Hello my friends, would hugely appreciate it if anyone finds the time to read through my article on the fashion industry. Will respond to anyone else's survey.
Thanks big time xxx - minecraftman
Consequences of a fast fashion ruled industry.
Fashion is fast, running from season to season and constantly looking for ways to feed the consumer. It feels free and fast flowing as an art form, never stale and always evolving. However, is this constant cycle of reinvention healthy or has it grown into an exploitative overconsumption? In this article I will be explaining how the fashion industry works today and exploring the effect it has on people.
An Unrestricted Industry
The fashion industry has always struggled with the issue of copyright. Prominent designers in the US are pushing for a change in law to allow clothing designs to be patented. Presently there is no such protection, leading to widespread copying in the fashion industry and helping fuel the $460 billion counterfeit industry. However, the issue can’t be fixed by passing one law, the issue lies in deciding what qualifies as an original design. This problem can be seen in the current law in the UK;To be protected by copyright in the UK, a work must fall within one of the eight categories set out at s.3 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 ("CDPA". Logically, garments of clothing fit into the “works of artistic craftsmanship” category perfectly, but in practice the ambiguity of “artistic” has caused many issues in court. Despite the work both being clearly artistic and a work of original craftsmanship, In 1976 the house of lords managed to conclude that a prototype for an original three piece lounge suit was not a work of artistic craftsmanship. Likewise, since an item of clothing is considered functional it is hard to apply copyright protection in the same way it is applied to a painting or a piece of art.
While many brands attempt to sue and push for a change in law, many argue that the lack of copy protection is a good thing. With copy protection the fashion industry wouldn’t innovate and consequently would be a smaller and weaker industry. An industry with copy protection would also be more anti-consumer. Imagine if one company held the patent to skinny jeans, they would hold a monopoly on an entire trend, if trends are even able to gain momentum in an uninspiring and protected industry.
Fast fashion companies use the unrestricted nature and the lack of copyright protection in the industry to their advantage. At the start each new season retailers scramble to capture the most recent trends held at Fashion week and turn them into a mainstream trend. Logically, this concludes that most retailers have only two collections per year, an AW and a SS collection. This is not the case. Retail giant, H&M offers two primary collections per year and many subcollections. The primary collections provide more traditional and long lasting items; the subcollections allow catering to new trends that appear mid season. This enables H&M to research and predict upcoming trends while also allowing for a commitment to tried and tested, safer designs.
Zara stretches the cycle even further by releasing around 20 collections with over 12,000 designs per year, and basing its entire model off of reacting to consumer trends. Zara is fully able to cater the public’s desires, with it taking just 10-15 days from the design stage to the shop floor. The rate at which Zara pushes out new garments means they can exist within the curve of the trend, adjusting to it while it develops. This means, in many cases, Zara influences the direction of the trend more than its original source.
The success of its business model is a big reason why its parent company, spanish firm Inditex, is the world’s biggest clothing retailer. Whether intentionally or just evolving to satisfy the thirst of the consumer by delivering trends on time and cheaply, Zara has unfortunately created a business model around unsustainability. Garments are made to be worn for one season, thrown out when the trend or fabric comes to the end of its life. The average american now throws out 32 kg of clothing and textiles each year. To supply the demand for the replacement of 32 kg of fabric each year, fashion companies need to keep their production costs low.
The Exploitation of Workers
Keeping production costs low is a given of any industry, but what happens when the product is not made to last and is constantly replaced? The answer can be seen in the fashion industry and does not just apply to the fast fashion brands.
The lack of accountability by retailers towards their factory workers is prevalent throughout all of the industry. This all comes down to the size of the supply chain. Companies contract factories to work for them, and they then track and control the factories through third party social auditing firms. The distance and lack of control between retailers and factories can be seen in Bangladesh where small factories, capable of producing 10,000 pieces a month, were accepting orders ten times that, filing them through small agents, subcontracting to small workshops and home based workers. This makes it increasingly difficult for companies to track exactly where the product is coming from. This lack of authority over factories by companies means that when abuse of workers occurs it is not the direct fault of the retailer. Even if the companies are found to be at fault, they would rather pay a million dollar fine than to rectify their poor labour practices and their whole supply chain.
The Ali Enterprises factory fire in Pakistan remains the deadliest factory fire in Pakistan’s history, and it further highlights the disconnect between brands and suppliers. More than 250 people died in the clothing factory that was supplying jeans for German retailer Kik. Windows were barred to “deter theft” and doors were locked from the outside as people burned, suffocated or boiled alive as water flooded the basement. Managers were more concerned with saving stock than saving the workers who were being paid less than $100 a month. Just a few weeks prior, Kik hired a private social auditing firm, which carried out safety checks and determined the factory was safe. Kik refused to pay long term compensation to those who were affected by the fire, showing the lack of accountability which is seen throughout the fashion industry towards workers. It is clear that companies favour a discounted product at the cost of discounting worker’s human rights.
The big western brands are not the only ones at fault. Brands in developing countries use the same practices as their western counterparts. In 2010, 64% of India’s textile industry served domestic demand, meaning Indian clothing factories are accentuating the poverty cycle in their own country, at their own will. Western brands are only taking advantage of the conditions of developing countries to make a profit, they are not the cause of human rights issues as they existed before the western retailers took advantage of them. The brands in developing countries also do not face the same level of criticism, as boycotts only focus on big retailers such as H&M and Zara. Even small western brands manage to avoid any heavy scrutiny as boycotts, again, only focus on the big western brands, a Disney branded t-shirt is more likely to have been made in as sweatshop than a t-shirt from Zara. This concludes that the government is the only body which can ensure the rights of workers are not being exploited as it seems that no one else is taking responsibility.
On the contrary, sweatshops can be seen to be a necessary evil. If the Indian government somehow managed to impose a higher living wage,the factories would move to other countries where labour is cheaper. For example,when Wal-Mart cut ties with chinese manufacturers after a public outrage over the discovery that the clothes were being made in a sweatshop. While this seemed like a victory for human rights activists, the chinese workers who lost their jobs were outraged. People in developing countries are deprived of economic opportunities and, in many cases, factory work is one of the only stable lines of work in a region.
What Can We Do?
As discussed above, consumer boycotts have little effect on changing the industry and often are at the harm of workers. The only people who can make a true change are the brands themselves. Supply registers are a way of knowing who your manufacturers are, allowing brands to send representatives to visit every individual factory. The representatives must look for signs of subcontracted labour and work with the factory owners to understand their order capacity. Workers must also be aware of their rights and for their complaints to be heard.
The Fair Wear Foundation is an accreditation organisation that believes in full transparency to ensure the protection of workers rights. They publish and conduct brand performance checks, publish reports on third party complaints and publish their verification audits. Going above and beyond most brand’s in house policies guarantees a healthy supply chain.
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- Thread Starter
I did not expect to see Disney anywhere in this article.