Advertising
Advertising

8 Reasons to Rethink Fast Fashion

8 Reasons to Rethink Fast Fashion

Not too long ago, fast fashion megastore Forever 21 announced plans to launch a new brand called F21 Red. Already known for low prices, these stores would offer clothing at costs that make Goodwill seem pricey — jeans for $7.80, tanks from $1.80 to $3.80. How can a retailer sell jeans for $7.80 and still make money? You don’t want to know, but it’s vital that you find out. All of those inexpensive finds might seem easy on your budget, but the world is paying a high price for fast fashion.

1. Fast fashion exploits overseas workers.

Remember the boycotts against the Gap and Nike back in the 90’s for using sweatshop labor? Today, business practices have gotten even shadier — and perhaps because clothes are cheaper, shoppers seem to care even less. Fast fashion stores are particularly culpable here, due to their drive for lower-than-ever prices and the frequency of their demand for new goods.

Back in the day, companies ordered clothes for each season. (This is still the way most high fashion labels work — the clothes that are on the New York runways in October showcase what will be available for spring of the following year.) Garments might take up to a year to actually be produced, and if an apparel company wanted something faster, they’d have to pay up.

Now, fast fashion chains like H&M and Zara introduce new styles as often as every two weeks. Practically as soon as photos from fashion week go up online, there’s an immediate chain reaction of fast fashion stores rushing to duplicate the trend. How do they do it? By subcontracting manufacturing overseas to the lowest bidder — generally in countries that already have some of the leanest production costs on earth. Rather than having long-term relationships with the factories, companies are comfortable with abrupt break-ups — so if they want something faster, the factories have to keep up or lose their contracts.

The push to quickly create clothing that costs buyers as little as possible leads, predictably, to factories that put production schedules and companies’ demands ahead of safety or workers’ rights. This was highlighted by the catastrophic Dhaka fire in 2012 and the 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse, which killed a combined total of over 1,200 Bangladeshi apparel workers and injured many more. The faulty wiring, lack of exits, crowded conditions, and poor construction are reminiscent of New York City’s Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. But that happened in 1911. It’s 2014.

Why is so much clothing manufacturing is going on in Bangladesh? Mainly because rising wages and inflation in China have made producing clothing there prohibitively expensive for manufacturers who seek to feed U.S. tastes for ever cheaper clothing. It won’t stop there, either — U.S. News recently reported that the Gap is looking to move some production to Myanmar (a country not exactly known for a stellar human rights record), and H&M is expanding to Ethiopia.

Advertising

2. Fast fashion contributes to the decline of U.S. manufacturing.

Politicians and pundits often the lack of U.S. manufacturing jobs that pay a living wage, allowing people who maybe don’t have a college degree to support themselves and their families. When people ask where the “good jobs” have gone, one answer is well, we can’t have decently-paid factory work and shirts that cost less than $5.

According to Northern California public radio station KQED, in the 1960’s — when roughly 95% of clothing manufacturing was made in the United States — the average American household spent over 10% of its income on clothing and shoes (like $4,000 in today’s dollars). Your average American shopper bought fewer than 25 garments per year.

Now, all of those figures have flipped. Today, less than 2% of all clothing is manufactured in the U.S. The average household spends less than 3.5% of its income on clothing and shoes (less than $1,800). The most shocking number: Now, your average American shopper is buying roughly 70 garments per year. That’s nearly 3 times as many items as 50 years ago — and yet our annual household spending comes out to less than half of the amount spent in the 60’s.

Though clothing design and marketing still generally happens in the U.S., from the 1970’s onward more and more apparel manufacturing went overseas (and in case you forgot how that went, scroll back up to item one on this list). To maintain their profit margins while feeding appetites for inexpensive clothing, manufacturers have country-hopped to wherever can provide the lowest costs. You can guess how well U.S. factories have fared. Given the higher cost of manufacturing in the states, today only about 150,000 apparel manufacturing jobs remain. Those workers make about 38 times the wage of their Bangladeshi counterparts, so yes, clothing that is legitimately American-made is not going to be that cheap.

3. Fast fashion also exploits U.S. workers.

That said, apparel manufacturing in the U.S. isn’t all decent wages and reasonable working conditions. It’s mostly neither of those things. Sweatshops absolutely exist, particularly in large cities like New York and Los Angeles, and it’s not uncommon for these to be contractors manufacturing clothing on behalf of fast fashion chains.

