Stitched In: How Racist Chains are Perpetuated in the Fashion Industry
I was scrolling through my Twitter feed today, and read a tweet that said something along the lines of “I low-key feel like we’re all casually living through the apocalypse.” The horrifying truth is that the statement doesn’t feel like hyperbole, especially as I think about the disruption that has been these past few months. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Oluwatoyin Salau, and a list of other Black Americans too long, have lost their lives. Daily reported updates on Covid-19 cases in the United States continues to break records. International students are being forced to choose between the dangers of in-person classes or deportation and the President persists in talking about how well the economy is doing.
These events, seemingly independent from each other, and the intensity in which people are speaking out against them have stemmed from the centuries-old battle against interconnected systemic racism and economic oppression. Our society is strategically designed to deny resources to black and brown communities so they have no choice but to survive off the institutions that are responsible for their oppression. Fast fashion is no exception.
I was talking to my mom about this, and mid-conversation she told me to backtrack and explain what fast fashion is. I think this is where the conversation needs to start. Many consumers have heard of underpaid workers in factories around the world forced to endure dangerous conditions in the name of quick and easy production of goods, but there’s a disconnect and lack of understanding about where exactly this evil resides. Who is benefiting? It's what causes people to unknowingly contribute to the cycle; it allows companies like SHEIN, Forever 21, and H&M to thrive.
Fast fashion is the use of cheap and environmentally fatal materials to create clothing that reflects the latest trends and can be easily tossed aside to make room for the next batch. Companies are outsourcing their products from other countries, which is why you often find that clothes are not made in the United States, relying on the work of countless people of color, the majority of which are women. Cheap labor equals higher profits, which is very attractive to those who are outsourcing, so workers often earn unlivable wages. With little to no opportunities for advancement and the need to survive, they are forced to hold these positions and work for people who care nothing about them or their livelihoods. Sound familiar? While fast fashion brands can conveniently say they aren’t directly causing the harm, their business models are selfishly dependent on the oppression of communities still working through the lasting effects of colonialism.
Now it’s not financially or logically feasible to say we will never shop at places that partake in fast fashion practices because no mainstream, box brand is without sin. Many brands have advertisement campaigns to prove allegiance to progressive movements, but the question remains whether or not these actions are genuine or performative. Are they actually moved to perpetuate awareness and education or is it just the “trendy” thing to do? I want to point out that we (collectively) are the reason why massive, international apparel companies have sustainability tabs on their websites now. Small steps in the right direction like this one perhaps could/should be celebrated. Perhaps it’s proof of the impact a collective voice can have on at least corporate public positions. However, the tab is there not because they have always genuinely cared about their environmental impact, but because they are taking note that we (consumers) are changing the way we shop. These corporations are also banking that consumers won’t take the time to hold them accountable for the “activism” their baby steps insinuates that they will truly honor.
We can’t be complacent when they try to play us. We will no longer be satisfied with a slow walk to overdue change. Instead, let’s do our own research, let’s talk to our fashion forward friends who are familiar with the best options, and let’s spend more time learning about hard truths. Then, when we have more information, let’s be consistent about demanding more. We have the power to push for equality and to drive reforms in sustainability. We must show each company we shop with that our business is dependent on transparent proof of REAL change.
Written By: Cassandra Lopez