By Amma Okobea
We’ve all heard the solid arguments against fast fashion brands like H&M, Zara and Mango: they create environmental crises by offering fashion that’s so cheap, it’s practically disposable. The reason that fashion can be had for such a low cost is because the garment workers making it are paid a pittance.
But guess what? The likes of Zara have been knocked off their perches by newer online brands that can design a product and have it on sale in as little as a week, according to research by Fung Global Retail & Technology.
Ok, sure – the big, bad high street ‘wolves’, H&M, Zara and Mango, are pretty bad, too. However, due to public pressure, they’ve tried to clean up their acts with green initiatives like Zara’s “Join Life” sustainable collection or H&M’s conscious collections – and let’s not forget Mango’s sustainable line, ‘Committed’, which launched February this year. These efforts cannot be completely overlooked, and there are far more steps these retailers have taken to be more sustainable, such as instigating clothing recycling programs, eliminating fur, ensuring all cosmetics are not tested on animals, and more.
The new, nastier retailers couldn’t care less about ethics. They’re using social media and influencers like the Jenner and Hadid sisters to keep on top of trends; they’ve streamlined their supply chains and moved production closer to key markets, allowing them to fast forward the design and manufacturing process.
But the consequences of this acceleration of what is already fast fashion are disastrous – think further ecological destruction, even lower wages for workers, animal cruelty, and more mindless consumerism, now available 24/7 at the click of a mouse. Here’s what you need to know about the nastier fast fashion brands – and what you can do to slow them down.
Why Boohoo should be booed
Boohoo may look pretty on the billboards, but it’s a whole other story behind the scenes. The brand has had staggering growth in the past few years, especially after it bought up fast fashion retailers PrettyLittleThing and Nasty gal. Many of the brand’s labels state their products are made in the UK or EU, which is usually an indication of ethical labor practices, given the EU’s minimum wage and other labour protection laws. But as Channel 4’s investigative program, Dispatches, revealed, Boohoo is one of four fashion brands producing clothing in UK based sweatshops where workers are paid far less than the minimum wage. The brand claimed it was “unaware of that situation”. Hmm, they may want to check their employee’s pay stubs, then?
Employees also complained of horrid working conditions. They revealed that they would be reprimanded for being 1 minute late, checking the time, or even smiling. After three such ‘strikes’, they were fired. Boohoo denies such a policy, but several disgruntled employees have come forth to state their cases against the company.
Don’t be Missguided
Missguided was another brand busted on Dispatches for underpaying British workers in sweatshops. But that’s not all – check this out: a Sky News investigation revealed that this fast fashion brand sells what it calls faux fur – but there’s actually real fur from four types of animals – including cats – in that material! According to Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International, real fur is often sold by brands like Missguided as faux fur, in order to give the product a more ‘real’ look. The brand denies knowledge of the use of fur and says they have a fur free policy – but they’ve been caught using real fur in allegedly faux fur products more than once.
Not surprising that Missguided is one of many fast fashion brands with no CSR or sustainability section at all on their website. All they seem to care about is selling, selling, selling. As Nitin Passi, founder and CEO of Missguided told The Guardian, “I like to say we’re the quickest. If [the high-street retailers] are fast fashion, we’re rapid fashion….we update our site once a day with new stock, but in my eyes, we should be updating it every hour.” Oh, that would be great for the planet, wouldn’t it?
Never Forever 21
In 2014, the mega American brand Forever 21 was launched in Los Angeles, offering the cheapest of cheap clothing – none of which, as far as I could see on a visit to the shop, was made from anything that could remotely be called ‘natural’ fibres.
But nasty petrol-based textiles isn’t the only reason Forever21 should be avoided like the plague: the brand refused to sign the Bangladesh Accord, which ensures garment workers’ safety and rights, but it gets far worse:
- In 2012, five former minimum-wage high school employees filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that the company failed to pay them for hours worked, forcing them to work off the clock and refusing lunch breaks.
- According to the International Labor Rights Forum, Forever 21 did not join retailers like Gap Inc., Levi Strauss & Co., American Eagle Outfitters, and many other companies in deciding not to buy cotton from labor abusing Uzbekistan factories.
- In 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the brand’s clothing is being produced in sweatshop-like conditions by workers in Los Angeles
- The company has been sued by at least 50 designers for copyright violation – most recently was Adidas, who claimed Forever 21 was selling fake Adidas shoes
- They were also sued by the United States Department of Labor for ignoring a subpoena requesting information in regards to how much its suppliers pay East Asia and Latin American immigrant workers
- In 2011, the company had to pay $1.03 million after the Center for Environmental Health discovered Forever 21 was selling jewellery containing the toxic metal cadmium
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Could this be fashion’s most toxic brand?
Challenges and solutions
So what can be done about the new online fashion fashion giants? Well, firstly, we consumers need to make better decisions. These retailers have grown enormously because people buy their crap. That has to stop – making a purchase from these brands is a direct endorsement for environmental destruction and human misery.
Secondly, we need to spread the word. Share this article! And let’s pressure influencers like Bella and Gigi Hadid, Kylie and Kendall Jenner, or Alexis Ren to stop working for these agents of misery. It’s easy to tweet them or to leave comments on their Insta feeds (just click the links above) to let them know how damaging their ‘influence’ really is.
Thirdly, organisations like the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) should pressure these retailers to join their ranks, and if they refuse, SAC should continuously shine a light on their questionable practices. Even though the organisation’s Higg Index has proven to be a challenge in truly monitoring the practices of its members, SAC still provides an innovative means of delving into the supply chains of various brands across many industries. Sure, it may be a bit of a challenge to get these newer, nastier fast fashion brands to be more fair, honest and conscious about what goes on within their supply chains. But if the big high street brands can make slow but steady improvements, so can they.
Main image: Missguided. Second image: Forever21.