Fast Fashion and the Myth of Ethical Clothes

Here is yet another article on the near impossibility of purchasing “ethical clothes.”


An excerpt from the article:

We buy more clothes now, move through trends faster. In the olden days—the early ‘90s—brands produced two to four fashion cycles per year, big orders coordinated by season, planned months in advance. These days, there’s no such thing as cycles, only products. If a shirt is selling well, Wal-Mart orders its suppliers to make more. If headbands inexplicably come into fashion, H&M rushes to make millions of them before they go out again.

This flexibility means that factories have to compete on the number of clothing lines they can produce and how quickly they can switch from one to another. Chinese manufacturers that once made four products at a time now make 300. Locke profiles a Honduran supplier that used to have around two months to prepare orders for Western brands—buy fabric, cut T-shirt shapes out of it, sew them together, send them to stores. Now they get one week.

In the fast-fashion era, Western brands can’t afford the luxury of working with the same suppliers and ensuring that they meet the company’s standards. And so, rather than manage a giant, respirating network of factories themselves, most of them have outsourced this coordination to megasuppliers: huge conglomerates that can take a design sketch, split the production between thousands of factories, box up the goods and ship them to stores in less time than they’ll stay in style.


In the end the article suggests that the only way to fix this is political will and changes in laws both in the countries that manufacture clothing and those import those clothes.  Boycotts by consumers only results in superficial changes – if we want real change we need to look to international agreements and political will to uphold international labour rights.

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