GLOBALISATION AND THE IMPACTS OF FAST FASHION

Tenzin Noryang Bhutia

Aug. 2, 2020

Image retrieved from www.columbiaspectator.com

 

On the 29th of June, the central government in India issued a directive banning 59 apps originating from China which was made on the basis of data privacy. Among these apps, two Shein and Romwe happened to be fast fashion companies, having scores of Indian consumers under their belt. This was apparent given that, since the ban, complains and threads of discussions were steadily rising across the internet regarding pending deliveries of orders which have now been stuck for over a month. On a closer look, having been around for eight years, these companies had made their presence felt in respective markets by relying mostly on digital marketing and bloggers, climbing to become one of the most popular e-commerce apps in several countries around the world. fast fashion whether we are aware of it nor not has become a part of everyone’s life in one way or the other. Having affordable trendy clothes has become second nature with strings of malls having various stores catering to everyone. This trend is not mere coincidence but a product of Globalization. In addition to the noticeable advantages, the relation between fast fashion and globalization is a complex and multi-dimensional phenomenon that consists of many parts, not all of which are positive.

Modestly put, globalization is the economic and social process whereby global markets and cultures increasingly dominate local markets and cultures. Consequently, the fashion industry has opened up to a variety of new styles, influences, and methods of production. Fashion trends have become more readily available to consumers all over the world. Through the use of a global assembly line, fast fashion has increased production speed to match the rapid appearance of new trends while at the same time lowering prices. Online shopping has also made fast fashion more accessible, with deals—and the momentary pleasure they provide—by being merely a click away. Fast fashion retailers like Zara and Forever21 tap into the consumer’s desire to have a variety of the latest trends at low cost. In most western countries, this product of globalization has transformed shopping into an almost pleasurable activity for when they see a desirable piece of fashionable clothing coming with a low price, it elicits a natural response to shop and thereby produces pleasure (Knutson, Rick, Wimmer, Prelec, and Loewenstein 149).

Among other things, Fast Fashion stays in the game by making optimal use of the supply chain. Globalization has provided the low-cost labour and international markets necessary for the creation of a global assembly line, which allows for cheaper and faster production of clothing. Furthermore, in fast fashion, large retailers purchase their clothing from a number of manufacturers located all around the world and it is them who do the marketing. But the question arises. How are the fast fashion houses able to make the latest fads available to consumers on a regular basis? Store managers through the use of information technology (IT), track what is selling and what is not selling and relay that information to the corporate headquarters in addition to live updates on what products customers want but cannot find in the stores. Therefore, the in-house designers have immediate access to detailed statistics, which enables them to create the next wave of designs quickly which once made is outsourced to a factory where immense quantities of materials and a ready supply of labour are easily obtainable.

 

Take for example the banned app Shein. Shein has no physical stores but it buys a huge amount of clothing directly from various vendors. Owing to the large quantity being bought, Shein gets discounts. These vendors who usually happen to be third world economies offering these ridiculously low prices to Shein or other fast fashion companies like Inditex or Primark are capable of offering these prices because their workforce is very cheap in countries like Bangladesh, and as the demand increases, the prices get better. As a result, women and children must work double shifts or even more hours to produce large quantities everyday, because whoever offers the lowest price among the vendors gets to sell more. Although very few details have been divulged about the supply chain of Shein, it is found that most of its clothes are made with polyester, nylon and other synthetic fabrics for which it has received wide criticism regarding its environmental impact.

Widely used by manufacturers catering to fast fashion labels, polyester fabric is known to shed microfibers which being minute, easily pass through sewage and wastewater treatment plants into our waterways where they become a serious threat to aquatic life due to their inability to biodegrade. When small creatures like plankton eat them, then travel up the food chain to fish and shellfish, eaten by humans. This can cause if not sickness then severe birth defects as shown in a documentary called The True Cost which shows serious birth defects in Indian cotton farmers’ children. Another reason why its environmentally sustainable is that textile production releases carbon dioxide emissions, created primarily by global transportation and the use of heavy factory waste, both of which are essential to the cheap manufacturing process employed by fast fashion. Nevertheless, the growing demand for fast fashion remains to increase the waste produced from the textile factories, both in dyes and caustic solutions.

