Democratization of Fashion
Originally published March 2, 2011
The democratization of fashion brought us many benefits and drawbacks. The benefits were amazing; cheap and fast fashion that allowed everybody to look like they just stepped off the runway. Brands like H&M, Zara and Topshop exploded globally bringing about many great innovations in supply-chain management, distribution and of course fast fashion at prices nobody could say no to.
This could not have been achieved without globalization. Off-shore manufacturing allowed for considerably cheaper production of apparel goods which in the beginning was seemingly beneficial for both parties. Fashion was the first to industry to move into developing nations to help stimulate local economies. The thing about apparel production is it cannot be mechanized, so it is constantly in need of cheap perpetual labour.
This has its benefits and drawbacks to these developing nations. Yes it provides many woman with a skill and a paycheck but at what price? Labour laws, occupational health & safety and environmental due diligence are not a priority, in fact they barely register on the radar. We reap the rewards of cheap fast fashion and are shielded from the actual devastating effects of this industry.
A quick rundown of the drawbacks. Dyes, special treatments (enzyme washes, acid wash, etc.), bleaching, finishes (crease resistance uses formaldehyde), scouring, spinning and printing all use harmful toxic chemicals. Chemicals that are carcinogens and can affect both the workers and us. Water use is extremely high in these processes not to mention the water we use for laundering. It is also energy intensive and uses unsustainable resources such as oil for synthetic material production. I could spend days go into the problems, but I'll pace myself here.
"Not in my backyard!" I love this phrase because it just goes to show how entitled we feel here in developed nations. If we had to actually take these jobs and live next to the toxic rivers gleaming fluorescence in new hues daily, we might just reconsider our penchant for fast fashion.
Devils advocate: We work hard for our money, we didn't create this industry and aren't responsible for how it evolved. We have no control over what happens half-way across the world and are helping the economies of the developing world, look at what China has achieved. It feels so good to be able to afford the latest fashions and who doesn't love fashion. It's fun and an expression of one's self.
I don't think anybody could have anticipated that the industry would evolve the way it did, but it has and now we should deal with the consequences as if they are in our own backyard.