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Whether you agree with this concept or not, it fails to acknowledge one thing: slavery still exists throughout the world. We forget how privileged it is to discuss righting the wrongs of the past while so many are still suffering. Furthermore, millions of people in first world countries unwittingly contribute to modern slavery without even realizing it.
How? Fast fashion.
What is fast fashion?
Fast fashion is a term for cheap, low-quality clothing produced quickly and cheaply available to customers. Have you ever ordered clothes online, only to have them arrive looking nothing like the model? plus feel like cardboard? It’s fast fashion.
With my clickable photos and amazing prices, I’d be lying if I denied giving out my credit card information to questionable websites. However, when the pieces arrive, they fall short of expectations and then simply fall apart after one wash.
What’s the problem with that?
In addition to poor quality, most fast fashion brands use forced and/or child labor. H&M collaborated with child factories in Myanmar where 14-year-old children had to work in shifts longer than 12 hours a day. Last year, the United States launched an investigation into Britain’s Boohoo over allegations of forced labor. In 2007, a British newspaper reported that 10-year-old children were sewing clothes for Gap in New Delhi. Shein’s Cotton has ties to Xinjiang, a region where the Chinese government has committed crimes against humanity against Uighur Muslims. Abercrombie & Fitch, Calvin Klein, Gap, H&M and Victoria’s Secret also have ties to forced Uyghur labor.
In addition to poor quality, most fast fashion brands use forced and/or child labor.
Even Zara, despite its significantly higher prices, allegedly uses slave labor. In 2011, a Brazilian investigative agency accused the famous fashion brand of unpleasant conditions. The workers reportedly worked 16-18 hours a day, six to seven days a week, and were only paid about $150 a month. In 2013, another investigation cited child labor and sweatshop operations at Zara factories in Argentina.
The Global Slavery Index 2018 report found that G20 countries imported $127.7 billion worth of garments at risk of modern slavery in their supply chain, accounting for 80% of global trade.
Child and forced labor in the fashion industry is just one form of modern slavery, and buying from these brands perpetuates the human rights abuses that occur.
Where to shop instead
Looking at the list of traders caught in forced labor is terrifying. But don’t panic – you don’t have to change your entire wardrobe at once. Slowly moving away from these brands, even if it just means replacing a few pieces a year with ethical alternatives, makes a difference.
Here are six alternatives to start your move away from fast fashion:
Probably the most famous sustainable fashion brand, Madewell has managed to combine style and sustainability. Madewell is committed to responsible sourcing and forestry, animal welfare, limiting chemicals, and fighting slavery and human trafficking. This probably contributes to their higher prices.
To combat slavery and human trafficking in its supply chains, the company conducts factory inspections, audits, training and repairs at facilities that manufacture their goods.
Keep an eye out for sales, which usually range from 30-60% off, or shop their resale through Thredup for a better deal. I personally love their Perfect Vintage Jean, which has a high cut that accentuates the waist – plus, they’re super comfortable. For a loose fit, try their straight fit jeans.
Everlane is a great choice for mixing and matching pieces. The style is similar to Madewell, but a little simpler. The prices are about the same as Madewell, if not a little lower.
Everlane is committed to ethical factories and uses compliance audits to assess factors such as fair wages, reasonable hours and environmental impact. Due to the high quality materials used in their Grade-A cashmere sweaters, Italian shoes and Peruvian Pima shirts, their products will stand the test of time.
One of my favorite items is the Boxy Oxford Shirt. Layer it over a tank top with high-neck jeans for a super cute and comfy weekend look.
Honest Basics is a fantastic option for basic wardrobe pieces. Their pieces are inexpensive and made in ethical partner factories in Bangladesh and India, which they visit to ensure sustainability standards. Factories are also inspected by independent agencies according to International Labor Organization standards. Child or forced labor and excessive overtime are prohibited.
In addition, Honest Basics uses organic cotton with GOTS certification, which ensures the elimination of the most dangerous and carcinogenic chemicals in fabric production and sewing.
Their turtleneck sweater is a great winter accessory. It can work as a standalone piece, accented with a fun necklace, or layered under a printed blazer.
Harvesting and milling
Harvest & Mill products are 100% made in the USA with sustainable business practices. Their simple, neutral pieces are reasonably priced, made from organic cotton grown on American farms and made from non-toxic, undyed, unbleached natural fabric. They work only with small and independent American farms, mills and factories, which employ local workers, use local services and reinvest in their own communities.
All of their sewing takes place within 25 miles of their studio in California in family-owned factories that the company regularly visits to ensure working conditions are up to par.
Because they have a 100% US-based supply chain, they are able to provide fair wages and a safe work environment. Their American roots also ensure that all contracts and warranties are legally enforceable. At a very reasonable price, Harvest & Mill is a great choice to support American businesses.
Harvest & Mill is definitely the choice for comfortable, ethical salons. I love their natural packaging for weekend wear. These can definitely be used as pajamas or for lounging around the house, but they’re even cute enough to wear on a weekend shopping spree with a flannel and a beanie.
Frog & Co.
Toad & Co. has a wide variety of style options, from outdoor wear to office wear. They are committed to promoting fair labor practices and safe working conditions. They visit supplier facilities every year to ensure ethical standards are met. All Toad & Co clothing. it is made from environmentally friendly materials, such as organic cotton and hemp, to reduce toxins and pollution.
Their Scouter Corduroy Jumper dress paired with a printed turtleneck is a trendy choice for winter. The super flattering Cue Wrap Dress is the perfect choice for work wear. From outerwear, Sherpa Park’s Forester Pass will keep you warm all winter long.
Vetta can help completely transform your wardrobe if you’re willing to spend a little more up front. Their Vetta capsules give you five pieces that create at least 30 outfits. You can also buy individual pieces if you’re not quite ready to commit to a capsule.
Vetta’s woven clothing comes from a family factory in New York. Their sweaters are from a partner factory in Los Angeles. The LA factory is audited annually for compliance with social and environmental regulations. Vetta also has Fair Trade certified factories in India and Peru. These locations are used by non-profit organizations to provide employment opportunities for women, education, and child and medical care.
The capsule you choose depends entirely on your style and where you want to wear the clothes. I personally love the Tuscan Capsule for its light airy style.
You don’t have to throw out your entire wardrobe to start moving away from fast fashion. Buy a few investment pieces here and there to accumulate more ethically sourced clothing over time. Plus, sustainability-focused brands often produce better quality clothing, meaning you’ll keep each piece longer and buy less over time. I can’t even estimate how many Forever 21 shirts I’ve gone through over the years. Even such small steps will gradually help mitigate the impacts of the fast fashion slave trade and move away from our throwaway consumer culture.
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