We'll be the first to admit that we've been blinded by a good deal. Whether it's at H&M, Zara or Forever 21, it's hard not to love ridiculously low prices for super on-trend pieces that are likely to fade almost immediately, but at what human cost? On Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, he explains the many, many implications of swiping up a seemingly-harmless $22 skirt from the Gap.
Even though outsourced labor has been a problem for the past 20 or so years, we still haven't solved the fast fashion dilemma–in fact, it's getting worse.
First off, we buy clothes. Lots of 'em.
In 2013, Americans purchased 64 items per person, and when a piece of clothing can go from a sketch to the rack in as little as three weeks, that makes total sense. H&M CEO Karl-Johan Persson said, "We have new garments coming into the stores almost every day, so if you go to an H&M store today and come back two days later, you will always find something new." Also, we want to be on trend, so we're willing to spend the money to do so.
...Which makes these dudes loads of money.
Betcha didn't know the chairman of H&M, Stefan Persson, is the 28th richest person in the world. Oh, and the co-founder of Zara, Amancio Ortega? He's the 4th richest person.
But the only way to turn a profit on such cheap items is by making it in large volumes overseas.
Today, only 2% of the clothing we wear is made in the United States.
Over the past 20 years, it became clear some of these factories are actually sweatshops–oftentimes filled with underage children.
In one instance, Gap was called out for using "predominately teenage girls, some as young as 15" to work 18-hour shifts.
So, the clothing companies tried to fix the problem.
Gap agreed to start doing "independent monitoring" to make sure working conditions were better and planned to improve age verification requirements.
But as recently as 2007, news outlets discovered even more children working in sweatshop conditions.
Just when we thought the problem was over, a British newspaper uncovered children ages 10 to 13 working in sweatshop-like conditions for Gap Kids clothing in India. Gap was reportedly unaware this was happening.
Many factories being monitored by the U.S. are now subcontracting the work to unapproved factories.
Basically, this means that the factories Gap approved to make their clothing was outsourcing the work to unapproved sweatshops, unbeknownst to them. Gap was, again, reportedly shocked by this discovery and made an effort to make "significant improvements to the oversight of its contractors."
Even though big box stores know about these working conditions, they still continue to operate.
The outsourcing of labor creates unmonitored working conditions which needs to be addressed. Also, if a clothing brand continues to make factory errors time and time again, that should no longer be considered a "mistake" or an "oversight" but just straight-up reckless behavior.
So, what can you do? Be aware of the global impact your fast fashion habits have on the world, and if you want to shop at stores with clothing only made in the United States, go here or support sites (with your consumer $$$) that have a "Made in the U.S.A." section, like Modcloth.