The Real Price of Cheap Clothing

With global warming and the environment becoming such a hot and widely discussed issue, an aspect that needs consideration is cheap clothing. This has a tremendously negative impact on the environment, and we should consider alternatives or adapting our habits. This blog is going to highlight these effects but also other issues surrounding the ‘real price’ of purchasing cheap clothing, mainly including the ethical and social impacts on workers to produce cheap clothing and a brief mention of economics involved with the wasteful nature of this industry. Another phrase that is being used for cheap clothing is ‘fast fashion’ so these terms will be used interchangeably.

One of the main issues with ‘fast fashion’ is the detrimental environmental impact this industry has on the planet. There is a culmination of environmental issues with ‘fast fashion’, it is a massive industry that has shown rapid growth, but the impacts of this industry need greater consideration, by producers, retailers, and consumers.

Here is a shocking statistic to try to highlight the mass amount of resources that go into producing clothing for this industry:

(From wri.org)

As you can see a huge amount of water resources are used and this is excluding the dyeing and printing processes that are also involved in a lot of items. These processes lead to chemical runoff and are polluting water streams with harmful chemicals. As well as this, microfibres from the polyester are contributing to plastic in our oceans, which is another negative problem. These are negative environmental causes that are just in the production part of ‘fast fashion’, there are other easily identifiable negative impacts of getting these products to retailers so the consumer can buy the clothing. The carbon footprint of getting these clothes from manufacturers that are common in Bangladesh and Africa.

The major impact I will highlight is for the consumer to change. ‘Fast fashion’ means the consumer can get ‘fashionable’ items cheaply meaning they are disposable and therefore frequently get misused or aren’t cared about…as I have highlighted, the clothing industry is growing, this has now developed into a huge industry that is worth a lot of money. However, when you look at the figures based on the amount of waste and the estimated worth of this waste, it is astonishing – ‘The UK based charity WRAP (The Waste and Resources Action Programme) has estimated that £140 million worth of clothing goes into landfill each year, and a staggering £30 billion worth of unused clothing is still sitting in our wardrobes nationwide (WRAP, 2018)’ groundsure.com) – this emphasises the wasteful nature of this trend, the industry, and the consumer.

Fast fashion is not just affecting environmental issues, there are also ethical and social issues that have been negatively reported. There are many countries where workers are exploited because of the clothing industry, due to the demand and low prices placed on clothing. I will highlight how poorly these workers are being treated, mainly by using Bangladesh as a case study.

In 2013 there was a disaster at Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, a building collapsed that killed and injured thousands also highlighted the poor conditions such as overcrowding, low pay and abuse that many were susceptible to. This made brands change to have a greater positive impact for workers and it does appear that things have got better in Bangladesh (some improvements in safety surrounding fire and building safety). However, companies have either moved to another country and continued to exploit workers or improved their facilities and paid the legal requirement in wages (this doesn’t mean it’s enough to live off especially as they are forced to work unpaid overtime). Six years on from this disaster and workers are “still being subjected to dehumanising treatment, poverty wages, and gender-based violence at work” (thenation.com). It is astonishing that people get treated in this manner, and that even after a huge disaster that caused global outrage that they are still treated in a similar manner (with slight improvement).

This isn’t the only location where there are examples of ‘sweatshops’ as they are used in other countries with similar social and ethical problems – “In Ethiopia, for example, wages average just a third of the rates paid in Bangladesh. Rates of less than $7 (£5.75) per week are typical.” (BBC News). And this has been described as not being sufficient to live off, but there are other issues with sanitation and abuse in these locations as well.

As you can see from the aspects highlighted in this blog, fast fashion has a detrimental impact on people and the environment. The waste produced in the manufacturing and how so much ends in landfills as the clothing is so cheap people don’t care about it. Across the board there are constant negatives from fast fashion, the only real positives are the money it brings into economies as is a massive industry and the consumer gets to spend less. However, is it worth it? Everyone needs to consider the source of their clothing and consider the consequences of this industry; this blog was written to stress the importance of changing the throwaway culture.

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