In particular, fast fashion behemoth Forever 21 has been the subject of several lawsuits related to conditions in Los Angeles factories that make their clothing (there’s even an Emmy-winning documentary, Made in LA, that looks at the struggles of the immigrant workers to gain basic rights). The New Yorker reports that in 2001, the company was sued on behalf of workers who worked well over full time while earning much less than minimum wage in grotesque conditions. How did the clothing chain respond? They said they couldn’t be held responsible for their contractors’ practices and filed defamation lawsuits against the groups that organized boycotts of the stores. (The dispute was eventually settled with the company agreeing to help activists but refusing to admit wrongdoing.)

Advertising

But then virtually the same allegations cropped up in 2012, this time brought about following a multi-year investigation by the Department of Labor into Los Angeles sewing factories. The federal court issued a subpoena, then sued, then ordered Forever 21 to hand over records documenting workers’ hours and compensation. The workers in these factories are often unskilled recent migrants, who may be undocumented and/or unable to speak English. Their precarious status is something that unscrupulous manufacturers can exploit — and that’s how you they can be paid even less per hour than the cost of your $5.80 miniskirt.

4. Fast fashion is environmentally disastrous.

“Buying clothing, and treating it as if it is disposable, is putting a huge added weight on the environment and is simply unsustainable,” says Elizabeth L. Cline, author of Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. In her book, Cline documents the numerous tolls that textile manufacturing takes on the earth. Though in the U.S., textile manufacturing faces greater regulation to make it less destructive, again, most of the manufacturing takes place overseas where there is much less oversight. Cline cites the stat that fiber production now takes roughly 145 million tons of coal and between 1.5 and 2 trillion gallons of water.

But it’s not just the resource strain caused by manufacturing — it’s also the issues at the other end, of people constantly getting rid of their used (or even unused) clothing. The Huffington Post reports that the average American throws out 68 pounds of textiles per year — not donates or consigns, straight-up throws in the trash. In case the sheer wastefulness isn’t galling enough, bear in mind that because most garments (especially fast fashion ones) are made with inexpensive, petroleum-based fibers that don’t easily decompose (such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic), they’re going to be taking up landfill space for decades to come. As Cline points out, people generally recycle plastic bottles or avoid buying them in the first place, but people are pretty okay with buying lots of plastic clothing.

Even if you donate used clothes to charity, at this point nearly half of all charitable donations go directly to textile recyclers. On the one hand, yes, a large portion of this is reused in different ways (recycled fibers can be used in stuff like insulation). On the other hand, though, it’s unbelievably wasteful. There’s the use of water, coal, and so on in the manufacturing process. But then there’s also the “downstream” costs, including to the charities themselves, which are forced to spend a considerable amount of money sorting through clothing they can’t use (like ripped, torn, or soiled items) and disposing of it. Fast fashion has even made the textile recycling business more difficult — the lower quality of the clothing, Cline reports, means that recycled fiber is often sold below cost (and for the record, recycled fiber is sold for less than a nickel a pound).

H&M has been faced especially heavy criticism for its espousal of “disposable fashion,” and has done more than other stores to combat that image. They have released the “Conscious Collection,” billed as “sustainable style” and featuring items like a $7.95 tank top made with organic cotton. H&M also now boasts a selection of “premium quality products” (like $99 cashmere cardigans) which cost more and are ostensibly longer-lasting. They’ve also started putting recycling bins right in their stores, which will accept used clothing in any condition.

It’s a nice gesture, but at times the company’s attempts at proving its ethics are ludicrous. For example, H&M has a sponsored story titled “Fast fashion doesn’t automatically mean unsustainable” published in the UK’s Guardian (styled to look like legitimate site content, but paid for, branded, and no doubt heavily vetted by H&M). In the story, the author argues, “…everyone in the fashion industry knows that luxury brands and high street brands more than occasionally use the same suppliers. Factory workers are paid the same salary to produce luxury goods as so-called ‘fast fashion’, and under the same conditions.”

Advertising

To recap then, their argument is that factory workers will be exploited no matter what, so might as well go with the cheaper pair of leggings. You can tell yourself that well, you’ll give those leggings to charity, and then someone else will wear them, but given the lower quality and cheap brand, they’re more likely to wind up in a landfill than on somebody else’s legs.

