A shopper who purchased a dress from London-based fast fashion retailer Primark this past week was shocked when she discovered a hand stitched label sewn inside the garment reading: “Forced to work exhausting hours.” I’m not entirely sure why she was shocked. As we have told you in the past that fast fashion is cheap for a reason and while the price tags are low (and getting lower, thanks to Forever 21’s new concept shop which is offering jeans for $8), it comes a very high price.
“I was amazed when I checked for the washing instructions and spotted this label,” Primark shopper Rebecca Gallagher told the South Wales Evening Post. “To be honest I’ve never really thought much about how the clothes are made. But this really made me think about how we get our cheap fashion. I dread to think that my summer top may be made by some exhausted person toiling away for hours in some sweatshop abroad.” Well, maybe we should start thinking.
The plea for help label shouldn’t come as too much a surprise given Primark’s link to dangerous manufacturing. In fact, New Wave Bottoms, a Primark supplier, operated from Rana Plaza, the Bangladesh-based garment factory building that collapsed, killing more than 1,130 people in April 2013.
Moreover, it is really not a coincidence that fast fashion retailers can charge $30 for trousers. The fact of the matter is this: If the consumer is not paying a reasonable price for garments and accessories, someone else is paying for the difference, and it is usually laborers, as we have seen over the past year or so in Bangladesh (although labor practices like this exist an array of other places, including Los Angeles). Fast fashion retailers are often able to sell products at such low prices because: 1) They do not have to employ/pay designers because a majority of their pieces are copies of the original designs of others; 2) They bypass important quality control and manufacturing safety standards because they are costly to implement and monitor (hence, the toxic chemicals in clothes, the frequent employee hospitalizations, and the increasing number of fires and buildings collapsing); and 3) They do not pay their laborers adequate wages.
Now I’m not saying that you have to or even can have all of your garments made by high-end designers in the New York Garment District (most of which, but not all of which, are made in sweatshop-free conditions), but there are other ways to be mindful of the human toll that fast fashion is taking. Buy less. Fast fashion depends on the constant purchase of throw-away clothing. If you spend a little bit more on a garment of higher quality, it likely won’t be out of style and/or completely worn out one season later. Quality over quantity is something worthy of some thought, especially since the ill-effects of fast fashion have been unignorable for quite a while now.
With all of this in mind, in my opinion, every garment that is sold by a fast fashion retailer should include a “Forced to work exhausting hours” label because, more often than not, that is the case. We are just really good at looking the other way, so to speak, so we can have fake Alexander Wang bags and Cushnie et Ochs dresses for under $50.
In other news, the Gap is one step closer to making good on their promise to raise the company-wide minimum wage to $10/hour by next year; as of this week, over 65,000 employees at all Gap, Inc. locations are making at least $9/hour.