The real cost of affordable clothing

By Cole Cahill

Assoc. Feature Editor

Corporate fashion has a frightening dark side, like any other major industry. It’s not uncommon to see news headlines and Facebook posts showing the corrupt practices that go into making our clothes, but the issue continues to go ignored. However, many do not realize that the root of this problem is the industry’s rapidly changing trends and the impossible rates at which clothes are expected to be produced.

Inexpensive clothes come at a dramatically higher cost than poorer quality: the fast-paced nature of changing trends is detrimental to the environment and supports unethical working conditions.

The lifespan of fashion trends has become shorter than ever. Society’s tastes change faster than designers and manufacturers can keep up, so ethics and precautions are thrown aside to keep prices low.

Overseas labor conditions created by the corporate fashion industry are appalling. There are over 246 million child workers worldwide, most of whom work in the fashion industry. In Bangladesh, over 3.5 million garment factory workers face 16-hour workdays in physically unsafe and potentially abusive conditions. Circumstances are similar in factories in other Asian countries like China, Cambodia, and Pakistan. The majority of Zara, H&M, Forever 21, and other fast fashion retailers’ products are manufactured in these sweatshops. This is a direct result of the companies’ desires to satiate the constantly-changing appetites of consumers.

Equally as horrific are the environmental repercussions of fast fashion culture. Fashion magnate Eileen Fisher stated that her industry was second only to big oil in negative impact on the planet. Cotton agriculture alone leaves an enormous footprint, using more pesticides than does any other plant (25% of all insecticides).

Additionally, five thousand gallons of water are expended to make just one shirt and a pair of jeans. Chemicals in dyes can be very harmful, and thirteen million tons of textiles are thrown away each year, with each pound emitting more than seven pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Supporting companies that promote these practices enables them to continue to abuse their power. Although it may initially be more expensive to buy higher quality clothes, the longer lifespan is ultimately worth more than buying a new Forever 21 sweater every fall.

People can do their part to combat this industry, but the real solution to the problem lies within the companies themselves. The unfortunate truth is, when given the choice between a high quality $35 shirt, or a substandard, flimsier $10 shirt, most Americans do not have the luxury of choosing the former. It is the responsibility of stores to participate in more ethical business practices and donate excess clothes so their products can be bought for lower prices.

Consumers need to stop and think when they see a great buy at H&M or Zara. It’s becoming increasingly easy to distance ourselves from the labor and resources that developed the clothes we wear–but until we recognize the true cost of fast fashion, unethical production methods will continue to go unchecked.