Sweatshops: Who is Paying the Ultimate Price for Cheap Fashion

In my previous blog post, I dived into the meaning of sweatshops which is a factory or workshop, especially in the clothing industry, where workers, usually living in third world countries, are exploited by being forced to work overtime, receiving low wages, toiling long hours in unsanitary conditions where they are exposed to health and safety hazards, violations of labor laws, and sometimes sexual harassment. I researched about many cases of alarming working conditions in such factories that violate human rights. I also began exploring brands like Nike that do not produce any of their garments, but instead, contracts with manufacturing facilities, which are mostly sweatshops, throughout the world.

Since then I have continued to explore how the whole system works and why sweatshops exist. My friends and I live for the trendy, affordable stores like H&M and Forever 21-- and we are not the only ones. These stores—which are the leaders of the “fast fashion” industry—appeal to my age group because their clothes are trendy, hit every style from grungy to prep, and most significantly, fit into our budget. For $50, it’s totally possible to walk out of Forever 21 with a brand-new outfit. At the local boutique down the street, all my friends and I could buy for $50 is half a skirt.

But the convenience, selection, and low costs come at a price. The instant gratification of a cheap new shirt is far outweighed by its social and environmental impacts. Just as hitting up a fast food restaurant every day for lunch will add up to some health problems, a habit of shopping at fast fashion stores harms our local and global communities.

First, a formal definition of fast fashion: it’s a retail model where trends are delivered as quickly as possible at highly affordable prices. For example, French fashion house Givenchy just sent black dresses with grommet lacing down the runway for its Spring 2015 show. The real deal won’t be sold in stores for half a year, but Forever 21 can have a much more wallet-friendly copycat version on shelves within three weeks. According to NPR, “a relentless drive for speed now characterizes the industry.”

And this revolving door of merchandise isn’t ethically sound, even though its price tags are cheap.