Geography of Popular Culture 2017 – Blog #2 Posted on September 4, 2017 by saorsa2014 Discuss the relationship between modern fashion and sweatshops. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:Like Loading... Related
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Today, when we go to shop for clothing, we shop for deals. We hesitate to buy a shirt for more than $20. We are constantly searching for clothes at the cheapest prices at stores like Forever 21, Target, and TJMaxx. We love buying clothes at great deals, but at what cost are we able to purchase these garments? As we Americans force clothing companies to continually lower their prices to remain competitive, they demand lower prices from there manufacturers overseas. The problem is that these foreign factories are already being pushed to the limits in the prices that they have to produce clothing at. Now they are forced to cut wages, forced to make their employees work double overtime at no pay, and forced to make their employees work in dangerous conditions in order to fulfill an order from a company in Europe or the United States. This is known as the race to the bottom. In order for a manufacturer in India to maintain business with a huge multinational company that buys hundreds of thousands of articles of clothing each year, they have to compete with other foreign manufactures. Their employees don’t even make enough money to live on. They work in extremely hot facilities with no breaks and long hours. When these factories are pushed to the limits, horrific events like the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dakha, Bangladesh occur. In this disaster, an eight-story garment factory collapsed killing over one thousand people. The owners knew that the building was unsafe to be working in, but they forced their employees to work anyway ignoring their safety.
Our justification for this social injustice is that at least they have a job. At least they aren’t working in dangerous construction, mining, or other laborious jobs. Well the true story is that they do in fact work in dangerous conditions. They are working in inhumane conditions for extremely low pay. Another justification is that these jobs and factories stimulate the economy in those countries, but in a lot of cases, the employees work at a factory compound where their food, housing, uniforms, ect. are provided by the multinational company in return for a smaller paycheck. In these cases, the local economy is not only not stimulated, but in fact drained from the flow of money into local markets. Instead of paying rent to local housing facilitates, instead of buying food at the local markets, instead of buying clothing from local merchants, the factory workers are paying the large company that is already exploiting them by paying them virtually nothing for their work.
This social injustice is only stimulated by the fast fashion era of today. Today, we spend more on clothing and have bigger closets than ever before in history. We are constantly looking to stay in the fashion loop and keep up with today’s ever changing fads. Little do we realize that our hyper consumerism has a huge impact on hundreds of thousands of lives all over the world. Next time you go to buy a new shirt on sale, take a second to think about where that shirt came from.
Very nice understanding of the issues associated with fast fashion.
Modern ‘fast’ fashion and sweatshops are directly related. Historically, each person would own two, maybe three outfits. Now, however, advertising schemes have convinced consumers that they need a different outfit for every day of the week. Instead of four fashion seasons, new clothes seem to pop up in stores every month, if not every week. Companies have convinced people that they must continuously buy the latest style if they want to stay in fashion. This has led to clothing being seen as disposable – once it goes out of fashion, it’s OK to throw it out. Having so many seasons and requiring consumers to buy so often, plus competition among stores, has led to the consumer expectation that clothing should be cheap. Who could afford to keep up with all the different fashion trends unless it was?
Therein lies the problem: to make money, companies must sell large quantities of clothes, very frequently. To do that, they must make sure they produce many waves of new styles and sell them at a price affordable to the masses. But to do that they must produce the clothes at an even lower price so they can ensure it is possible to turn a profit. Enter sweatshops. Sweatshops are typically located in a third-world country, free from unions and regulations, and are locked in a never-ending race to the bottom.
Some people argue that sweatshops are good for developing countries. After all, they ended up being good for the US, right? In the early twentieth century America, sweatshops provided a large number of jobs for the lower class. Poor working conditions and low pay led to unionization, which eventually led to governmental regulations on minimum wage, working hours, and child labor laws. So, in the long run, sweatshops were a necessary evil, right? Sure, maybe in the US it worked out, but modern day sweatshops in these third world countries are not the same situation.
First world countries exploit the third world countries, pressing them constantly until they offer even lower prices. Sweatshop workers today do not have the opportunity to unionize. They cannot demand higher pay or more reasonable hours, because they will simply lose their job if they do. If clothing companies are not given the incredibly low cost of production that they demand, they will just take their business elsewhere. Because of that, sweatshops are forced to make workers work long hours for extremely little pay. An example of this is shown in the blog picture of the two girls wearing the yellow dresses. The dress was made for sixty cents, yet the clothing company sold it for fifty dollars. As previously stated, the sweatshops with their cheap, never-ending source of labor are exploited.
Women are typically employed in sweatshops. These women work in large factory settings, that often have dangerous working conditions. If a sweatshop needs to meet a difficult deadline that a clothing company demands, the sweatshop can lock workers in overnight or until the order is filled. Once the order is filled, the clothing company gets plenty of shiny new shoes or clothes that they can sell for a profit, and the sweatshop races a bit closer to the bottom.
The production of fast fashion wouldn’t be possible without sweatshops. In the past, clothing was hand made and most people only had a couple outfits. The Industrial Revolution sped up the process by mass-producing cloth through the flying shuttle and the spinning jenny. The standardized patterns and fabrics were revolutionary, but there was still a limited quantity of clothing for most people since labor was still needed for the tailoring process. The production of textiles started in the United States, employing women and children to be garment workers, but with the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire the death of 146 workers the poor conditions were brought to light. Since this tragedy happened close to home for many people in New York City, the government made stricter regulations for the workplace. After World War Two the garment industry changed. Since the textile industry has not found a way around the need for manual labor in tailoring to this day they have been in search for the cheapest labor possible. As the demand for clothing only increases, now companies are taking the cotton textiles produced in the United States and shipping them to foreign countries to have the clothing made, so the companies only have to pay taxes on the material while reaping all of the benefits.
