people with limited disposable income really be expected to pay more for clothes just to avoid buying cheap stuff that’s bad for the planet?
- Is fast fashion a class issue?
However, she concludes that “It’s not a bargain if you don’t wear it and it ends up in your wardrobe with the tags still on."
On that note, I’d like to add that in the process of consuming and disposing of fast fashion, we are not actually getting a good deal, no matter how much of a bargain it may seem. In fact, as well as exploited garment workers on the other side of the world, we’re also being ripped off. As mentioned in the celebrated documentary The True Cost, the decreasing price of clothing may make us feel richer as we can acquire more material possessions, but as quality decreases too, and the marketing machine keeps us splashing the cash on shopping sprees, we are left poorer than ever before, and what do we have to show for it?
The point of this article, and those dozens like it, is not to shame anyone who purchases cheap clothing, online or otherwise. Hell, if you find a beautiful dress for £5, go ahead and buy it. But make sure you treasure it; wash, dry and hang it properly, be a proud outfit repeater and wear it 30+ times, when it’s worn out, mend, recycle or donate it. Ask yourself, could you buy it second-hand or from and indie brand, could you borrow or rent it, could you make it yourself or share it with a friend? And most of all, do you need it?