The Business of Fashion - Lets Change it!
Posted: Apr 06 2017
I want to start talking more about the dark side of Fast Fashion and why it so important that we become conscious consumers and move towards a sustainable model. I hope you can take a few minutes to read (below) an excerpt from The Fashion Revolution - White Paper. It gives a quick summary of how the fashion industry got to where it is today.
I believe that moving forward towards a healthier future requires small achievable steps from all of us. If ethically made clothing costs more to purchase than fast fashion, then we simply need to buy less but buy what is good and what we really love. 3-4 pairs of cheap jeans cost the same as one pair of awesome sustainably made ones. We do not need closets bursting with inexpensive flimsy clothing. And of course there is the option of trading and purchasing 2nd hand. Here at HTA I am striving to make the best decisions I can along the way. It's not perfect (nothing ever is!) but I am committed to always finding healthier fabrics and printing techniques. HTA clothing is made right here in Canada and always will be, sweatshop free. You can trust that I will continue to use the cleanest materials and techniques that I can find in the making of my art printed clothing line.
The Fashion Revolution The Business of Fashion
Fashion is our chosen skin. On an individual level it represents how we feel about ourselves and what we want to tell the world about who we are. On a community level, it tells a story about our history, culture and social customs.
We have worn clothing pretty much from the beginning of time, but fashion was not always made and consumed the way it is now. Mass-produced clothing has existed since the mid nineteenth century and working conditions have been a problem for well over a hundred years. The term “sweatshop’ was coined as early as the 1850’s. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 was the deadliest industrial disaster of its time, killing 123 women and 23 men in Manhattan, New York City. Mill fires in the UK were so common that mill owners often had their own steam fire engines.
However, the way fashion is produced and consumed has been dramatically scaled and sped up in the last 20-30 years and so too we have seen more frequent and deadlier factory disasters.
Clothing in the earliest days would have been made-to-order by local tailors and sold through trunk shows to aristocratic clients. Later luxury fashion design would be shown on the catwalk across a few major urban centres, still produced locally and on a relatively small scale. Consumer culture was ushered in around the 1950’s. In 1973 the U.S and other countries set up a quota system to limit the amount of textile and apparel imports from specific countries.
However, it drove up domestic manufacturing costs and production began moving abroad. By the mid 1970’s many brands, some of which are now the world’s biggest retailers, began rapidly copying catwalk styles, producing them for much less and having them on shopping rails within weeks. “Fast fashion” gained steam throughout the 1980s, and some heralded it as the “democratization of fashion.” What once seemed exclusive to a few was made accessible to most. The majority of the market moved in this direction.
In 2005, the quota system was eliminated and replaced by a World Trade Organization agreement that effectively opened the floodgates to outsource abroad. By the mid 2000s, fashion had become a huge global business with production constantly moving to countries that offered the lowest wages, the least regulation and the least protections for workers and the environment in order to keep up the system of producing more for less as quickly as possible. This is the case not just for the high street but for luxury fashion too.
Fast forward to today and the fashion industry is now one of the most influential sectors, both in terms of financial power and how it shapes wider trends, beliefs, attitudes, behaviours, identity and culture. The global fashion industry (which includes clothing, textiles, footwear and luxury goods) is worth an estimated $3 trillion (Companies & Markets, 2013), and according to McKinsey (2015) has “outperformed the overall market and every other sector across geographies for more than a decade” — more profitable than even high-growth sectors like technology and telecommunications.
As a result of fashion’s growing importance to the global economy, garment manufacturing has become the world’s third-biggest industrial industry — behind only automotive and electronics manufacturing (Financial Post, June 2014).
Fashion is now one of the most labour intensive industries, directly employing at least 60 million people (ILO 2015) and likely more than double that indirectly dependent on the sector — an estimated 80 million in China alone (ODI, 2008). Handicraft artisan production is attributed as the second largest employer across developing countries, counting some 34 million handicraft artisans just in India. (Alliance for Artisan Enterprise, 2014; Business of Fashion, 2014). Women represent the overwhelming majority of today’s garment workers and artisans.
There are also millions of farmers, dyers, knitters, weavers, and myriad others involved in the production and sale of clothing. Fairtrade Foundation estimates that as many as 100 million households are directly engaged in cotton production and that 300 million people work in the cotton sector in total (when you count family labour, farm labour and workers in related services such as transportation, ginning, baling and storage).
For the past decade, apparel companies have seen rising costs, driven by rising labour, raw material and energy prices. Yet despite the higher cost of making clothing, the price consumers pay is cheaper than ever before. This is why production is regularly shifted to lower cost countries (McKinsey 2015). World Trade Organization statistics (2014) tell us that China is now the biggest textile and apparel exporter followed by European Union countries then India, Turkey, Bangladesh, United States, Vietnam, Korea, Pakistan and Indonesia respectively.
We now face a system of fashion business that is broken. It fundamentally operates in an unsustainable way and cannot carry on business as usual. We cannot keep chasing the cheapest labour and exploiting natural resources forever. Eventually, they will run out.
However, writer and radio journalist Kurt Anderson writes about the history of fashion in Vanity Fair: “I’ve been a big believer in historical pendulum swings—American sociopolitical cycles tend to last, according to historians, about 30 years.” So maybe the time for a fashion revolution really is now. We’ve seen thirty years of rapid development and now it may be time for a different model.
Written by Sarah Ditty with special thanks for words from Lucy Siegle and research support from Emilie Schultz and Carry Somers.
Read the full report HERE