Post World War Two has brought about the contemporary sweatshop in what is called the ‘Global South.’ Workers are in very poor conditions with wages that amount to 1-2% of the final retail cost of the items they make. A similar tragedy to the one that happened in New York also happened at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. Over a thousand people died in this sweatshop, but there was little news on the matter in the United States. It is easy for consumer to ignore such tragedies when they don’t happen in the United States, and easy for the retail companies to pack up and pick another sweatshop to do business with. There are also some people that justify sweatshop jobs as being better than the other circumstances in an impoverished country, so they don’t think of the conditions as being too dangerous. Since consumption of the cheap fashion that is made in these factories have increased by 500% in turn the need for sweatshops increases.
Fast fashion has made clothing easily disposable, with consumers being able to discard pieces when the new season’s items come out. Now thirty-dollar shirt can be thrown away without thinking about it. Back in 1950 the average middle class consumer spent $437 on clothing a year, where as today the average family spends about $1,700 a year (1). The difference isn’t as great as expected, but since clothing is cheaper than ever this amount can buy a person 485 Forever 21 tops or 340 pairs of sandals from Family Dollar (1). This is made possible by the piecework done in sweatshops, and the pressure they are put under to keep labor prices as low as possible. The fast fashion industry has taken over fashion in the United States, and sweatshops are what keep this industry going.
(1) Over-Dressed The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth L. Cline
Good summary of the problem of fast fashion.
When we go to a shopping mall and look for clothes to buy, we search the sales racks and the clearance sections. We look for items that cost thirty dollars or less, and we aren’t satisfied if we feel like we can buy an item cheaper somewhere else. We feel cheated if we have to spend more than twenty dollars on a shirt or forty dollars on a pair of pants. The price we pay for clothing becomes bragging rights if we think we got a great deal. However, we don’t tend to consider the costs at which we can get these great deals. We don’t think about all of people suffering in sweat shops at our expense. It is the social and economic impacts we must consider when thinking about the presence of sweatshops across the globe.
The demand for cheap clothing has increased over the years. While there used to be two seasons of fashion, now there are fifty-two. People are constantly being pressured to buy more and more clothes to keep up with the latest trends. This “fast fashion” has created an ever increasing demand for the production of cheap clothes, and the laborers in sweat shops are suffering for it. For the sweat shops to keep up with the demands of the American and European clothing companies, laborers are forced to work long hours in terrible conditions with such low wages that they can hardly afford the basic necessities. Although the sweat shops are already at full production capacity, western companies force them to produce more at lower prices. The factories comply or lose their purchaser. The competition among suppliers results in a “race to the bottom”, leading to even worse conditions for employees. Even with worsening conditions, employees cannot form unions or speak up to employers. Such workers are beaten or fired and replaced with one of the many people looking for work.
Because textile factories are forced to meet the production demands of western clothing empires, employers ignore the health and safety concerns of their employees. This has led to devastating tragedies including the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, where 146 people died, and the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in Bangladesh, where over one thousand people died. The fire killed so many because the employees were locked in in order to compete the daily quota. In the case of the Rana Plaza collapse, the employers were aware of the cracks in the building, but chose to ignore them.
Another huge problem with sweat shops lies in economic restrictions they impart. Many factories require workers to live in compounds. The factory provides a place to live, food, and clothing for its employees but cuts their paychecks. The compounds not only limit the freedom of the employees, but they also suck money out of the local economies. The employees no longer spend their income at local food, clothing, and housing providers, which can be devastating for a developing city and country.
The clothes that we buy are so far removed from their origin of production that we don’t even consider where they come from or how they were produced. We don’t consider the costs at which they were made. Our job is to consider where the clothes we buy come from and who is making them. By doing this, and shopping accordingly, we can take small steps to alleviate this massive social injustice.
Good discussion of the issues around fast fashion.
Modern fashion relies heavily on cheap fashion. With a shrinking middle class, many companies lower the prices on their clothing to still give people the feeling that their dollar goes far. However, in order to do so and not sacrifice profit, these companies must find another outlet that allows them to cut cost while still maintaining or increasing profit. This cost-cutting falls onto the garment-industry workers.
Before industrialization, clothing was made by hand, produced at home by weavers. However, after industrialization began to take off, more and more people began to move into the cities to find work. By 1850, the idea of sweatshops had already taken hold, as indicated by Charles Kingsley’s “Cheap Clothes and Nasty.” People worked for piece work in unsafe conditions when there were many people ready to take their place if they complained. In 1910, the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union sought to ameliorate the harshness of garment work through advocating for hourly wages instead of piece work, the enforcement of safety standards, breaks, and making days off enforced. Exposure helped bring these problems to the forefront of the public conscious, especially through the coverage of events like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911. These occurrences helped workplace regulation become a part of the global north.
To circumvent these regulations, many clothing brands moved their operations to the global south post World War II. Moving operations allowed companies to find cheaper labor and revert back to the poor conditions that had led to regulations in the global north, such as long hours, unsafe conditions, paying workers less that minimum wage, and involuntary work.
