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The Price of Fashion

  

We all dress in  certain ways to make a statement about ourselves. Our fashion style tells others a little bit about us and the way we live. It’s interesting how few details in the clothes call convey so much about the people we interact with-  clean or dirty shoes, leather or denim jackets, new or old garments, fabric textures and mixed colors items that give us the final look and.. Either you make  or break it! 

When it comes to buying new garments, we understandably love affordable clothing. Sales, especially from our favorite expensive brands, feel like hitting the jackpot. Sometimes prices are not very kind to our wallets, so we wait for the  seasonal discounts to pop up, then hurry to our favorite store department or boutique and purchase that dress, hat, jeans or sweater that we’ve been longing to get from the last time we went window shopping.

Besides loving the act of buying and experiencing the great satisfaction of getting a new product that was cheaper than the original price and after the rush emotions provoked by the hurry went through to get the item before it ran out, we chill and wait for the next day or several days to use it for the first time. 

After all our excitement perhaps we sit and reflect on what we just purchased, because this too too has meaning. It is not only about how the garment looks or questioning the materialistism attitudes or questioning ourselves -did I really need to buy this jacket? Should I have saved the money? It is deeper than that. Do we really know who was involved in the process of making all that clothes that we  have in your closet?…it’s more complicated than we think. 

As the saying goes, ignorance is bliss. We live in the era of globalization and the fashion industry has changed. The internet started to work for the masses (1990’s). Now any person living in Cape Town, Madagascar, Argentina, Thailand or Norway can have the same item brand, being exactly identical the model and the color.  

Welcome to the era of fast fashion! The trending clothes that you buy will be disposable and out of trend within the next six months. This is how the economy works. You buy stuff to feed the economy and make it grow. But the act of buying wasn’t nearly as popular as it was in the XXI Century, nowadays purchasing has become a lifestyle itself. As the saying goes –Tell me what you buy and I’ll tell you who you are

   Back in 1932,  American business started to embrace the “Creative waste”— throwing things away and buying new ones would help to grow a stronger economy. ) By the mid-1950s, the average length of car ownership had dropped from five years in 1934 down to just two(Gershon, 2017).  The majority of the products that you buy are programmed to die (stop working) within a specific time frame, also called “Programmed obsolescence”. Sooner that you think, you will be needing or wanting to buy more clothes, even more if you are a big fashionista, just the way you need the electronic device that is no longer working as fast and efficiently as before

   With buying should comes responsibility and you need to inform yourself to know what you are paying for and who was behind  it.  It is not just about spending your money, but looking for the real price of your clothes, and of that, generally we don’t know much about. We ignore facts that cause suffering to thousands of textile workers around the world.

  In his excellent research, later published as a book: Guía para vestir sin Trabajo Esclavo the spanish researcher Albert Sales I Campos mentions how since 1970’s fashion companies  like Zara, H&M, Pull & Bear, Nike, C&A, Benetton, Levis, Diesel, Lee, Calvin Klein, Mango, Tommy Hilfiger and many others have decentralized its production and gone to countries where the textile production is cheaper, such countries are South Korea, Singapur, Tunez, Hong Kong and Taiwan. According to Sales I Campos,  in the 1980’s they expanded to Bangladesh, Central America, Mexico,  Sri Lanka, The Philippines and Indonesia  and in the 1990’s they installed new textile factories in Laos, Uganda, Cambodia, Kenya, Tanzania and Birmania.  All of the countries mentioned have something in common: they are hugely indebted with the World Bank (WB) and International Monetary Fund (FMI), two institutions that have imposed economic adjustments forcing them to increase their exports (as an economical measurement) and reduce their debt. Consequently, these countries end up accepting unfair deals from foreing companies to compensate and pay their debts. 

  The population of these countries suffer the terrible consecuences: Human slavery.  Evendogh slavery was officially abolished in 1794 short  after the french revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen; in XXI Century modern slavery prevales. Within the textile workers an estimated 80% of the persons that work in the textile factories are women, their working conditions are insecure and longer than 48 hours.

  Back in 2010 a technique called  sandblasting, based on applying sand and water to the fabric with a very high pressure to wear away the denim and make drawings and forms over it. This procedure caused irreparable respiratory diseases to the textile workers, who didn’t have  the right equipment and protection, causing them silicosis, a common sickness in the mining industry. More than 5000 thousand cases were documented in Turkey until it’s prohibition,  resulting  from the pressure made by the local NGOs and international organisations. 

Child exploitation within the textile factories is another issue in countries like China, India, Turkey, Pakistan and Marruecos. In India a common custom called Sumangali (Laudes Foundation, 2020), consists in hiring young women  (mainly underage) to work within the industry.  After 3  years, with some money saved  the girls put it as a dowry that ensures them a “good marriage”. The tradition/custom outcome is that these women end up working extra hours to get enough money to live and save for their future marriage. These girls earn less than the minimum wage established by the state and work in unsecure textile factory buildings without the proper protection needed.

Another challenge to solve these issues comes with the workers unions.  In most of the countries mentioned a workers gathering is illegal for the potential trouble they could represent to the State authorities. In countries such as Mexico it is allowed by law to create  workers unions to balance out the power acquired by the big private and international companies, but in most cases the unions are corrupted. The leaders end up working for private interests. Sadly the outcome is more of the same: perpetuating a modern slavery system, more sofisticated, subtle, sneaky and harder to legislate.

That’s why it is utterly relevant that we, the citizens as responsible consumers, educate ourselves about the brands we buy and how they work in the international market. We need to question their working  values when it comes to respect and protect the human rights of all the people involved in the clothing production.  

“Cloth means more than style, comfort, coolness or luxury, it means social awareness to all the people who are committed to make a change”.  

There are many simple strategies that you can take to check if your favorite brands aren’t doing something to prevent or address the textile industry challenges. Next time you visit a brand website check their Code of Ethics, Legal Statements and Movements that they may be part of. If they don’t take action, stop buying them! Look for better options out there – Perhaps you can look up for local designers with affordable prices, support them  and help them to grow. You would be contributing to your national economy too! A super plus!

Spend some time knowing more about the brands than admiring the lovely  seasonal designs. It  is not easy for the companies to have the cleanest records, but the concern and engagement for clearing all the pitfalls that come within the industry shows the social commitment acquired by them to improve the conditions of all the people involved in the production of the clothes you wear.  

If you liked the article, please share it with your loved ones and let us help to grow social awareness over human rights issues. We are @humansforhumans. 

Visit our website humansfor.org and check our social media platforms. Join our human revolution!

Bibliography

Gershon, L. (2017, April 10). The Birth of Planned Obsolescence. JSTOR Daily. Retrieved February 3, 2021, from https://daily.jstor.org/the-birth-of-planned-obsolescence/

Laudes Foundation. (2020, November 17). Fighting the Sumangali scheme. LaudesFoundation.org. Retrieved February 8, 2021, from https://www.laudesfoundation.org/learning/lesson-notes/sumangali-scheme-textile-industry-india

Sales, A. (2013). Guía para vestir sin Trabajo Esclavo (Primera edición ed., Vol. 1). Setem. 978-84-9888-508-8

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