5. Fast fashion can wind up costing you more than “real” clothes.

If you’re on a budget and looking for ways to save money on clothes, one way to evaluate the price of an item is to calculate the cost per wear for each item. You could complain that this is just a trick to make an expensive item seem reasonable, but it’s actually a way to force yourself to think about the effects of your purchase on your bottom line. You need to think about both how often you’ll wear the item, and how long it will likely last.

Say you’re looking for a pair of black heeled sandals. You can buy a pair from Charlotte Russe for about $30. If you wear them just to one party buy them for a special occasion and wear them just for that, that’s your cost per wear right there — $30. Wear them three times, it’s $10. If the cheap pleather cracks, if the heel breaks, if the plastic soles are too worn, that’s the end of the road for those heels. If you’re going to replace them with a new pair, that’s another $30. It would be easy to wind up spending $120 per year on four pairs of the same cheap black heels, with a cost per wear of roughly $10.

Now here’s a different scenario. We’re still looking for black heeled sandals, but say you get them from Cri de Coeur. Founded by two Parsons grads, their vegan, sustainably-produced, and totally stylish shoes retail for around $150 for a pair of heeled sandals. If you wear them the same amount as the cheap heels, they’re only costing you a little bit more per wear — $12.50. But since these are considerably higher quality and will hold up much better, you’re probably going to wear them more. Even if you only wore them 16 times in one year, your cost per wear would drop below the $10 mark. You also don’t need to make those three additional trips to the mall to replace your busted-up heels. Which scenario seems more sensible?

6. Fast fashion’s low quality changes how you think about clothes.

Ellen Ruppel Shell, author of Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, argues that when we buy “cheap chic” clothes at places like Target or Mango, even though there’s not planned obsolescence — the clothing isn’t designed to fall apart (though some have alleged that it is) — we don’t expect it to last. We don’t invest much in it monetarily or emotionally, it’s just to fill the gap (something to wear to that party Friday night) and then its job is done. Part of why Americans toss so much clothing is because we no longer bother to repair a lost button, or resole a worn-out shoe. If clothing feels cheap, fast, and disposable, that’s how we treat it.

In an article on the website College Fashion, after explaining “how Forever 21 works” (i.e., mentioning that unethical labor practices help keep prices low), the author goes on to give tips for shopping at the retail chain. For example, look at the seams: “If the two sides of the seam appear to come apart relatively easily, the thread starts to come undone, or you feel that with a little bit more energy you could rip the item in half, it’s not made well and won’t hold up for long.” Why would you shop in a store where the item literally falling apart in your hands is a likely scenario?

Advertising

Cline, author of Overdressed, also notes this phenomenon. She writes that “low prices and fast trends have made clothing throwaway items, allowing us to set aside such serious questions as How long will this last? or even Will I like it when I get home?” For many people, even bothering to return an item that looks less good outside the store is too much of a hassle. But cheap isn’t free. If you’re going to toss your clothes after one wear, you’re throwing money away, too.

7. Fast fashion collaborations trick you into paying for the name.

What used to be mega-events — round-the-block lines for Karl Lagerfeld for H&M, Missoni for Target crashing the big box retailer’s website — are now regular occurrences. Mass market retailers (notably Target and H&M, but also Mango, Topshop, and Zara) regularly trot out collaborations with high fashion designers, giving consumers a taste of what H&M has dubbed “massclusivity,” according to Dana Thomas, author of Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster. These limited-time capsule collections are designed to do pretty much one thing — send shoppers into a buying frenzy where they don’t even care what they get, they just know they’re getting something with the designer’s name on it.

Sure, that’s not how these brands would describe it. Thomas quotes Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld as saying that fashion isn’t a matter of price, “It’s all about taste.” But how tasteful is waiting in line outside a mall store or constantly hitting refresh on your web browser just to grab something, anything that has a designer’s name on it? Considering that many fashionistas claim that it’s not about the label, it’s about the style, it’s more than a little surprising that these collaborations consistently create such buzz (Joseph Altuzarra coming to Target this fall is all over every fashion mag’s September issue).

Once the thrill of the initial scrum is over though, shoppers are left with items that say Missoni, or 3.1 Philip Lim, or Rodarte, or whichever designer they are. But are they really? Cline notes that actual Missoni dresses, for example, are made in Milan using natural fibers like virgin wool, viscose, and alpaca. Missoni for Target? That would be acrylic made in China. You could argue you’re paying for the design, but realistically, anyone who recognizes the designer is probably also going to recognize that you’re wearing the H&M version, not the real deal. Sure, it’s a lot less than a “real” item from one of these designers would cost… but chances are, it’s also something you wouldn’t even have considered buying if it didn’t have the designer’s name attached.