Now, these workers across the world from consumers, allowing the public conscious largely ignore these problems. In the global south, workers see less than 1-2% of the final retail cost in their wages. Additionally, unionizers are routinely fired, preventing workers from improving their conditions. Or, if the fashion company really wants to, they can move their operations to another factory. Even though many clothing companies will have codes of conduct, rules that a factory must follow to work with the company, many factory workers are still left disadvantaged. Often, the code of conduct will be ignored. Many factories have to individually pay for things listed in the code of conduct, such as safer conditions and will thereby lose profit as companies want to decrease the price of the product and take advantage of the low wages of garment workers. Moreover, factories compliant with the codes of conduct can subcontract to noncompliant factories, making codes of conduct hard to enforce. Moreover, sometimes workers make less money at a compliant factory than they do at a noncompliant factory due to the enforcement of breaks, days off, and so on. All of these things make codes of conduct hard to stick to and enforce, especially when some companies will tell a factory before an inspection so the factory can look good for the inspection. This problem is often labeled the race to the bottom, as companies try to keep their prices low for consumers or to further decrease their prices, manufacturers are forced to find a way to cut costs and often, workers pay the price for these cost-cutting measures through unsafe conditions and low wages.
Nice discussion of fast fashion.
With the ascension of H&M, Gap, Zara, and countless other retailers, the concept of “fast fashion” has arisen amongst the public’s consciousness. Fashion houses used to just release two separate lines per year, one for fall/winter and one for spring/summer. This is no longer the case as new items are introduced on a weekly basis. Competition between stores drives prices even lower as they race to present clothes cheaper than their competitors. Clothes are made to be disposable and we often see already cheap shirts on sale for seventy to eighty percent off. The cheap prices the consumer sees when walking in a mall comes at a price because someone else must be bearing the brunt of the cheap cost. Often, these are the garment producers living in other countries. In countries such as Bangladesh or Thailand, people work in unsafe and lightly regulated factories where owners are in a constant race to the bottom line. Even if a factory owner would prefer to ensure a higher wage for his workers, he is often undercut by other owners. In order to turn a profit themselves, they have to pay their workers an even lower wage or risk having their business taken to another factory owner willing to ensure a cheaper production cost.
Surprising to westerners’ eyes, working in a factory is not seen as a terrible job in many third world countries. In fact, the massive amounts of readily available workers serves as a detriment to the workers themselves, they are viewed as disposable, making unions impossible because attempts are met with massive resistance. Often if workers protest they are simply fired as someone will readily step in for them. A sweatshop job is also one without much upward mobility and very rarely does anyone get promoted, leaving workers trapped.
The poor conditions employed by these factories was commonplace in the US many years ago, it took until the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire where 146 workers were killed for the government to step in and demand stronger regulation. A similar tragedy occurred less than four years ago in Bangladesh, where the collapse of a Rana Plaza clothing factory resulted in more than a thousand deaths. While sadly too late for many, this disaster has been a catalyst for discussion regarding not only safe working conditions, but the entire nature of the exploitation at hand. Consumers have begun to wonder how they can help change things. Many believe the only way is to vote with their wallets by buying from companies that are transparent about the conditions of their clothes production. This comes at the cost of higher costing products, but for many, this is nothing when compared with the human cost expended every day in countries outside of western view.
When a modern day person opens their email, walks through a shopping center, or accesses any kind of media that is paid for by ads, they are inevitably met with announcements for deals. While some might be grateful to have the opportunity to afford clothing that these deals promise, what is often missed by the larger public is the “true cost” of making, supplying, and selling these textile goods. What was once 4 seasons of clothing a year is now 52 seasons, rotating the retail floor every week by slashing prices. But why are these low quality, disposable clothes so cheap?
Modern day fashion is only produced on a mass scale with sweatshop production facilities. The term sweatshop today is largely used to describe the poor working conditions of large industrial clothing manufacturing locations, but the term existed during the early parts of the industrialization of clothing production as way to describe the subcontracting of labor to produce a single garment. Besides the connotations of the term, production of clothing in the early industrialized era of early 1900’s is very different from today. The main difference is that a larger gap – socioeconomic, cultural, geographic, exists today than in 1900 industrialized manufacturing.
In the United States garment workers in the 1900s, largely immigrants, were able to unionize and challenge the adverse working conditions. After a massive factory fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911, causing 146 deaths, groups were able to mandate safety regulations and the events were part of the early transformation of labor rights in the United States. In contrast, this year marks the fifth anniversary of over 1,110 deaths at a garment factory in Bangladesh and still countless factories have failed to meet remediation requirements set by independent partners, not specifically governments or brands. Deaths in Bangladesh and other countries have still continued due to poor working conditions and facilities. The gap between the production and consumption of these goods becomes increasingly apparent when the shopping practices and marketing practices of the masses of modern society are not affected by these tragedies.
The industrialization of textile goods has only ever had transformation in how the textiles themselves are produced. No real innovation has been made to the actual construction of clothing because the piece work and sewing can only really be produced by hand. This inherently causes the only place to reduce cost to be in the labor of production. Unfortunately, the global south has become the lowest bidder for cheap labor and the distribution of wealth from the consumption of those goods only comes back to the global north, putting the most risk on the least paid and most vulnerable.
The cycle will stay in motion as long as the masses consume without demanding change. This is easier to do for the global north because the geographic distance between the tragedies of production and where the garments are consumed are so great, that there is no relative threat.
Great discussion of the fast fashion problem.
Currently, between the constantly growing network of fashion-focused websites and the expanding fashion chain stores such as H&M and The Gap, the fashion options for the American consumer are more numerous than ever before. These websites and stores are able to stay completely up to date on all trends and get the people styles from the runways to the malls in record time. With this growth in constantly forward, ever-changing fashion trends, however, there comes a dark and sinister consequence: the rise of sweatshops and unfair labor in the global south.
The term “fast fashion” carries with it the weight of the economic impact that the fashion industry has as well as the terrible consequences for those caught in its wake. Clothes are cheaper now than they have ever been as the world becomes more and more connected to fashion trends changing in real time, stores and outlets are forced to keep up. This results in in a constant flow of clothing both in and out of the retailers as well as the consumers’ closet. People want trends faster so companies make them cheaper which forces consumers to discard the clothes sooner which continues the vicious cycle. Americans currently discard 13 million tons of textiles every year which accounts for 9 percent of our total non-recycled waste. This is leading to an unfathomable environmental impact that will not soon be resolved. The impact on the human environment where these clothes are produced, however, is much more outwardly concerning for the moment.
Thought extinct, the garment sweatshop reappeared in the United States in the 1970s when conditions began to fall in the garment industry and the work of the employees began to exceed the wages they were being paid. As the world became more globalized and labor became cheaper and cheaper to export to the global south, the conditions have grown worse for the workers as well as the natural environment the sweatshops inhabit. Thanks to “fast fashion,” garment industries around the world are constantly extorting manufacturers in the global south for cheaper and cheaper labor. The demographic most affected by the global increase in “fast fashion” are young women, often moving from rural environments into cities in search for a living wage. Many of these employees, from the beginning of garment production in the cotton fields to the sewing sweatshops themselves, are children. While technology and industrial production have taken the garment industry a long way, ultimately there is no replacement for the human component of the process. However, by paying wages well below the line of living standards and demanding unfair levels of work out of the laborers, companies are able to produce clothing for less than they probably would use towards machine maintenance.
The image in the collage on the left-center perfectly displays the issue with fast fashion in global north: the chasmic divide between the producer and the consumer. For a garment to cost $50.00 on shelves with only $.60 of that value going to the producer is morally unforgivable. As attention towards the ills of “fast fashion” begins to grow, hopefully conditions will improve for those caught in its grasp.
Good discussion of the images and the fast fashion problem.
In modern day society, people are obsessed with the latest trends. Like what kind of car we drive, we are also judged on what kind of clothes we wear. People are expected to keep up with the weekly changing trends, forcing many to turn to the cheapest options. “Fast Fashion” has convinced people that they need a new outfit for every occasion, and once the outfit is worn it cannot be worn again. This in turn also makes people want more clothes for cheap so they always have something new to wear. Companies were driven to find a way to produce cheap clothing in a timely manner to meet demand.
The use of sweatshops by brands to make their clothing for cheaper and quicker is a growing problem that has remained relatively unknown to the public. Historically, people only owned a couple of different outfits: one for everyday use and the other for a church outing or for nicer occasions. Fashion houses would have two seasons of clothing each year. Over the years the two seasons turned to four, and now the four have turned into fifty-two. Clothes have been transformed into a disposable luxury. People are made to think they are the ones suffering when they look into their full closets and think to themselves, “I have nothing to wear.” But in reality, the real ones who suffer are the sweatshop workers in third-world countries who make these garments.
The world within sweatshops is a poorly conditioned place to work. The hours are long with many working a six-day week. The pay is low in order to keep up with other competitive sweatshops and to offer brands the cheapest way to make the item. Fashion brands will come to these third-world companies and see which factory owner will give them the cheapest production cost. This competitive work environment affects the workers from forming unions or leaving their jobs. There are so many other people willing to take their place at these sweatshops even knowing how poor the conditions are because work is so scarce. Workers are also sometimes held against their will so that a factory can complete manufacturing in a “timely” manner. These horrible work conditions have already resulted in deaths within the sweatshops. Most recently, the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh resulted in the deaths of 1,134 and injured approximately 2,500 people, mostly women. This wasn’t even front-page news in the US for more than a week, because it happened so far way. Poor factory conditions have been exposed and it has been written about numerous times, but the problem still remains. People argue that sweatshops aren’t so bad compared to the other employment options in third-world countries. These people tend to overlook that sweatshops are just as dangerous and are also emotionally and mentally taxing. A clear solution isn’t available, but it first starts with western culture as a whole admitting that sweatshops are a problem plaguing the world. It also requires an end to “fast fashion” and the mindset that clothing is disposable.
Fast fashion and sweatshops have a long established co-dependent relationship. Without sweatshops fast fashion could not exist. In the same vein fast fashion is the entity that maintains the sweat shop infrastructure.
Fast fashion is a relatively new phenomenon, 100 years ago families spent 14% of their income on clothing. The clothing that they purchased was high quality, reasonably priced, and built to last. The average family’s wardrobe during the industrial revolution contained a finite number of outfits. Purchasing new clothing generally happened only after their existing wardrobe had worn through. However, even at this point in the history of fashion, clothing was still built off the backs of sweatshops. During the industrial revolution, the prevalence of cheap fabric, technological advancement, and cheap labor for the start of the mass production/mass consumption cycle that feeds the modern fast fashion-sweatshop relationship. In the fast fashion model clothing is designed to be discarded. With fast fashion we saw a 500% increase in clothing “consumed”.
