Fast Fashion: The Sale That Costs Much More

Diya Jain ‘23

Browsing and buying has become more a pastime than an act of necessity over the past decade. People no longer hit the stores solely because they “need” something; instead, they wander racks aimlessly, and end up with a cart-full of items they never knew they wanted. Whether the spending is responsible, or the person’s fallen into a splurging obsession, the thrill that comes with deal-seeking has never diminished. Mad rushes to the back of the store, people lined up for the biggest sale, coupons whipped out by the dozens at the register— all of these shopping crazes have escalated as millenials on tighter budgets become more interested in shopping as a hobby. And what better way to experience the immediate gratification that comes with a good deal than through fast fashion?

Cheap paper banners screaming “CLEARANCE” in large red bubble letters have proved enough to draw people down from the aisles of luxury-brand stores, where one item could cost more than three at their fast fashion counterpart. With its low prices and large variety, these retailers are a dream come true for people looking to get the latest fashions on a budget. But closer inspection reveals the lack of ethicality in their business practices, raising the question of whether all of these sales are worth the cost, after all.


The term fast fashion refers to the quick production of inexpensive clothing and accessories to meet current demands and trends. H&M, a well-known international clothing brand, effectively embodies this idea through their business model. With constant store-wide sales and its vast variety of “in” clothing tailored towards the younger generation, it has bought into the new influx of shoppers hunting for the coolest clothes at the lowest prices. But in 2016 and 2017, The Guardian reported findings that the company was violating manufacturing practices by buying and selling products made by children as young as fourteen working in factories in Myanmar, one of the most impoverished nations in Southeast Asia [1]. According to the report, these children, many of them young girls, worked excessively long hours for next to no pay in egregious conditions in order to produce the clothing H&M sold and profited off of. Their toiling was not only inhumanely grueling, but remained uncompensated.


In response to the allegations, the company released a statement about how they prioritized the ethical treatment of all of their workers. However, they also denied responsibility for what had been proven to be happening in Myanmar, claiming that “When 14– to 18-year-olds are working it is therefore not a case of child labour, according to international labour laws. ILO instead stresses the importance of not excluding this age group from work in Myanmar.” Critics argue that the company exploited the turmoil of the nation, knowing that the that government inspection into labor practices wasn’t well enforced and that at the time the minimum wage was at a meager Kyat 3,600 (US$2.65). However,  in a 2018 article from the DW analyzing how a number of child sweatshop labor scandals have rocked the company’s profits, investigations by Swedish journalists “found that the children were being paid as little as 15 cents an hour, which is less than half the minimum wage” [2].


Following this, various other fast fashion companies faced investigations into the ethicality of their business practices and mass clothing production to sell at low prices, including shopping mall staple Forever 21. Zara, too, has seen its fair share of controversy, the most prominent of which was sparked after fifteen sweatshop workers producing products for the company in Brazil had to be rescued from their life-threatening employment conditions. Following this, the Brazilian government quickly slammed Zara’s parent company, Intidex, with a staggering fifty-two legal charges [3].


Such findings have drawn the attention of various media outlets and encouraged many loyal shoppers to sever their ties with such brands and move to more reliable retailers. However, many opt to ignore this corporate malpractice and the human rights violations it proliferates, and continue to enjoy the trendy and budget-friendly options offered at fast fashion stores. It all comes down to the individual choices people make for themselves. For now, it’s safe to predict that sales will continue to attract customers far and wide, showing a price tag much lower than the prices paid across the world.




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