The Fast Fashion Industry Doesn't Want You to Know About These Things

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CC BY 2.0. Mike Mozart

The industry's ridiculous greenwashing campaigns distract from the other nasty truths about what's going on behind the production scenes.

The fast fashion industry tries hard to make shoppers believe that it’s sustainable, spending loads of money on massive PR campaigns to showcase green efforts and launch new ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ lines of clothing. This, however, is an impossible claim because the consumerism and rate of production required for fast fashion to be viable is too great and intrinsically unsustainable. Any claims to the contrary are mere greenwashing.

The fashion industry, however, has many reasons to hide behind its PR campaigns and redirect consumer focus toward green efforts, whether useless or not. There are so many other, nasty things going on behind the scenes that greenwashing at least serves as a distraction. The Huffington Post recently posted a list of “5 Truths the Fashion Industry doesn’t want you to know,” all of which are deeply disturbing (and yet not surprising) facts about the sketchy production methods behind those trendy-looking clothes on the mannequins at stores such as Zara, H&M;, Forever 21, Topshop, TJ Maxx, and J.Crew, among countless others.

I’ll share 3 of the five ‘truths’ that particularly resonated with me, but I urge you to take a look at the original article, written by Shannon Whitehead, which is very informative.

1. Fast fashion clothes are full of toxic chemicals, including lead.

A number of retailers have signed agreements to reduce the amounts of heavy metals in their clothes, but they haven’t followed through. Many chains continue to sell lead-contaminated purses, shoes, and belts that are well above the legal limit.

I’ll add that Greenpeace has done a fair amount of work in this area, launching a campaign last winter called “Little Monsters,” a phrase that describes the vile chemical remnants clinging to new clothes long after they’ve left the factories. The effect that these chemicals can have on wearers, particularly children, is serious.

Greenpeace tested 12 major clothing brands (a total of 82 children’s textile products), including companies such as American Apparel, Disney, Adidas, Burberry, Primark, GAP, Puma, C&A; and Nike. Every brand contained toxic chemicals – perfluorated chemicals (PFCs), phthalates, nonylphenol, nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE), and cadmium.

2. Beading and sequins indicate child labour.

A large number of overseas-produced clothes are made out of factories in people’s homes, where homeworkers living in single-room slum dwellings with their families struggle to complete as many pieces as they can. Often children help their parents to do the intricate beadwork, perhaps because their little fingers are nimble, but also because the more pieces finished, the more money will come in.

Apparently the machines that can do this sort of work are extremely expensive and must be purchased by the garment factory, which is unlikely if cheaper hand labour is available.

3. The fashion industry wants you to feel “out of trend” immediately.

With designers creating new styles and flooding stores with new products on a daily or weekly basis, it’s impossible to keep up. No shopper will ever feel that she or he has ‘found’ that timeless style because it changes so fast.

The fast fashion business model is built on selling high volume of cheap products that are marginally marked up, meaning that stores have to sell a lot in order to profit, so they’ll do anything to keep people buying. Perpetuating a constant sense of dissatisfaction with the level of one’s trendiness is a model that’s shown to work.

It’s best to stay away. Shop second-hand, buy new from privately owned clothing stores or designer boutiques, buy fewer and higher quality items, or rework undesirable/unfashionable pieces if you’re handy with a sewing machine. There are plenty of alternatives out there, as long as you’re willing to turn away from the addictive ease of fast fashion shopping.