Sweatshops at the center of the industrial revolution were located in the country that the produced material were distributed; clothing produced in the United States was sold in the American marketplace. The proximity of the sweatshops to their consumers made the human rights violations of the industry increasingly visible and difficult to avoid. Investigative journalism by Jacob Riis and Upton Sinclair gave the American consumer an in-depth look into industrial America. The horrific visions presented in journalistic exposes, combined with sensationalized events like the “Triangle Shirtwaist Fire Factory” led to legislative pushes for worker’s rights in the “Global North”. Improvements in worker’s rights included child labor laws, minimum wage laws, increased safety standards, changes to labor practice and procedure and the formation of unions like the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union in 1910. This led to the flight of sweatshops from the “Global North”.
At the same time that sweatshops were migrating from the “Global North” to the “Global South”, advertising was creating an artificial demand for clothing. The economic model of fashion was moving from a durable good (a product built to last 2+ years) to a non-durable good. It was at this time that fashion moved from 2 seasons (Spring/Summer, Winter/Fall) to 4 seasons, eventually becoming the fast fashion model of 52 seasons that we know today. This new fast fashion model drove companies to seek cheaper and cheaper producers of textiles. Factories as a result, dependent on the global corporations’ patronage, have cut corners much like what was found in factories of the industrial revolution. Much unlike the industrial revolution, the human rights violations of women working in factories in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are invisible to the consumer. Even the most visible of sweatshop atrocities like the factory collapse in Rana Plaza, which killed 1,134 women led to no true labor reforms. This is due to the fact that the consumer has no direct connection to the laborer as it was with industrial revolution sweatshops. The demand for low cost and quick production eclipses the need for labor reform.
Dr. Davidson – I swear I thought that I posted this when I posted my other blog, but I can’t seem to find it in the comment section when I look through it. (second time’s the charm?)
Nice discussion. Don’t worry about the timing.
Today, in first-world countries such as the United States, when the majority of the middle class shops for clothing, they expect to see low prices and recognizable brand names. The reason for these low prices is prominently due to the outsourcing of the textile industry, and the reason for sending these textile contracts overseas is to maximize profit margins by exploiting cheap labor. In theory, this sounds fantastic because it increases production of recognizable brand named clothing which in turn, keeps prices low, but like with anything, side effects do exist for all parties involved.
The system described in the previous paragraph has been termed fast fashion, and it is designed to mirror the trends of high fashion. However, unlike high fashion, fast fashion is created at the expense of underpaid, overworked laborers in third-world countries. These laborers work in extremely harsh factory conditions. Termed sweatshops, the stereotypical third-world, textile factory demands extremely long hours, incredibly disappointing hourly wages, and very poor working conditions. Sweatshops, due to poor working conditions and inferior infrastructure, are more prone to disasters such as fires like the one experienced at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh in 2013. This particular fire claimed the lives of over one thousand workers, and this number could have been drastically lower if the Rana Plaza factory had been held to the same workplace standards as factories in the United States. However, even if you are able to survive the working conditions of most sweatshops, your quality of life is still more than likely going to be subpar. Sweatshop laborers make a tiny fraction of what an article of clothing actually sells for in a department store. This means that the vast majority (if not all) of their salary is used just to support them and their family; very little (if any) of a sweater’s salary is considered expendable. These statistics have been heard by some Americans, and some critics have spoken out against these practices. As a result of some scrutiny from first-world consumers, some multinational companies such as Nike, that previously abused foreign labor, now require routine inspections of factories overseas. Unfortunately, this has helped very little. Although it looks good from a public relations standpoint for companies such as Nike, the action has spurred very little physical change. Now, the third-world factories that are held up to “Nike standards” simply contract a third-party, third-world factory that are able to meet production rates due to the fact that they can abuse their workers since they are not directly inspected by Nike. As you can see, this effort of reformation has not had the desired impact.
However, sweatshop laborers are not the only people negatively impacted by fast fashion. As you know, fast fashion clothing can be characterized as extremely cheap in price and low in quality. The reason for this is that fashion trends are always changing, and when they do, consumers believe that it is “in with the new and out with the old”. In this case, the “out with old” more than likely means that it will end up in a landfill. This is extremely problematic for many reasons! First, there is a finite quantity of surface area on Earth that is designated to landfills, and if we keep discarding fast fashion trends at the current rate, the remaining landfills will quickly reach capacity. Secondly, the majority of the textiles that are buried in landfills release harmful chemicals that can negatively impact the Earth’s climate. The emissions of these harmful greenhouse gases impact everybody on Earth!
Lastly, I hesitate to mention this point in my blog just because the issues above seem astronomically more urgent, but unemployment is indeed a problem here in the United States. And when we send these jobs overseas, there are less textile factory jobs here in the United States for Americans. If we were able to bring these jobs back to the United States, we could lower unemployment rates by reintroducing an industry that demands numerous jobs!
With all this said, I encourage readers to pay more attention to which textile brands they choose to support. Also, I beg readers to wear clothes longer than the time period in which they are considered “fashionable”, or if you really must be up to date with the hottest trends, find more effective ways of recycling your used or old clothes than current methods!
