Dear reader, it is time to talk about fashion! Hey! Stay… keep reading! I am not into trends, fashions tips or even sales. In this article, I am bringing you a different perspective about something that you can be involved into without knowing… First things first: are you wearing any of these brands?
Probably yes. I am, to be honest. So, I think you should pay attention to this article. Brands like these ones are part of a group that found the perfect recipe for profits: mixing catwalk trends with low prices. Looks good, right? But do you know you are wearing real weapons on your body? Many specialists defend that clothes are a way to communicate and express ourselves, they are an important element of our personal identity, so it is easy to understand our strong connection with clothes and fashion design. This theory was part of marketing strategies of big brands for years… but now, they are taking it to another level. The fast development of social media obliged companies to adapt their strategies and it resulted in a big exposure to the products. Nowadays, commercials are made to make us believe that we can find the solution for our problems by consuming and letting our mind depending on it.
Once they have the consumer eyes on their product, companies use the big exposure of the product in order to seduce them again. This time, presenting what is in or out fashion. Every day, new cheap and trendy pieces arrive in the shops to keep the offer diversified as much as they can. This fast change in the “trend rules” turn the clothes into something disposable if you want to present yourself in the vanguard of fashion… of course, the cheap prices are the cherry on the top of the cake in order to create this easy-buying feeling. So, if you are really into this… prepare yourself because the 2 classical seasons in the fashion industry are totally out. If you are good at math it is not difficult to understand that the 52 seasons correspond to all the weeks in the year. Can you imagine? Companies are working in new seasons every new week! Welcome to the, literally, fast fashion world! This business model is risky but very profitable. The base of everything is a strong and a protected system of production and supply that demands the speedy production, consumption, and discard of clothes.
CHEAP FOR CONSUMER, ULTRA-CHEAP FOR THE BRAND, LETHAL TO THE PRODUCERS…
For the ones completely out this topic, the scenario looks like a boring bunch of economic statements that, apparently, is quite favorable to the consumer and they are not wrong. This fashion system is perfect for us… but do you think it is good for everybody involved in this? Recent studies point that 1 in 6 people is working in something that is directly or indirectly are connected with the fashion industry, turning it into the most dependent industry in the world. But, how this “fast fashion works”? Easy. You do not need to be an economist to understand that to sell cheap you need to produce even cheaper, right? And you also can image where big brands can find cheap productions… the so-called “third world” countries, of course. They gather skilled human capital, technology, and physical capital at cheap prices. A mine of gold for big brands.
Once they land in such countries the process is simple: going into local production, brands start doing pressure in the owners to make them reduce the prices attending to the concurrence. They know that the target is easy to convince because of the lack of work in such places and the values that they will receive – even with miserable payments – is more seductive than a Zara jacket in a sale for us. There is no way to make a producer deny such business.
Sweatshops accept the low payments because they do the same with their workers. It is a vicious cycle… So, you might be asking why people accept the worst job ever… and the answer is easy: they need to work – even receiving 2 dollars per day – if they want to survive. And of course, there is no space for fights or labor unions when there are reports of extreme violence against the workers involved when the production, for example, slows down. In some cases, this “free” way of management focused on profits lead the owners of factories to forget the safety and integrity of that one that are using their own hands to transform resources in money. Unfortunately, this is a common scenario in countries such as Vietnam, China, Turkey, Mexico, Thailand, Colombia, and many others. Big and illegal factories without any security control and underpaid workers inside. Sometimes, children are working for more than 10 hours per day. It is impossible to talk about all this and avoid Bangladesh. This Asian country was the scenario for mass tragedies that woke up the international community to the bloody “fast fashion” industry.
In 2013, the 8 floors “Rana Plaza” garment factory collapsed after many warnings for the serious problems of the infrastructure. The owner insisted to have the workers inside the building and the tragedy happened in April; more than 1000 deaths and other thousands of injured people. Some years passed but the morning came again; same country, similar tragedy… this time in 2016, a fire in a textile factory killed around 30 people. Sadly, there are more examples inside and out of Bangladesh, to stain our pretty clothes with blood.
DANGEROUS FOR ENVIRONMENT.
We saw the tragedy associated with the human force but the bad causes of the permanent pressure of the textile industry are also affecting the environment. Using the same process found for hiring production centers in the “third world” countries, brands or producers are coming to farmers in order to buy cheap resources – like cotton – to produce the clothes. Once again, the price of the concurrence is a weapon to deal with the farmers and to force them to reduce the prices to ridiculous levels in order to catch the client. As an answer to the excessive demand, workers are using genetically modified plants and extremely dangerous pesticides and fertilizers – completely out of recommended patterns – to prepare miles of land every day in order to achieve the levels of extraction that is necessary to complete the order. I think we do not need any explanation about where the use of uncontrolled chemicals can take us!
In India, the situation is turning more serious every day. The infiltration of such substances in the land and even the permanent and inappropriate contact of workers expose the locals to serious health effects such as pulmonary and skin diseases but also birth defects which are growing every year. To serve big corporations, thousands are dying every day in the fields and other thousands of babies are born with severe deformations that can let them eternally dependent and reducing their life expectancy. Even when the situation is not affecting the worker’s health or births, there is another phenomenon that is killing thousands. Because they are not able to manage the business in proper ways, many farmers are creating big debts with the chemicals companies or even with the owners of the land ending the situation with suicide. In India, during last year, more than 250,000 farmers committed suicide after realizing that their financial problems with the land exploration. Ironically, they using the same pesticide to kill themselves.
WHAT TO DO NOW?
The answer can be as simple as hard. The social actors, the economic masters, and the political leaders are called to sit and rethink the world of values we have today. For this problem, and many others. How can an industry that produces 150 billion pieces of clothing per year generating a consumption of 1.5 billion of new pieces per week is unable to create proper conditions to protect the people in low levels of the production’s pyramid? This is the question that many people are repeating around the world. As a student of management, I should admit how ashamed I am for the type of management that surrounds “fast fashion”. Looks like many people forgot the meaning of social responsibility and the basics of the art of managing. I am also ashamed of being part of this capitalist movement of well-dressed people. What about you?
By Ricardo Leitao