8. Fast fashion distorts your sense of value.

Though Americans like saving a buck — honestly, who doesn’t? — with the rise of fast fashion, we expect our clothing to cost virtually nothing. The strange thing is that even though we appreciate lower prices on all goods, we’re pretty willing to pay more for certain types of products. Some of the most desirable products — like Apple computers — are literally unavailable at a discounted price, and people still line up every time there’s a new iPhone. A computer or a smartphone is an investment and lasts a while, but think about other things in your life you’re willing to pay a bit more for. A grande latte at Starbucks costs around $4, and you drink it in a matter of minutes (or if you sip, we’ll call it an hour). If you’ll spend $4 on a bit of caffeination, is it really that important that a t-shirt cost only $3? The money you’re saving on that shirt has real consequences — it’s worth the time to reflect on what it truly costs.

Featured photo credit: Mike Mozart via flickr.com

More by this author

smooth hair 15 Easy Ways to Get Silky, Smooth Hair best online bookstores cheap books 15 Best Online Bookstores for Cheap New and Used Books reasons to rethink fast fashion 8 Reasons to Rethink Fast Fashion 10 Things You Suffered Through That Your Kids Will Never Understand outstanding baby names for boys girls unisex Get Inspired by These 25 Unique and Outstanding Baby Names

Trending in Money

1 How to Answer the Tough Question: What are Your Salary Requirements? 2 How Personal Finance Software Helps You Get More Out of Your Money 3 The Definitive Guide to Get Out of Debt Fast (And Forever) 4 35 Real Ways to Actually Make Money Online 5 30 Fun Things To Do With Your Friends Without Spending Much

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising

Published on November 8, 2018

How to Answer the Tough Question: What are Your Salary Requirements?

How to Answer the Tough Question: What are Your Salary Requirements?

After a few months of hard work and dozens of phone calls later, you finally land a job opportunity.

But then, you’re asked about your salary requirements and your mind goes blank. So, you offer a lower salary believing this will increase your odds at getting hired.

Unfortunately, this is the wrong approach.

Your salary requirements can make or break your odds at getting hired. But only if you’re not prepared.

Ask for a salary too high with no room for negotiation and your potential employer will not be able to afford you. Aim too low and employers will perceive as you offering low value. The trick is to aim as high as possible while keeping both parties feel happy.

Of course, you can’t command a high price without bringing value.

The good news is that learning how to be a high-value employee is possible. You have to work on the right tasks to grow in the right areas. Here are a few tactics to negotiate your salary requirements with confidence.

1. Hack time to accomplish more than most

Do you want to get paid well for your hard work? Of course you do. I hate to break it to you, but so do most people.

With so much competition, this won’t be an easy task to achieve. That’s why you need to become a pro at time management.

Advertising

Do you know how much free time you have? Not the free time during your lunch break or after you’ve finished working at your day job. Rather, the free time when you’re looking at your phone or watching your favorite TV show.

Data from 2017 shows that Americans spend roughly 3 hours watching TV. This is time poorly spent if you’re not happy with your current lifestyle. Instead, focus on working on your goals whenever you have free time.

For example, if your commute to/from work is 1 hour, listen to an educational Podcast. If your lunch break is 30 minutes, read for 10 to 15 minutes. And if you have a busy life with only 30–60 minutes to spare after work, use this time to work on your personal goals.

Create a morning routine that will set you up for success every day. Start waking up 1 to 2 hours earlier to have more time to work on your most important tasks. Use tools like ATracker to break down which activities you’re spending the most time in.

It won’t be easy to analyze your entire day, so set boundaries. For example, if you have 4 hours of free time each day, spend at least 2 of these hours working on important tasks.

2. Set your own boundaries

Having a successful career isn’t always about the money. According to Gallup, about 70% of employees aren’t satisfied with their current jobs.[1]

Earning more money isn’t a bad thing, but choosing a higher salary over the traits that are the most important to you is. For example, if you enjoy spending time with your family, reject job offers requiring a lot of travel.