How many items of clothing do you purchase per year? How much of that is a need? After watching the documentary in class about fast fashion, I had to step back and re-evaluate how I purchase textile goods, and my thoughts on change didn’t end there. I looked at what I had been purchasing for years. Its mind opening to realize that these clothes from the new fad of fast fashion are perhaps designed and/or made to follow apart faster then something produced on a smaller scale.
Watching that documentary is like wrapping yourself in a nightmare blanket, to realize the conditions that the people who make our clothing are working in is horrifying. There is a constant need in our society to have the hottest and latest fashions. Apparently this desire stims from our continued strive of individuality, but it’s so ironic to me that modern fashion is a global trend that millions (possibly billions) of people try to follow and participate in. It so pervasive in our culture too. With a corporate synergy that today is so smoothly ingrained into our popular culture that most don’t even recognize that they are being sold a product, but your brain does.
Advertising since the advent of the internet had turned into one of the most pervasive modern constructs. It’s everywhere, so much so that it can be hard to notice with your conscious mind. Some of the easiest to point too would be the current swath of reality TV shows, most of these “stars” will own a portion (or outright) a clothing line. They then will wear these clothes during filming, which is for the most part free advertising. Most times after an episode there is a stinger with a link/web address so the fans can get the “look”.
Now to make a profit in today’s fashion market you have to pump out products faster than there competition. To get this accomplished companies will shop overseas the largest portion of these factories are located in India and other places in East Asia. Here at these manufactory locations conditions are generally poor, and compensation is low and hours are long. With no overtime. Reports from workers within these manufactory plants is appalling, most of the employees are younger women. They report of intimidation techniques by their employers, being made to work more than 16 hours a day, and being paid only a few dollars for the whole days’ work.
These are awful condition’s that potentially millions of people are enduring so you can have this month’s hot fashion trend, or this summer’s newest sneaker to play in. Its despicable to me, and I for one will strive to significantly reduce my purchases, and not only for clothes but for all goods.
Great discussion – great conclusion.
For centuries, humans produced clothing for themselves on a small scale, creating local and regional styles across the world that were as varied as the people that wore them. In the past, people owned only a bare minimum of clothing items and often shared clothing among family members whenever feasible. Handed-down clothing would be most common for youths who may not receive their first pair of shoes until they stop growing, whereas most adult would only have two outfits, one for daily use and another for Sundays. Today things are markedly different. Clothing manufacture has become an industry worth billions of dollars, one that is destructive of local industry and complicit in creating cultural hegemony.
Before the Industrial Revolution, clothing manufacture was a local, often cottage industry. Clothing took an individual a great deal of time to make on pre-industrial equipment and thus was an expensive process. However, as textile manufacturing entered the industrial era, clothing production became dominated by those who could benefit the most from the decreasing cost associated with industrialization. The British clothing industry expanded greatly after the second World War. Cheap labor and economies of scale provided an advantage over more expensive, imported fashion. Workplace injuries and youth labor was common until regulations were put in place protecting employees.
We often give a great deal of thought to certain aspects of the clothing that we wear. Price, season, and trend are all considerations we make before we select an item of clothing from a rack of identical pieces. Rarely, however, are we concerned with where our clothing was made and even more rarely do we ponder by whom. Nearly all of the clothing sold in America is made in another country, even if by an American owned company. In countries, such as India, where regulations are lax or nonexistent, clothing manufacturers were able to continue to make use of very cheap and often very young labor force. Fashion manufacturers still use these same techniques to create sweatshops that can employ hundreds of individuals for just cents per day making clothing that sells for magnitudes greater.
The western companies that are caught contracting with sweatshops are rarely, if ever, punished for doing so, creating very little incentive to change the problem. Such a great deal of money is made by these companies, using what basically amounts to slave labor, that the fourth richest man in the world made his billions with the fast fashion brand, Zara. Against that level of capital, government agencies have little recourse but to allow them to do as they please. To that point is up to individuals to become more aware of the clothing products that they consume in order to affect some modicum of change. While home sewing may have once been a cost-saving alternative, do-it-yourself has become a luxury for which one must pay a premium while, in many cases, still being forced to use large and morally questionable retail corporations to source fabric. Fast Fashion is a complex problem that is made more complex by the massive amount of money that it generates for very influential people, meaning it will be an uphill fight for anyone who wants to change the status quo.
These days, almost anyone in the United States can get the latest trendy items for the cheapest price. These affordable and fashionable clothes may disintegrate by the second wash, but that does not really matter because the item was inexpensive and there are new clothes in the shop by the end of the week. Most do not question how this happens, how it is now possible to get all these clothes at such a low price. However, the price for these clothes is immense, it is the safety and well-being of workers from around the world who are desperate for any job. It is the most vulnerable that are forced to work in sometimes life-threatening conditions so that we can buy almost anything without suffering from buyer’s remorse.
A sweatshop is a place that severely underpays their workers and is often in an unsafe environment. Many sweatshops employ people overseas which is how clothing companies get out of paying people a decent wage or making sure the building is safe. The collapse of a Bangladesh factory that killed over 1,000 people helped draw attention to the awful working conditions people are subjected to just so clothing companies can sell garments at a lower price. Modern fashion changes so quickly which is another reason why clothing companies are employing these methods. They want to pump out as many clothes as quickly as possible and they do not leave room to think about human life. Some economists claim that these jobs are better than any alternatives, so westerners should not feel bad about supporting these awful labor practices. While these jobs may be the only options some may have, surely we value human life enough to see that these practices are wrong and demand that they allocate more money towards paying impoverished workers instead of further filling the pockets of billionaires.
