Ethical clothing brands offer alternative to fast fashion craze

Originally published by the Augustana Mirror on November 17, 2016 

Imagine the scene at stores like H&M and Forever 21 on Black Friday. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of people huddle around the entrance to the popular clothing stores waiting to find the ultimate deal on this season’s trendiest pieces of clothing.

The clock strikes, the doors open and crowds of eager shoppers rush into the cramped space to duke it out amidst the racks. Screams of victory are heard as those lucky enough to be at the front find what they came for, and then some.

Now contrast that scene to one half a world away in Bangladesh or Cambodia. Crowds line up here, too. But instead of prepping for an epic day of early morning shopping, they congregate for 12-hour workdays in textile factories. Instead of screams of undulation there are cries of fatigue, of defeat.

This is the true cost of fast fashion, and it’s taking a toll much bigger than any Black Friday shopping spree.

Fast fashion is a term which describes the growing global industry of trendy, cheap clothing. The “it” fall jacket that won’t set you back more than 30 bucks. Heels in the latest color that don’t break the bank. You can find these must-have items in stores for maybe three weeks, and then they’re gone, only to be replaced by the newest trends of the season. It’s fast, it’s easy and it makes a lot of money.

But what about the other side of the story? How are these items of clothing produced so fast, and where do they go when they’re off the shelves?

Let’s go back to Bangladesh, where in 2013 a garment factory collapse in Dhaka killed over 1,000 people and injured more than 2,000. Let’s visit the landfills where tons upon tons of rotting clothing serve as a backdrop to factory workers demanding a living wage for their labor.

I’m not writing this to guilt-trip you into never again setting foot in a Forever 21, or to swear off shopping altogether. I’m just as guilty as you are. Instead, I’m writing to make you more aware of what the fast fashion industry is doing to people around the world, and to tell you that there are options that don’t demean workers—alternatives that lift people up rather than degrade them.

I’m talking about are socially conscious clothing brands, fashion that doesn’t compromise when it comes to ethical practices throughout the production process.

And they’re not as hard to find as you might think.

Outdoor wear company Patagonia prides itself on being both environmentally friendly and corporately responsible, New Balance is working to remedy supply chain issues across the globe and even high-end fashion brands like Stella McCartney are getting in on the action through sustainable choices like not using leather or fur in their clothing.

In the three years since the Dhaka garment factory disaster, consumers, governments and even the fashion industry itself has begun to take notice. H&M, one of the biggest instigators of the fast fashion craze, has started their own Conscious Exclusive collection with garments made of hemp and organic linen and leather  to combat the damage wrought by overproducing synthetic fabrics.

Other brands like Clothe Your Neighbor merge sustainability with philanthropy, donating proceeds to outfit homeless people for job interviews, providing wigs for women going through chemotherapy and delivering diapers and backpacks to poverty-stricken families in the U.S.

But making socially conscious fashion choices can be even easier than seeking out specific brands known for these practices. By doing a little research into a brand or store’s supply chain philosophy on its website, it’s pretty easy to discover if a company lives up to ethical standards or still has some work to do.

Though we as a society are still a far cry from eradicating the problems of the fast fashion craze, socially conscious fashion brands are raising awareness about the harm we’ve enacted through our got-to-have-it-now shopping mentality. If we keep our minds open, expand our options and do the research, maybe those scenes of Black Friday madness and Bangladeshi pain will become a memory—not a recurring reality.

Compassion, awareness and honesty are always in fashion.

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