If you follow any of the major pop culture power players on Instagram, you're bound to see a photo featuring Fashion Nova merchandise at least once a week. Several members of the Kardashian-Jenner family have worn the brand, as have Teyana Taylor, Amber Rose, and Cardi B, who collaborated with them to the tune of some major bank. It's a big brand with the influencer set, too, given its ability to turn designs around almost instantly, its dedication to creating a range of sizes in basically everything they make, and price points few people can say "no" to.
But such dedication to appeasing a consumer comes at a cost, often paid for by the most marginalized people in the fast-fashion food chain. On Monday (December 16), the New York Times published a report that detailed the grueling conditions that many people who work for the factories that sew Fashion Nova clothes experience. According to the United States Labor Department, some workers are paid mere cents per each article of clothing and are owed a total of $3.8 million in back taxes by their employers, who are connected to Fashion Nova through secondary suppliers.
In a statement provided to the New York Times, Fashion Nova’s general counsel Erica Meierhans said, "We have already had a highly productive and positive meeting with the Department of Labor in which we discussed our ongoing commitment to ensuring that all workers involved with the Fashion Nova brand are appropriately compensated for the work they do. Any suggestion that Fashion Nova is responsible for underpaying anyone working on our brand is categorically false."
Fashion Nova is far from the only company to use subcontractors that oversee the manufacture of their clothes. Many companies purchase clothing from overseas factories whose employees are often subjected to dangerous conditions and little to no pay. In 2013, H&M announced it would ensure a "fair living wage" for everyone along its supply chain. That promise was shifted so that around half of its suppliers would see “improved wage management systems” in 2017, Vox noted. The demands made of garment workers are almost always relentless, too: Brands have primed consumers to expect new product on an almost-weekly basis, so the churn required is never-ending. Fashion Nova has infamously duplicated KarJenner outfits less than 24 hours after the mega-influencers wore the pieces; Zara cycles through an estimated 840 million individual units of product every year.
In the U.S., federal law stipulates that a company is not liable for wage theft committed by its vendors if it can credibly claim they didn't know about such conditions. Fashion Nova indicated to the New York Times that it will put vendors who are found in violation of labor laws on a six-month probationary period; after a second violation, the company would suspend any orders or agreements it made with that vendor.
Complicating matters is the ways in which some of these companies operate. The Times spoke with one seamstress who says the company she worked for rebranded three times during her time there, and alleges she was once paid $3.46 per hour for a 65-hour work week, which amounts to $225 per week.
Meierhans stressed to the New York Times that Fashion Nova “is not responsible for how these vendors handle their payrolls.” When asked for comment, a representative for the brand gave MTV News the statement it had provided the New York Times.
It's not likely that Fashion Nova's grip on retail is going to let up any time soon. The retailer has a larger footprint on Instagram than most competitors, and in 2018 landed the top spot among most-Googled brands. Wage growth is also relatively stagnant nationwide, so young people looking for varied clothing options might feel that brands like Fashion Nova are better suited to their budget than other retailers. And when MTV News spoke with young people about the demise of fast-fashion Goliath Forever 21, many explained they preferred Fashion Nova because they could more reliably find clothes that fit them; among the litany of the fashion world's problems is its lack of inclusive sizing for plus-sized people.