Many assume that sweatshops are things only happening in poor nations overseas, but there are sweatshops in the United States as well. Many of these sweatshops take advantage of undocumented immigrants, paying them well below minimum wage. In order to remain competitive, manufacturers cut down their worker’s pay, “A knee-length Forever 21 dress made in one of the Los Angeles factories investigated by the government came with a price tag of $24.90. But it would have cost $30.43 to make that dress with workers earning the $7.25 federal minimum wage and even more to pay the $12 Los Angeles minimum” (Kitroeff, Kim). Even with all of the laws the United States has to protect workers, companies still get away with sweatshop labor.
The fast fashion industry only functions because they underpay their labor force. As consumers, we must ask ourselves if the mistreatment of other people is worth some thin clothes that we will only wear once. Hopefully, more regulations will come into place that makes human rights a higher priority than a 50% off sale.
Nice work Julie, but this is a Geography of popular Culture blog post, not an Honors World Regional one…
Modern fashion, though cheap and trendy, has many unseen consequences that the average consumer is not aware of. The desire of the modern fashion-minded shopper to have cheap and trendy clothes in large amounts means that costs must be cut somewhere along the production chain. Most often this means that manufacturers can’t pay standard “American” wages to workers in order to cut costs, and the production must be outsourced. Most often the production is outsourced to countries with high poverty rates, such as China and Bangladesh, where workers are paid extremely low wages to work with hazardous chemicals under dangerous working conditions. As the demand for cheaper and cheaper garments increases in order for companies to remain competitive in their respective markets, more pressure is applied to these manufacturers in third-world countries, meaning that workers are paid less to do more work, furthering the problem. Many companies realize this issue and focus on sustainably sourced raw materials and garments, however, a large portion of the consumer market isn’t willing to pay more for these more sustainable and responsibly sourced fashion items and instead would rather buy what is cheaper while turning a blind eye to the consequences of their purchasing decisions. As these poorly built factories exceed their capabilities structurally and capacity wise, the frequency of catastrophic incidents and collapses increases as well. The combination of these extremely low wages and highly hazardous conditions creates a social injustice that is only tolerated and justified because most people either turn a blind eye to this issue or simply cant be made to care enough and justify its existence through many different false arguments.
In today’s capitalist culture, we are being told to constantly consume. If we are not consuming, we are not contributing enough to the economy around us. With all of this consuming, we are also told to spend more when we see there is a sale. We get mini-highs when we find good deals in stores and end up buying more than we could ever need. It wasn’t always this way though. There used to be a time in society where we only had the clothes we needed because we were all making our own clothes. This took a lot of time, effort, and money to do.
In the onset of the industrial revolution all aspects of the creation of clothes became cheaper and faster to accomplish. Prices in cotton plummeted, creating thread was fast and cheap, and weaving became mechanized. Patterns and textiles were now easy to mass produce for a low cost. Manufactures created simple patters from designer knock-offs that could be quickly sewn together.
After World War II, health, safety, and wage regulations pushed garment manufactures out of the United States because in order to stay, they would have to sacrifice a greater profit for them to comply with the new regulations. Manufactures looked to other countries that had few to no regulations like those we now see in highly industrialized countries like the United States and most of Europe. This began the Race to the Bottom as manufactures searched for places that would produce their products for the cheapest price so that they could make the most profit. These places tend to be in the Global South where populations are high and labor is in a surplus allowing for companies to pay workers only 1-2% of the final retail cost of the garment they’re making. This can be justified by the fact that the labor these workers are doing is a low skill, low capital task—a sewing machine is not hard to learn.
Since manufactures can create cheap garments quickly, the fashion industry has been able to create more trends. The idea is that the clothes only have to last until the next trend, so cheaper materials are used, and quality of assembly is low. What started as two to four seasons of clothes, is now at least one a month.
Manufacturing companies are over producing clothes, and we are also buying more clothes than we could ever wear through. The result is an abundance of waste and pollution. We try and donate our clothes back to people who need it, but only 10-20% of these clothes are sold and reworn. Most of them end up dumped in landfills or on countries we deem in-need of them. But even in those countries, the clothes are still mostly unworn and wasted.
The people in these sweatshops producing our clothes for below poverty wages, are producing products for the landfills more than for people. They could never hope to afford the garments they produce, and even if they could, it would be out of trend by the time they could.
Going shopping for clothes in America today consists of a race to find the best deals. Most people are hesitant to purchase anything at full price because they do not want to get shortchanged if the item were to ever go on sale. This forces the companies that sale these clothes to constantly drive down their prices in order to remain competitive. While this is good news to the American shopper, this is bad news to the people that actually make the clothes. Most clothes that are purchased in the United States are manufactured in other parts of the globe in areas referred to as the “Global South”. It makes much more sense financially for clothing companies to do this due to the lack of minimum wage and workplace safety rules in these parts of the world. People working in sweatshops work under the poorest conditions. They work extremely long hours with few breaks in buildings that would never constitute as safe workplaces in America or Europe. There are also very few restrictions on child labor, meaning some people spend their whole lives stuck in this business because they have to do something to support their families.
