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The True Cost of Fashion

By: Hazel RoldanThe True Cost of Fashion

Fashionable! Stylish! And the best part? Cheap!

Those are the Pavlovian responses that every shopping mall gets whenever the oh-so familiar “sale” sign is on display; followed by that extremely intense feeling of satisfaction that only the actual act of buying can bring.  Shopping is a gratifying, pleasurable, and addicting experience that, sometimes, it is hard to control the impulse to buy something especially if it’s cheap, even if we don’t need that stuff.  Some people even use shopping as a form of escape or therapy which leads to the popularization of the term “retail therapy.”  

Our obsession to everything cheap is what makes fast fashion thrive. In a nutshell, fast fashion is defined as “a trend in which clothing are designed and manufactured quickly and economically to allow customers to take advantage of the most up-to-date clothing styles at a lower price.”  Fast fashion brands that offer new arrivals almost every other week at a very cheap price like H&M, Zara, and F21, democratize the pleasure of shopping to a wider market, and promote lavish disposal of money.

As fast fashion further stimulates our shopping experience, it’s understandable that only a few of us are curious as to how the fast fashion industry works. Only a few of us are concerned about how something that has been farmed, harvested, combed to yarn, weaved to fabric, colored dyed, cut, sewn, and transported to stores can cost so little. After all, we never really consider how our cheap clothes are made which automatically makes us turn a blind eye on what exactly is at stake.  It never really crossed our mind that with cheap garments come the rising exploitation of the people and the planet, thanks in part to cheap labor and usage of finite resources. Then again, these issues do not reach the general public because they have been carefully concealed by slashed prices, glamorous fashion ad-campaigns, well-designed physical store, and instant gratification of retail therapy.

Fashion starts at the farm. Raw materials start from plants and animals, processed into fabric, fur, or leather. The transition already entails many processes which involve labor and chemicals from which shortcomings would usually arise. Farmers are falling in debt because of the monopolization of seeds. Meanwhile, the workers, who produce yarn and fabric, are not only underpaid but also exposed to chemicals that are being used to treat the fabric. The fabric, fur, and leather then go through a garment factory which has a high chance of becoming a sweatshop. Sweatshops are factories that employ workers under poor abusive conditions and pay them with unreasonably low wages. To make the matter worse, these laborers could not even demand for a reasonable wage because, chances are, their brand clients would transfer to another factory that offers a cheaper option.  These instances are mostly found but not limited to third world countries.

When it comes to the environmental impact, chemicals and toxins used to produce textiles are dumped without proper regulations, thus polluting the rivers, oceans, and even clean waters. The result? Affordable clothes but with environmental and social costs. 

This fast fashion system is designed to entice us with its trendy clothes and cheap price tags so that it can cover up the more important issues. Consequently, we end up buying more than we need, and fail to realize that it doesn’t ultimately end in our closet, but in landfills and in the ocean. It’s time to take a step back and re-asses our relationship with clothes which is fast-becoming a vicious cycle of shop, wear, and throw. Perhaps, it’s about time to be more conscious of how our clothes came to be: were the fabrics doused in insecticides and pesticides when they were in the farm? Are the dyes in our clothes safe for our skin? Does our so-called self-expression through fashion can also express our compassion to the ones who made it? Does our demand for quality clothes also translate to call for quality of life of those who sew stuff for our closet?

To become a conscious shopper, one must  start by honestly answering the question: “Do I need this?” Then from there, we can start separating our needs from wants. It’s also important that we choose brands that offer quality and sustainable products. Our decisions as what clothes to buy are more powerful than we expect. Fashion is more than style, trends, and bargains. It’s a form of self-expression that can help change lives and conserve nature.

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