Lights and cameras have turned to the catwalk as fashion week sets up camp in some of the most renowned cities in the world. Fashion is no doubt a medium of art and self-expression. However, in a world obsessed with beauty, fashion can be horrifyingly ugly.
People pile up in New York, London, Paris and Milan to the see winter and spring must-haves. However, few take a flight with the same enthusiasm to China, Vietnam or Bangladesh where thousands produce cheap clothes at low wages to provide for the demand of fast fashion. While glamorous models pose for the cameras, the exploitation of children and women in poorer countries is kept behind closed doors. As consumers acquire and toss out clothes every season, textile waste accumulates or is burnt, releasing toxins into the air. Fashion has become an environmental issue and a human rights issue.
The collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh in 2013 caused the deaths of 1,138 people, eradicating their dreams and stories. Most of them were women and many were children. As Labour Behind the Label points out, 80 percent of garment workers are women who work under poor conditions and for minimal pay. Josephine Moulds writes in The Guardian, “Child labour is a particular issue for fashion because much of the supply chain requires low-skilled labour and some tasks are even better suited to children than adults. In cotton picking, employers prefer to hire children for their small fingers which do not damage the crop.” But of course, any similarity this description has to slavery must be a mere coincidence, right? No. These exploitative practices resemble slavery. The carbon footprint of factories, the incrementing use of water and pesticides in cotton farming, the dyes that pollute rivers and the excessive waste of clothing items that may end up damaging developing countries — these are all consequences of fast fashion. If we want to protect our own planet, it is important that we advocate for clean practices for producing clothes.
It is convenient to point fingers at people in the history books, and it’s ironic and easy for us to discuss the horrors of 19th century slavery over coffee. It is a bit harder to recognize how we benefit at the expense of others’ exploitations and how our consumption rates foster modern-day slavery. Students are in a time where self-expression is vital, projection is key and what they wear is important. Fashion is incredible, but it’s time we start holding it to higher standards. It is time we take a slower and more conscious approach to beauty. By buying second-hand clothes, supporting locally produced items and sharing clothes among friends and family, we can create a community experience out of our individuality. It is also our responsibility as consumers to demand fair wages for the people behind the glamor and environmental standards from the clothing industry. Let’s make fashion pretty in every stage of production.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
A version of this appeared in the Monday, Feb. 26 print edition. Email Ignangeli Salinas-Muñiz at [email protected].