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Sustainable Fashion: i. The Humanitarian Cost of Fast Fashion

  • The global population is currently 8 billion and consumes yearly an estimated 62 million tonnes of clothing. Predictions based on GDP per Capita rises (2% developed economies, 4% developing economies) and a population rise to 8.6 billion (by 2030) forecast that 102 million tonnes of clothing will be produced and consumed by 2030. It is predicted that the majority of this will end up in landfill within years.

Factory Workers producing Clothes

  • About 250 years ago, the mechanical loom was invented and clothing manufacturing became a significant part of the Industrial Revolution. The paternalistic Capitalist factory owners built housing and often schooling and amenities for their local workforce. Manufacturing towns developed, with thriving businesses into the twentieth Century. However, cheap labour, free labour, child labour and prison labour all became an unfortunate part of this industrial process. Trades Unions were formed and legislation to protect workers' rights put in place.

  • Since the 1980s, international trade deals have resulted in large manufacturing companies offshoring garment manufacture from countries such as the USA to countries in Latin America and Asia. This has substantially driven profits for the owners and shareholders.

  • Concurrently, growing consumer demand for 'fast-fashion' rose as prices fell. Ever faster methods developed for speeding up the process of delivering clothes across the world to the consumer, not all ethical. In their turn, consumers have come to expect fashion chains to provide a plethora of trends and a faster turnover of clothes.

  • Offshoring plus a lack of human rights' bills in developing nations have meant that extremely low pay, dirty working conditions and in some cases, dangerous buildings, have become the reality of clothing factory work. Since Bangladesh's Tazreen building fire (2010) and Rana Plaza building collapse (2013), large fashion chains that use unregulated suppliers have been held to account by media attention and public outcry. As a result, the 'Rana Plaza Arrangement' was put in place and has somewhat helped to protect (the still very low paid) Bangladeshi garment workers' basic rights.

  • Even today, this humanitarian cost of fast fashion still remains a largely hidden cost.


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