I’ve made a blog post about my smartphone struggle and how to shop electronic devices ethically and I’ve explained that second hand shopping is a good alternative for buying ethically made items. I want to explain why second hand shopping is the most sustainable and an ethical way of shopping. To explain this, I have to explain how the fast fashion industry works and since I haven’t done that on my blog, I want to take this chance and write about fast fashion 101. So take a cup of tea and take your time to read about this important issue of our century and make up your own opinion about it.
1. How are you supporting labour exploitation
when buying from fast fashion companies?
The supply chain of fast fashion
When you buy a t-shirt from a High Street brand such as H&M the money you spent to purchase it goes to the company. With this money the company is getting profit and are financing their business processes. They use the money to pay for their transport, marketing, design processes, manufacturing and more. When it comes to manufacturing, big fashion companies don’t have their own factories anymore. It is easier for them to give textile factories their designs and hire them to manufacture the clothing for them. This also means that these huge companies can easily shift responsibility to their manufacturing factories when there’s a scandal happening. But that’s another story. When a fast fashion company hires a contractor they tell them how much they want to pay for their order of clothes. They put the factories under a lot of pressure to meet their demands. So to be able to produce clothes so cheaply to please the client (eg H&M), the factory has to pay their employees (the garment workers) very very little. And it’s not just the low wage that the factory owners are forced to give their workers, the workers also have to work very fast and under a lot of pressure too. Why? Because the High Street fashion companies release new clothes every week which is why it’s called “fast fashion”. The fashion brands want their clothes cheap and fast. So the workers are not getting enough breaks, not enough days off and their health is not protected. The reality of this is that workers work for two days in a row without break, are not allowed to take a break to eat or drink, have to work even though they are pregnant and more.
So, when you give your money to the company, they’ll use this money to pay the contractor companies who then pay the people who actually made the clothes.
2. What happens if you stop giving money to fast fashion companies?
The reason why you are not contributing to unemployment + fair fashion explained
Now, let’s imagine that we all stop buying from that High Street brand such as H&M. What would happen? You don’t give them money anymore so H&M won’t use YOUR money anymore to pay their contractors who won’t be able to pay their garment workers anymore. This is the point where a lot of people say: “But this is not good! It’s better that the garment workers have a job than get no money at all! If I don’t buy at H&M the workers will be unemployed!”
Let me address this. Yes, it is true that if you don’t give your money to the fashion company anymore, they factory owners won’t be able to give your money to their garment factories. BUT! What would YOU, as a consumer, do instead? Would you never buy clothing again? No, of course not. You will give the money that you decided NOT to spend on fast fashion, to another fashion company. Or else you would have to run around naked 😉 And this is the point where you can decide to give your money to a company that doesn’t exploit garment workers. Instead of supporting slave labour, you can support a smaller fashion company that treats their workers humanely. In this case, that would be a fair/ethical fashion company. These companies manufacture in different countries: the USA, European countries AND countries like China, Bangladesh, India, etc. So when a fair fashion company manufacture in e.g Bangladesh, they give the people their a job and therefore money just like e.g H&M but there’s a difference: they give them MORE money, don’t put them under pressure, give them enough breaks, protect their health and even support them by e.g paying for their children’s schools, school books, food and more. This means the more and the bigger successful fair fashion companies are out there in the world, the more garment workers work under fair conditions.
One of the reasons why a lot of people don’t shop fair fashion is because the clothing is a bit more expensive than the fast fashion counterpart since the fair fashion company pays their workers more money and because the companies don’t sell as much as e.g H&M. This means, the more people buy fair, the less expensive the fashion will get!
3. Are you giving money to fast fashion when buying second hand?
The reason why thrifting is the most sustainable way of shopping
Besides shopping from fair fashion companies, there’s another way to stop supporting fast fashion without running around naked: Second hand fashion.
Think about it: When you own a piece of clothing and don’t like it anymore (because it doesn’t fit, you don’t like the style, etc) there are two options: throw it away or give it away. What happens when you throw it away? It ends up in a landfill and either degrades (which releases CO2 and combats to climate change) or, when it is made from synthetic materials, it eventually ends up in the ocean (with lots of other trash) and gets smaller and smaller until it’s micro plastic in the sea. Micro plastic pollutes the ocean and gets eaten by fish which – unless you’re vegan – you eat.
On the other hand, when you give it away e.g to a second hand shop, it gets a new chance. Someone else can buy it and wear it. Let’s say you buy a t-shirt from a thrift shop. Where does your money go to? It goes to the owner of the shop who will use it for shop rent, their own profit and to give money to the people who give their old clothes to the thrift shop. Does it go to a fast fashion company? NO! Therefore, you are NOT supporting slave labour and unsustainable fashion. Quite the contrary! Second hand fashion is the most sustainable way of buying fashion because you are saving that piece of clothing from being thrown away! What if you thrift a clothing piece of the brand H&M? Does the money go to H&M? The answer is no. That clothing piece was bought by someone else who you have no control over, and given away. You can’t control where other people give their money to. At the end of the day, it is about that YOU yourself don’t support fast fashion and slave labour. It is about YOUR clean slate. You can’t control what other people do. You can only set an example and influence others to do their best too.
What do you think about all this? Do you shop fair or second hand or consider it after reading this? Are there any questions I haven’t answered? Tell me in the comments if there is anything unclear to you!
Find out more in the links below:
The true cost movie
Kristen Leo’s Youtube Channel – including lots of ethical fashion & thrifting videos!
Marta Canga’s Youtube Channel – including vegan & fair fashion videos!
Mia from Heylilahey’s Youtube Channel – including vegan & fair fashion videos! *German*
Kristen Leo’s blog – including fair fashion posts!
Great blog post about thrifting
My favourite fair fashion bloggers
My fair fashion guide
What is ethical fashion by the ethical fashion forum
Ethical fashion explained by Mochni
Fast fashion article by Forbes
Fast fashion explained by Wikipedia
Quick history of fast fashion explained