I recently watched The True Cost of Fast Fashion, a powerful documentary about the production of cheap fashion clothes and the exploitation of workers in countries such as India, Bangladesh, China and Thailand. Such countries offer little-to-no workers unions, few laws to force bosses to provide safe working conditions and a low average income, which is exploited by many high street fashion brands.
The current trend for low cost, ‘throwaway’ clothing puts businesses under even more pressure, requiring¬†cheaper costs and faster delivery. These pressures are passed down onto the workers. As this documentary notes, the workers in this industry are mostly women and girls, who can be paid less than a man for the same work, and who more traditionally develop skills such as sewing. The shopping habits of girls across the world who buy into the cheap clothes of fast fashion therefore directly affect the lives of the women making them.
Companies such as Nike employ girls and women, paying them the low average wage of the country and expecting them to work in substandard conditions, yet they have recently released their ‘Girl Effect Campaign‘. As consumers, we need to be more aware of the realities of fashion production and the ways in which the brands we buy make their clothes. In order to address these inequalities, businesses cannot just offer the women and girls they employ the local wage and conditions, but should use their influence to make life better.
Navtej Purewal works at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Her research focuses on the larger number of male children in India and Pakistan and the continued economic inequality that many women suffer. She suggests that changes in the issues faced by women and girls cannot come merely from legal and money based campaigns, but rather by addressing the issues of gender in Indian and Pakistani culture. India has adopted many gender equality projects, but these only touch the surface of the deeper problem: that girls are seen as less useful to the family than boys. Girls in India and Pakistan represent a powerless work force, particularly in the production of clothes, and can be exploited more easily than men as they traditional receive lower wages and fewer workers rights. The fast fashion industry therefore traps women and girls in a cycle of poverty and exploitation.
When we think of the difficulties faced by some girls across the world, it seems beyond our individual powers to help them. But you can do so much. By thinking about what you buy in the shops, where it has come from, buying things to last and questioning where the product was made and who might get the money, you can make a small but important difference to a massive problem. By supporting ethical shops and fashion brands, you can support change in one of the most polluting and exploitative global businesses.
The first thing you can do is watch The True Cost of Fast Fashion, free to view on Netflix.
Then check out some ethical brands online, starting here.
Your clothes are made by someone: most probably another girl. By being careful about what you buy, you might just make a difference to her life and to her future.
Girl Museum Inc.