Here are some important traits to consider:

  • Work and life balance – The last thing you’d want is a job that forces you to work 60+ hours each week. Unless this is the type of environment you’d want. Understand how your potential employer emphasizes work/life balance.
  • Self-development opportunities – Having the option to grow within your company is important. Once you learn how to do your tasks well, you’ll start becoming less engaged. Choose a company that encourages employee growth.
  • Company culture – The stereotypical cubicle job where one feels miserable doesn’t have to be your fate. Not all companies are equal in culture. Take, for example, Google, who invests heavily in keeping their employees happy.[2]

These are some of the most important traits to look for in a company, but there are others. Make it your mission to rank which traits are important to you. This way you’ll stop applying to the wrong companies and stay focused on what matters to you more.

Advertising

3. Continuously invest in yourself

Investing in yourself is the best investment you can make. Cliche I know, but true nonetheless.

You’ll grow as a person and gain confidence with the value you’ll be able to bring to others. Investing in yourself doesn’t have to be expensive. For example, you can read books to expand your knowledge in different fields.

Don’t get stuck into the habit of reading without a purpose. Instead, choose books that will help you expand in a field you’re looking to grow. At the same time, don’t limit yourself to reading books in one subject–create a healthy balance.

Podcasts are also a great medium to learn new subjects from experts in different fields. The best part is they’re free and you can consume them on your commute to/from work.

Paid education makes sense if you have little to no debt. If you decide to go back to school, be sure to apply for scholarships and grants to have the least amount of debt. Regardless of which route you take to make it a habit to grow every day.

It won’t be easy, but this will work to your advantage. Most people won’t spend most of their free time investing in themselves. This will allow you to grow faster than most, and stand out from your competition.

4. Document the value you bring

Resumes are a common way companies filter employees through the hiring process. Here’s the big secret: It’s not the only way you can showcase your skills.

To request for a higher salary than most, you have to do what most are unwilling to do. Since you’re already investing in yourself, make it a habit to showcase your skills online.

A great way to do this is to create your own website. Pick your first and last name as your domain name. If this domain is already taken, get creative and choose one that makes sense.

Advertising

Here are some ideas:

  • joesmith.com
  • joeasmith.com
  • joesmithprojects.com

Nowadays, building a website is easy. Once you have your website setup, begin producing content. For example, if you a developer you can post the applications you’re building.

During your interviews, you’ll have an online reference to showcase your accomplishments. You can use your accomplishments to justify your salary requirements. Since most people don’t do this, you’ll have a higher chance of employers accepting your offer

5. Hide your salary requirements

Avoid giving you salary requirements early in the interview process.

But if you get asked early, deflect this question in a non-defensive manner. Explain to the employer that you’d like to understand your role better first. They’ll most likely agree with you; but if they don’t, give them a range.

The truth is great employers are more concerned about your skills and the value you bring to the company. They understand that a great employee is an investment, able to earn them more than their salary.

Remember that a job interview isn’t only for the employer, it’s also for you. If the employer is more interested in your salary requirements, this may not be a good sign. Use this question to gauge if the company you’re interviewing is worth working for.

6. Do just enough research

Research average salary compensation in your industry, then wing it.

Use tools like Glassdoor to research the average salary compensation for your industry. Then leverage LinkedIn’s company data that’s provided with its Pro membership. You can view a company’s employee growth and the total number of job openings.

Advertising

Use this information to make informed decisions when deciding on your salary requirements. But don’t limit yourself to the average salary range. Companies will usually pay you more for the value you have.

Big companies will often pay more than smaller ones.[3] Whatever your desired salary amount is, always ask for a higher amount. Employers will often reject your initial offer. In fact, offer a salary range that’ll give you and your employer enough room to negotiate.

7. Get compensated by your value

Asking for the salary you deserve is an art. On one end, you have to constantly invest in yourself to offer massive value. But this isn’t enough. You also have to become a great negotiator.

Imagine requesting a high salary and because you bring a lot of value, employers are willing to pay you this. Wouldn’t this be amazing?

Most settle for average because they’re not confident with what they have to offer. Most don’t invest in themselves because they’re not dedicated enough. But not you.

You know you deserve to get paid well, and you’re willing to put in the work. Yet, you won’t sacrifice your most important values over a higher salary.

The bottom line

You’ve got what it takes to succeed in your career. Invest in yourself, learn how to negotiate, and do research. The next time you’re asked about your salary requirements, you won’t fumble.

You’ll showcase your skills with confidence and get the salary you deserve. What’s holding you back now?

Featured photo credit: LinkedIn Sales Navigator via unsplash.com

Reference

Read Next