House Of’s Blog is doing something a little different for the month of May, and to accompany our latest video on fast fashion we want to provide some supported research by our cherished staff member Emelie Harris. In the following article, Emelie researches and explains how sometimes a good deal on the clothing rack may not be depicting the true cost.
The Fashion industry is one of the largest growing industries in the world. Not only does fashionable clothing give one a sense of style and individuality but they also have been getting cheaper and easier to attain as years go by. “We communicate, to a certain extent, through our clothing. [It is] fundamentally a part of what we wish to communicate about ourselves,” says Orsola De Castro, a French Fashion Designer (The True Cost). The fashion industry has evolved into what is now known as the Fast Fashion industry, where the mass production of clothing is exploited and sold for next to nothing. In addition to the exploitation of workers in this field, fast fashion also has a negative effect on the environment. These are two massive negative results of the Fast Fashion industry which contribute to a larger problem: the global epidemic of Consumerism.
The concept of Fast Fashion has created a market where the clothes become “more affordable”, in turn attracting customers to buy more products and even bragging when they find a “great deal”. The exploitation of factories in foreign countries is the source of the clothing you would find in your average bargain fashion store like Forever 21 and H&M. According to the Apparel and Footwear Association, “[In] the world’s largest apparel market, 97.5% of clothing purchased is now imported. Whereas in 1991 it was 43.8%”. Not only does Fast Fashion exploit factory workers from other countries but it has a large negative impact on the global environment. The Fast Fashion industry only increases a consumer’s willingness to dispose of cheaper, mass produced clothing rather than the textile products that are pricier. “Fashion has changed, and it’s continuing to change because, fundamentally, people get bored quicker,” said Johnathan Anderson, a British Fashion guru (Marc Bain). The Fast Fashion industry has turned a four season year into a year that has upwards of 52 different fashion seasons (The True Cost). Ultimately the fashion industry is becoming a form of entertainment that only meets temporary style needs of consumers.
In 2007 a group of researchers from MIT, Stanford University, and Carnegie Mellon conducted a study on why we shop. The research studied the brain while subjects shopped using fMRI technology. The results showed that while the subjects shopped, the ‘pleasure center’ or the nucleus ambens in the brain lit up. This indicated that the brain released chemicals that signal happiness and satisfaction when the participant engaged in the act of shopping. The study goes on to imply that a shopper’s mindset parallels with evidence indicating that, “happiness in shopping comes from the pursuit from wanting something” (Bain).
The second half of the conducted experiment studied the brains of shoppers who were shopping bargain deals. The subjects were shown an item’s price which caused the pain receptors in the brain to be stimulated; but when the shopper was shown that the product was reduced in price the pain receptors decreased in stimulation. This aligns with what Dr. Tom Megvis, professor of business at NYU, says about a shopper’s experience, “Part of the joy you get from shopping is not just that you bought something you really like and you’re going to use, but also that you got a good deal”.
This experiment is further evidence that Fast Fashion feeds a negative neurological process: consumerism. Studies show that customers want a constant stream of up to date products in the stores they frequent (Bain). To keep the consumer interested, a company must have the latest fashion trends on the racks almost as soon as the product goes into style. This forces brands to deliver more product more quickly. “Because of the low prices, chasing trends is now a mass activity, accessible to anyone with a few bucks to spare” says Elizabeth Cline, the author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion.
The process of having a product on the shelf almost as soon as it becomes a trend is called Real Time Fashion. This concept was developed by fashion marketers around the world to describe the ‘see-now, buy-now, wear-now’ thought process that consumers experience (Cline). In addition to this, social media and social networking create more immediate access to the Real Time Fashion market that consumers now see as an expectation. For the brands to be able to meet this consumer expectation they must capitalize on mass production of textile goods.
The mass production of textile goods falls on the shoulders of companies that are willing to make large amounts of clothing, for cheap and fast. It is no secret that ethical work environments have been fought over for decades. “People want the product now, and they want it as it happens, so stores have to massively reduce their prices” says Emily Smith, the head of fashion research at Stylus. Big businesses bargain for cheaper products in larger quantities which forces the distributers to make the clothes for cheaper or ultimately lose business.
The Fast Fashion industry is one of the largest contributors of negligence in the workplace, capitalizing on cheap production by ignoring labor laws globally. These big businesses are known for cutting corners to make the business work rather than acknowledging workers needs and compensating them for their work. This creates a “trickle down” effect leaving factory workers in unworkable conditions. “[Fast Fashion] is moving ruthlessly towards a way of producing, which only really looks after big business interest” says Orsola De Castro, who is featured in the documentary The True Cost. The risks that are taken in factories across the world to make tons upon tons of cheap clothing while still turning a profit, make the workers the vulnerable party.
