Low priced clothing’s hidden high cost

Colleen Hammond | Opinions Editor

As Fashion weeks in New York, London, Paris and Milan take the stage in the coming weeks, fashion lovers around the globe hold their collective breath in anticipation of next season’s upcoming trends.

While many glamorize life in the fashion industry, the horrifying realities of this multi-billion dollar industry prove even darker than The Devil Wears Prada led the world to believe.

Today, the pinnacle of fashion for many young people is neither style, fabric, nor fit. Instead, the current generation seems to be consumed by the perspective of a good deal. For most young style, low prices are high fashion.

Companies like H&M, Forever 21, Zara and Old Navy present themselves as trendy alternatives to high-end and high-priced clothing, increasing their appeal with younger consumers. This season Old Navy has advertised fall t-shirts for as low as $10.

This seems like a terrific deal, but prices this low should raise concerns for shoppers. Unfortunately, low prices in the clothing industry typically indicate poor treatment of the workers who make said clothing items.

As early as the 1990s, the vast majority of textiles and clothing purchased in the United States were also made in the U.S. However, increased mechanization and decreased manufacturing prices have driven almost all U.S. clothing companies to produce their goods overseas. With this leap across the Pacific, clothing companies discovered incredibly cheap labor and disturbingly low safety and work standards.

In developing nations like Bangladesh, most households depend on the textile industry for all their income. The human rights group, FashionUnited, records the minimum wage for garment manufacturing workers is just 8,000 taka ($95 U.S.) per month. This is an increase from the 5,300 taka per month ($63 U.S.) that workers were earning at the end of 2018.

Although this pay raise should be celebrated, it in no way can fully support the average Bangladeshi family. Many children, typically the older ones, drop out of school to work in factories in an attempt to supplement their parents’ income.

Despite Bangladesh’s child labor laws, many children simply lie to factory supervisors about their age to secure a job. Still, this practice absolves neither supervisors nor large fashion corporations.

Fashion CEOs consistently rank on the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people. Zara founder Amanico Ortega is the sixth richest person alive. With his wealth and success measuring in the billions, Ortega and his company are more than financially capable of paying their workers a living wage and creating an infrastructure where child labor does not slip through the cracks.

These problems did not exist when major companies were manufacturing in the U.S. Somehow, this move has given large companies the absurd impression that foreign workers matter less than American workers. This out of sight, out of mind mentality only perpetuates the existence of poor conditions and child labor in developing nations.

These corporate wolves in knock off sheep’s clothing present themselves as fashion forward on a budget, but their low-priced clothing often comes at the impossible cost of unfair wages and child labor around the globe.

Luckily, all hope is not lost. Time and again it has been proven that large companies respond to consumer outcry, and even more so, consumer behavior. If more shoppers decided to research their favorite clothing brand’s human rights policies and thought about the global implications of their purchase, companies would be forced to raise their labor standards.