Words by Hayley 24, QLD
Fast fashion has granted young people greater opportunities to express themselves through their clothing choices. However, this freedom of choice comes with a hidden responsibility.
We not only wear the clothes but also the story behind them. We wear the pollution of the Citarum River in Indonesia where over 1,000 textile companies dump their waste. We wear the microplastic particles that are released into our water system each time we wash our clothes. And we wear the long and complex history of poverty hidden behind the fast fashion industry.
In 2017, I watched in horror during episode three of ABC’s War on Waste when Craig Reucassel stood on a huge pile of clothing and announced that Australians are disposing of at least 6,000 kilograms of textile and fashion waste every 10 minutes.
Every 10 minutes.
In the hour that it takes for you to wake up, shower, grab a coffee and walk out the door, Australians have thrown out 60,000 kilograms of clothes. For context, that’s about the weight of 10 elephants.
As a young Australian, I grew up hearing about Nike sweatshops, child labour and the horrific 2013 Dhaka garment factory collapse in Bangladesh that killed 1,134 people. Following the collapse there was international outrage. Many articles called it a ‘wakeup call’ for the fashion industry. Then shortly after, it seemed like we all forgot. Sure, there has been small scale changes, with some companies cleaning up their acts and implementing safety policies. Unfortunately, workers are still getting paid as little as 39 cents per hour, children are being forced to stay home alone while their mothers work long hours, and women are reporting astonishing levels of workplace abuse.
The effects of fast fashion on the lives of the people who make our clothes, and on our environment, are intertwined. Those who are stuck in the cycle of generational poverty that will also be impacted the most by climate change.
With increasingly violent monsoon rains sweeping Bangladesh, the country will be the source of many waves of climate refugees. Clothing from Bangladesh makes a significant proportion of Australia’s fast fashion industry with thousands of women who work to create our undies, dresses, shoes, cute bags and sleepwear to be among the most affected.
So what can we do? Individually, we can remove ourselves from the world of fast fashion by buying long-lasting quality clothes from ethical manufacturers and local small businesses. We can also hold clothes swaps with friends and purchase clothes from op-shops.
But while these measures will make an impact, we need systematic change within the big brands to achieve a long-term and sustainable difference. If we completely boycott the big brands we are likely to only hurt vulnerable workers more.
You’ve heard it before but as consumers, we really do have the power to make the big brands listen. Just a couple of years back, Oxfam Australia launched their ‘What She Makes’ campaign. By motivating activists from across the country to do simple actions such as hosting letter writing evenings and holding screenings of ‘The True Cost’ and ‘River Blue’ they have collectively achieved significant change with Kmart, Cotton On, City Chic and others already committed to paying a living wage. Did you know that if brands absorbed the cost of paying living wages within their supply chains, it would cost them less than 1% of the price of a garment? That’s literally an extra 10 cents per $10 T-shirt.
Fast fashion is contributing significantly to the climate emergency. Tell fast fashion outlets how you’re concerned for our earth, ask them if they pay a living wage and check the environmental and social impacts of those new trendy shoes before you hit ‘add to cart’.
Our voices can be incredibly powerful in this matter, young people are in a position to demand change.
Illustration by Aileen, You can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenetc