In 2013, Rana Plaza, an eight-story commercial building that housed five clothing factories in Bangladesh, collapsed due to structural failures that were ignored by owners of the building. It resulted in the deaths of over 1,100 workers and injured approximately 2,500 other workers leaving it the deadliest garment factory accident in history.
Next to China, Bangladesh is the second largest apparel producer. Unfortunately, their industry is not strongly regulated and is known for its extremely unsafe working conditions.
In the 2015 documentary that explores how fast fashion has impacted the world, The film “The True Cost” features a garment worker in Dhaka, Bangladesh, named Shima Akhter.
“I believe these clothes are produced by our blood. A lot of garment workers die in different accidents,” said Akhter.
Like other garment workers in Bangladesh, Akhter earns an average of less than $2 a day, a wage so low that it hardly covers basic living expenses for herself or her daughter.
H&M, one of the largest apparel retailers in the world with over 3,600 stores located across 59 countries, is also the largest producer of clothing linked to garment factories in Bangladesh, according to USA Today. The retailer’s online store claims to offer high quality clothing at a low price, but how high can the quality of the garment be when a top can go for as low as $5?
The reason why retailers like H&M can afford to price their items at such low costs is because they seek out the cheapest way to produce their garments. According to a case study by Dr. Sanchita Banerjee Saxena, this causes owners of garment factories to compete aggressively with prices in order to gain business.
The height of fast fashion and the want for cheaper prices came at the start of the recession.
“Much of the fashion industry is built on discretionary income. When paying for necessities becomes tight, fashion feels the shift very dramatically. In the recession it was the survival of the fittest with brands and retailers. Consumers were accustomed to buying new things and having something new regularly, so fast fashion had a huge opportunity,” says Michelle Craner, a fashion instructor at Fullerton College.
It becomes clear that consumers are more interested in quantity over quality. The business model of fashion at low costs especially attracts teens and younger adults. As college students, most of us don’t earn a substantial income or enough to splurge on wants rather than needs.
Shani Abayata, a student at Fullerton College says she enjoys shopping at stores like H&M, Zara and Forever 21 because they are “cute, trendy, affordable and up her alley.”
Although the garments themselves are affordable, we end up paying a high price when it comes to health and our environment–it isn’t just an ethical issue anymore. The high demand for low priced garments equals the need for high volumes of material to make the clothing.
According to gmoinside.org, in 2010, 93 percent of cotton that was grown in America was genetically modified. The use of genetically modified seeds and the amount of pesticides used affects the soils, waterways and the animals.
As fast fashion is meant to be disposable, much of the discarded clothing end up in landfills, which is an eco-disaster since it takes so many resources to produce the garment in the first place. If it doesn’t end up in landfills, they will end up in third world countries like Haiti.
“The True Cost” states that only about 90 percent of donated clothing gets sold in thrift stores like Goodwill, and the chemicals released from the piles of clothes in landfills create health impairments.
As the issue is being addressed in the industry and the average consumer in America continues to become more educated on how their clothing is being made, sustainability and ethical responsibilities are becoming something more companies are striving for. Many companies such as Style Saint, Flynn Skye and Everlane are ethically manufacturing their clothing here in America.
To help with the cause, Craner will take one of her classes to Harvey’s Seatbelt Bags, which is a company that makes sustainable and vegan handbags in the United States, to let her students witness what ethical manufacturing looks like.
The question still stands: Should we stop exporting garments from countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia?
It seems that fast fashion is likely to stay a while longer and with that being said, the workers in the factories should receive higher pay and most importantly, be able to work in safer conditions.
After the collapse of Rana Plaza, retailers like H&M and Zara have said to sign an accord that will improve safety conditions in factories in Bangladesh.
Education and awareness for the public is the solution to the problem. Just as we care about what goes into our bodies, we should care about what goes on it.