Adding to the environmental impact of fast fashion, the clothing made from these factories is simply not made to last and works on a wear-once basis. Keeping this in mind, a Conde Nast magazine called Glamour presented the “Cost per wear” calculator which has now been readily adopted by sustainable fashion interest groups. All this aside, Fast fashion retailers are concerned only with the bottom line that is in order to earn a profit, retailers must sell an enormous amount of clothing each year as the fast fashion business model is dependent on the consumer’s desire to buy new clothing for every occasion. Many of these clothes are made cheaply and haphazardly, causing them to fall apart after one use, which results in the consumers buying more and more clothes. Consumers are almost made to think that clothes they buy are disposable as they are easily replaceable. The problem with this way of thinking is that the more people buy, the more they throw out. As a result, huge amounts of clothing are going directly into landfills, and being petroleum based fibers, they will remain in the landfills for decades (Claudio 449).

Although industrial clothing machines exist, they represent a substantial investment for factories and to keep costs down, fast-fashion retailers depend on cheap labour in underdeveloped countries. Sweatshops have been around for decades, but with the increased demand brought on by fast fashion, they have considerably multiplied. Due to globalization, manufacturing can now be outsourced more easily to these sweatshops in countries where wages can be just a few dollars per day (Ross) like Mexico, China, Thailand, and Vietnam. Same with the vast underground economies of immigrant communities in cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and London. All of these factories are completely unsafe; the workers are subjected to harmful chemicals, poor working conditions, and abuse from managers. None of them are paid a suitable living wage, so employers can trap workers into continuing to work long hours at the factory in an attempt to earn enough to survive. Unfortunately, because the sweatshops are independent contractors, fast-fashion retailers bear no legal responsibility for the working conditions. Outsourcing to contractors is done as a resort to keep fast-fashion retailers’ costs low and to avoid any fixed repercussions that could result in losses for their trade.

In addition to a decrease in quality, the production methods of fast fashion come with a higher ethical price, use pre-made designs as most of the clothes and accessories in their stores are a direct imitation or a copy of runway designs from around the world. Brands like Forever 21 and H&M have been described as prime examples of retailers doing so and changing only slight details. Appallingly, this practice is not illegal, because it so happens that fashion designs themselves are not copyrightable, except for elements like logos and certain prints. Taking advantage of this loophole, fast-fashion retailers copy the non-proprietary elements of a design, which is more than enough to sell to the willing mobs of consumers.

Francois Souchet of the Ellen Macarthur Foundation says “The reason we see so much waste happening is because we’re producing more and more, and wearing the clothes less and less,” says.  The issue with the fast fashion model is that in order to produce so much clothing so quickly and so cheaply, unique designs need to be replaced with low-effort copies, skilled labour must be relieved with poorly managed sweatshops, and fine materials have to be discarded for their environmentally damaging counterparts that wear out in time for the next trend. In this light, fast fashion also forces higher-quality brands to adopt similar techniques just to compete. On one hand, globalization allows fashion retailers to reduce their production costs and be more competitive in a global economy while providing clothes for people of all classes. On the other hand, globalization in the fashion industry has also created tremendous ethical and environmental problems. In India, however the consumers are reported to be already more conscious of environmentally friendly fashion practices, and this awareness is only growing according to a Nielsen study from eight years ago.

According to a report by Business of Fashion and Deloitte, India’s fashion market will be worth $59.3 billion by 2022, making it the sixth largest in the world, on par with the U.K. and Germany. As a country of 1.3 billion people India’s market exercises considerable influence and has become part of the reason that global giants are presenting themselves to Indians as eco-friendly brands. Brands like H&M are working to use sustainably sourced materials by 2030, and completely balance its carbon footprint by the following decade. Though part of this approach is to respond to customer demand and sell more products to eco-conscious Indians, it is for them to decide whether to ‘buy’ into it or not.

 

 

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