The poor workplace conditions and the high number of people that are forced to squeeze into a sweatshop leave the buildings in a prime spot for something tragic to happen. This was the case in 2013 in Bangladesh when part of the Rana Plaza collapsed, leaving over 1100 people dead. Despite the scope and magnitude of the tragedy, it received little to no news coverage in the United States. Most Americans are completely unaware of the pain and suffering that goes into making their clothes. This is a huge problem since nothing will ever get done to change the conditions of sweatshops without a large majority of the American population knowing and caring enough to make a difference.
We just continue to go on with our lives, buying our clothes without thinking twice about who made it. It does not help that the conditions continue to grow worse. In our drive to find the hottest deal and clothes for the lowest price possible, we do not understand the implications that mindset has for the people that make the clothes. Since the prices are lower, there has to be a price drop somewhere in production to compensate. This price drop would come out of the wages of the people working in the sweatshop. Not only do these people work in the worst conditions, but they also are making less and less money for it. However, since the average American shopper is completely unaware of the conditions in which the people who work for sweatshops live and work every day, it is unlikely that anything will be done about it. These are the dangers of fast fashion, as there is no foreseeable future in which sweatshops are not still prevalent.
The demand for Fast Fashion alongside with the relocation of mass production outlets onto third class and undeveloped countries have impacted the livelihoods of millions of people in places like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, The Dominican Republic, Honduras, El Salvador, and other nations.
Nations that feed into the “want” mentality demand supply of products at a reasonable cost and timelines. As so famously stated by Project Runway’s own Heidi Klum “in fashion, one day you are in, and the next you’re out”. So there is always the want of having the latest in fashion to be accepted, impress, or simply to self-validate in the social spectrum.
Continuous hunger for products created an unbalanced competition where manufactures for hire must low their bids to get the coveted contract. Most corporations with clothing lines made overseas do seem to renounce all sense of responsibility or accountability by sub-contracting the orders to foreign bidders that can deliver the product on time, without taking into consideration who makes the product, who is the product made, what are the conditions in which the products are made, and where is the final product achieved. As long as the product is delivered at a low cost, said corporations will bypass the “small details”.
In developing countries, the majority of the workforce needed to sustain the clothing industry will be provided by the female portion of the population, poor and destitute, with the males acting as the overseers of the project. Women would be forced to labor in deplorable conditions for wages that amount to nothing after a long day of work.
Aside from the environmental issues that fast fashion creates as a byproduct, it also continues to operate under the premises that the female labor force has none or very limited rights to proper working conditions, wages, health benefits, or safety. Abuse, harassment, and even life threatening situations — exposure to harmful chemicals or the collapse of entire buildings —are faced these workers each day.
A woman of no education, no family support, no perceivable brighter future but making clothing she will never wear, would work for pennies a day to create something that will be sold for a markup so ridiculously high that could actually feed large families in those nations for a couple of days, if not more. The disparity between the cost of producing a garment and the profit gained after the sale continues to motivate the corporations to demand low bids for the fastest and largest outpour of products.
Sweatshops will continue to proliferate under the mantle of “retail clothing factories” as long as we continue to believe that our persona and value is determined by our outer appearance, which seems to be always challenged by the “standards of fashion” implemented by a small group of people i order to advance their own success without caring how that affects the psyche of the population at large. Brands will continue to target the most susceptible during the formative years to ensure the continuation of a cycle of supply and demand for fast fashion.
Modern fashion is a product of numerous repugnant practices. Foremost of these is the conception of fast fashion. Fast fashion is the revolving door of new styles being debuted and phased out from season to season. This is dangerous because demand for new styles is extraordinarily high and in order to meet this demand, the only way to economically afford this enterprise is to make products which are cheaply made and outsource workers who make less than a livable wage while working in dangerous conditions.
Cheaply made products almost exclusively perpetuate fast fashion cheap fashion necessitates cheap labor also. This practice is derived from the fact that what is fashionable is dictated by the bourgeoisie who hold seasonal fashion shows. Desiring to be bourgeoisie themselves, those of the lower classes seek to emulate what has been defined as desirable for that season. However, because they cannot afford the actual fashion items themselves, they must look for cheaper alternatives. The cheaper alternatives, never mind the repercussions they have on the environment, are directly what fuels sweatshops.
Sweatshops are far from a new conception. Historically, they can be traced back close to 200 years ago in places like London and New York. The word itself does not give justice to the horror of what actually occurs in these garment shops. Sweatshops should be called exactly what they are: a form of slavery. While individuals who work in these factories are not explicitly being bought and sold as property, they are being subjected to unfree labor. Unfree labor is slavery is the broader sense, which includes almost all forms of labor extortion. In the case of the workers working in clothing shops, they are being paid a wage which is does not meet subsistence or barely exceeds in.
Not only this, but sweatshops are notoriously located outside of developed nations. As a result, they are conveniently out of sight from the consumers. If the consumers don’t understand the working conditions that the people producing their clothes are subjected to, then there is little motivation for them to quit buying these clothes. Every year workers are injured or killed because how unsafe these factories are. Most notable is the 2012 Dhaka fire which happened in Bangladesh, killing over 100 people and injuring over 200 more. It is important to note that it is not just adults who work in these factories, but also children.
While many businesses have striven to institute supply chain transparency, it has yet to become mandatory. Similarly, nothing has been done to slow the cycle of fashion trends. Until these issues are resolved, human slavery in the form of sweatshops will continue to persist.
Nice name.. good work.