It’s so easy to stop into a sprawling fashion chain for a quick hit of retail therapy or buy ultra-cheap items on sketchy clothing sites, but do you ever consider how your favorite trends end up there? Turns out, these cheap ‘fast-fashion’ items come at a higher price than you might’ve thought. To learn more about the people who make our clothes, Her Campus spoke to the lead correspondent of PRI’s Wear and Tear series, Jasmine Garsd.
According to Garsd, “most of the garment industry is [made up of] women – overwhelmingly so: in Bangladesh, for example, it’s at least 80% of the garment workforce.” The opportunity to get a job draws these workers in, who later find themselves working as virtual slaves in abhorrent conditions with little pay. Some are forced to stay until authorities literally bust down the doors to these inhumane sweatshops. And so the cycle unfortunately continues as work conditions stay abysmal and job market competition rises.
When asked how she became interested in this issue, Garsd says learning about the El Monte sweatshop was eye-opening. “It’s a landmark case out of Los Angeles involving a sweatshop that was holding over 70 slaves [who were] forced to sew for a factory that sold to major retailers. It struck me how easy it was to run this operation for years (due in part to how segregated Los Angeles is).”
The journey that these clothes make often follows one of two global routes.
“If it’s made in Los Angeles, fabric will be shipped in from Bangladesh or China. It is often already dyed or treated, which has tremendous environmental impacts in those countries,” Garsd said. “Then, it gets cut, stitched and decorated at an LA sweatshop, often by immigrants. Wage theft is a huge problem in Los Angeles.”
If products are coming from somewhere else like Bangladesh, Garsd says it will be put together there: “A woman can make as little as 68 dollars a month, often working 17-hour shifts. Then, [the garments are] sent to the US and Europe, where retailers will sell them for so much more.
So what can we, as college women, do to address the problem? Garsd says a good rule of thumb to keep in mind is, “if it’s unbelievably cheap, someone is probably getting exploited.” But, also be aware that pricer items may still be coming from an unfair source. If you’re interested in seeing where your favorite brands line up, she recommends checking out the Clean Clothes Campaign, an organization dedicated to making the garment industry more transparent.
She also suggests paring down your wardrobe as well. It may sound like the end of the world to give up your monthly shopping sprees, but she stands by her philosophy of, “Buy less and buy better quality. It’s not just humane, it’s a smart investment – fast fashion is really bad for your wallet.” Anything to save money sounds like a smart decision in my book, for sure.
Want to learn more about the women who make your clothes? Check out the full series at PRI.org