The True Cost gives a detailed example of a factory that collapsed in Bangladesh because of the neglected safety precautions. The workers in the factory had notified management of cracks in the walls and the unstable foundation of the building but rather than taking care of the problem they used violence to scare the workers into silence. There were many anonymous accounts that testified that the management beat them when they did not cooperate or stick to their work (The True Cost). One factory owner, who recalls the incident, described the poor management as, “ignoring other people’s life. Low wages, bad conditions are all excused to turn a profit” (The True Cost). The poor working conditions that were ignored led to the collapse of the factory which resulted in hundreds of casualties. The neglect that has resulted from businesses like these cutting corners has left workers unpaid a living wage, and forced to work in physically and mentally dangerous working conditions. The social injustices that stem from this lack of accountability results in people losing their human rights.
The Fast Fashion culture that consumerism has created is a huge contributor to the damage that textile waste has on the environment. “Disposable clothing is damaging to the environment and economy” says Cline. In 2014 the average household spent $1,786 on apparel related services alone (Yun Tan). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, apparel services increased by a little over 11% in the 2013-2014 calendar year and 4% in the 2014-2015 calendar year. The more styles produced by these Fast Fashion retailers leads to more purchases, but it is often the case that people forget that more purchases lead to more waste. In 2013 the United States alone generated 15 million tons of textile waste, and 13 million tons of that was discarded clothing (Yun Tan). In addition to this, it was estimated by the Council for Textile Recycling that Americans throw away 70 pounds of clothing per year. “It is very damaging to the environment, this fast fashion culture, and it also effects the second-hand market because these clothes aren’t meant for being used for so long,” says Adam Baruchowitz, founder of Wearable Collection a clothing company that recycles old clothing and textiles in New York. The cheaply made clothing that comes from the Fast Fashion industry leaves companies like Wearable Collection unable to find a way to recycle the clothing for further use. The outcome of this leads to unwanted clothing piling up in landfills across the world rather than being cycled back into the market.
Companies like Wearable Collection have made strides to implement recycling programs and rewards programs as a way for customers to bring back their unwanted clothing. A survey done on American women found that, on average, women own $550 of unworn clothing (Bain). These statistics and many similar have encouraged companies to create ways for customers to bring back the unwanted clothing to be recycled as a way to work towards being environmentally friendly. Because of these recycling programs, companies are more aware of what material is used and how the clothing is constructed. This makes for better quality, and potentially biodegradable clothing. Another benefit that companies have seen from putting recycling programs in place is that it gets the customer back in the store. Not only are the customers returning merchandise to the store which puts money back in the company’s pocket, but they have made room for what they could buy upon returning.
Ultimately the Fast Fashion industry is contributing to a greater problem. From the neurological process of shopping to the increasing fashion season and decreasing prices, big business is capitalizing on consumerism. According to the Urban Land Institution report “Half of men and 70% of women consider shopping a form of entertainment”. Research has shown that shopping has now become more than just a transactional process but a way for the consumer to research brands and entertain themselves. Big Businesses capitalize on this by monitoring customer purchase patterns, replenishing stock, and producing the trendiest goods in the fastest ways possible without considering the negative consequences. “Give ‘em what they never knew they wanted” says the editor of Vogue Diana Vreeland. This is the kind of thinking that only encourages consumerism and although many apparel businesses are looking into recycling programs and ways to encourage conscious consuming the social and environmental injustices that stem from this Fast Fashion industry outweigh those strides. The first step to making positive changes in this industry is to bring light to these injustices.
Video production by Andrea Schollnick, Research and Article by Emelie Harris, and Editorial Work by Elizabeth Stewart.
“America's Favorite Foreign Retailers.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 24 Mar. 2009, www.forbes.com/2009/03/24/foreign-retailer-favorites-lifestyle-style-foreign-retailer.html. Accessed 21 Apr. 2017.
Bain, Marc. “2015 Is the Year That Upended the Fashion Business.” Quartz, Quartz, 16 Dec. 2015, qz.com/571152/2015-is-the-year-that-upended-the-fashion-business/. Accessed 21 Apr. 2017.
Bain, Marc. “Consumer Culture Has Found Its Perfect Match in Our Mobile-First, Fast-Fashion Lifestyles.” Quartz, Quartz, 21 Mar. 2015, qz.com/359040/the-internet-and-cheap-clothes-have-made-us-sport-shoppers/. Accessed 21 Apr. 2017.
Cardella, Avis. “Attention, Shoppers.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 9 Feb. 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/02/10/books/review/overdressed-by-elizabeth-l-cline.html. Accessed 21 Apr. 2017.
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Knutson, Brian, et al. “Neural Predictors of Purchases.” Neuron, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 4 Jan. 2007, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1876732. Accessed 21 Apr. 2017.
Tan, Zhai Yun. “What Happens When Fashion Becomes Fast, Disposable And Cheap?” NPR, NPR, 10 Apr. 2016, www.npr.org/2016/04/08/473513620/what-happens-when-fashion-becomes-fast-disposable-and-cheap. Accessed 21 Apr. 2017.