The tragedy of April 24, 2013 began at 9 a.m. when floors from the Rana Plaza clothing manufacturing complex located in Dhaka, Bangladesh, began to collapse. By the end of the day, 1,000 workers had lost their lives while 2,500 workers had been injured.
The Rana Plaza clothing manufacturing company produced clothing for J.C. Penny as well as other brands of clothing.
What exactly is fast fashion? Fast fashion is a business model that utilizes cheap labor and materials to produce trendy clothing for as affordable as possible.
The allure of cheap clothing from Romwe, Shein, H&M and Forever 21 is tempting, but as put by journalist Lucy Siegle, "Fast fashion isn't free. Someone, somewhere is paying." So, who exactly is paying the price for cheap and trendy fashion attire?
"93% of brands aren't paying garment workers a living wage," According to Fashion Checker 2020. Mangers force workers to do overtime work and threaten firing employees who join unions. Fast fashion violates human rights as well as the integrity of the environment. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development deems fashion to be the second most polluting industry in the world.
On average, it takes 650 gallons of water to produce one cotton T-shirt and 1,800 gallons of water to make one pair of jeans. Then, chemicals are used on clothing for dyeing and bleaching clothes, which requires freshwater mixed with synthetic chemicals. After this, the toxic water is often dumped into nearby oceans or rivers.
National Geographic reports half a million tons of plastic microfibers are annually dumped into the ocean from fast fashion companies. The United Nations reports the fashion industry is responsible for 20% of global wastewater and 10% of global carbon emissions. Although so many resources are used to make clothes, The Clean Clothes Campaign reported in 2019 that "Three out of five [60% of] fast fashion items end up in a landfill."
So, if most of our clothes end up in landfills, why not reuse the clothes we do not want anymore to be sustainable?
Cass White, a fourth-year fashion design student at the University of Cincinnati (UC), has done exactly this by creating an Instagram called @wovencandy to sell restyled clothes after being thrifted. Cass recognizes that fast fashion is hard to avoid for high school and college students but says, "It's important to make sure you're knowledgeable about who is making your clothes and how they are being treated."
Cass recommends buying staple pieces that you can wear over instead of buying several things you will never wear to have a more sustainable wardrobe. Fairtrade is another option for buying sustainable clothing while protecting workers' rights. Notable brands include Omi Woods, Two Days Off, ABLE and Trandlands.
Thrifting and buying sustainable clothing are great ways to avoid fast fashion. Other methods include borrowing clothes from your friends, giving away old clothes instead of throwing them away, not purchasing an item of clothing unless you could picture yourself wearing it frequently and restyling old clothes instead of throwing them away.
Combining the laborious amounts of underpaid hours needed to make trendy clothing as fast as possible – with the effects of water and air pollution from fast fashion – it is clear to see fast fashion comes at a high price.
Although it is sometimes more expensive and less convenient to avoid fast fashion, it is crucial to be conscious consumers. Famous fashion designer, Gianni Versace, once said, "Don't be into trends. Don't make fashion own you, but you decide what you are, what you express by the way you dress and the way you live."
How powerful to think that you can reflect who you are through the clothes that you wear, so choosing your outfit can be a powerful way to stand for the dignity of human rights and the environment.