Do you ever think about who made your clothes?
We know where we bought them, and we are often readily prepared to answer the common question, “Where did you get that?”
However, from beginning to end, the process of manufacturing clothes is much more complex than one may think.
It is a known fact by any business owner that products are cheaper to make in other countries. In the United States, we have federal agencies such as the Department of Labor, which are designed to protect workers’ rights.
Additionally, there is HIPAA, which stands for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and it protects the health and safety as well as the privacy of workers in America.
It costs money and effort for businesses to abide by these rules, as human rights aren’t so “convenient” sometimes.
For this reason, people go to other countries where there are no such laws guaranteeing safe working conditions and fair wages. Regarding the debate on fair wages, this is a controversial issue in America, as many believe that the current federal minimum wage (which varies by state as needed) is unfairly low and cruel to workers in America.
Regardless of one’s stance on this, it must be recognized that even the existence and enforcement of a minimum wage at all places the United States ahead of many other nations.
Minimal accountability allows for people to be taken advantage of to produce items cheaply and have them sold globally for profits that do not benefit the laborers at the foundation of the fast fashion cycle.
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Just about every mainstream fashion brand takes advantage of labor workers in other countries, and despite making untold millions in sales per year, they refuse to give people rights to safe working conditions.
It should also be known that people in other countries don’t have economies as efficient as ours here in the US, nor do they have government assistance programs nearly as generous as the ones in America.
For these reasons, the factory workers have no place to go; they don’t have the privilege of leaving because of a “toxic” boss. For many, if they do not work, they starve.
In fact, one hugely popular fashion brand, known for its low prices, has factories in which workers are not even allowed to report dangerous conditions in their places of employment. These unsafe conditions are even worse when you realize that many other countries don’t have health care that is as advanced as that of the U.S.
Oftentimes, if they get hurt and are injured so that they are unable to do their job, they will simply lose their ability to make a living, possibly resulting in forcing children into the industry to survive.
So what now?
As a young person in an era of such abundant information, it can seem like the weight of the world is on our shoulders. All the problems on the planet seem to be constantly presented to us in the many different forms of media that we consume.
It is not your fault or my fault that bad things happen or that powerful people make greedy decisions. This is inevitable in the world that we live in.
However, I believe that your money is your vote, and as a working young person, I can choose where I spend my money and who I get to support, another added benefit of living in a partially free market economy.
My New Year’s resolution for 2020 was to eliminate my financial support of fast fashion and instead buy more secondhand clothing. In this experience, I learned so much, and have since continued this goal.
One common misconception is that buying ethically is expensive, but this could not be further from the truth. I spend less money on clothes than ever, and yet I find thrifting and consignment stores more conducive to my sense of style.
Additionally, many thrift stores donate their proceeds to charities. This way, you can wear nice clothes, many with name brands on them, without directly supporting that brand, but rather a local business or charity.
Companies often have many unethical business practices in the name of saving money, however, at the rise of each new trend that will bring them publicity and consumer approval, they quickly go out of their way to spend millions of dollars to properly appease these consumers.
How sad is it that almost every major brand has eco-friendly initiatives that claim to help the planet, but so few feel the need to show decency to the very people on whom their company is built?
If you feel inspired to make a change in your lifestyle, and save money while you do it, here are some practical ways to do so:
- Do your research on a company before you buy from them. One reliable and helpful source is goodonyou.eco, which tells you the latest status on any major brands’ ethical efforts.
- Wear secondhand clothing. This is not for everyone, as some people have more specific needs when it comes to clothing, which may prevent them from finding what they need in a thrift store, and that is perfectly fine. Note: I didn’t say “buy” secondhand, as the cheapest thing you can do is wear the clothes in your closet, then upcycle them or swap with friends. Besides that, yard sales and thrift stores have been the sources of my best finds in the past few years, and if you need something more specific, consignment stores may be best.
- Look for the fair trade certified label on other purchased goods. This seal ensures that the product you are buying has met certain ethical and safety standards.
- Buy American! American-made products must adhere to federal safety standards and HIPAA, and they tend to be more transparent with their practices. All workers are paid a minimum wage that is higher than in most of the alternative countries that many other products have been made in. Support businesses that choose to take the road less travelled by keeping manufacturing domestic at a cost to them, but a huge step toward ethical production.