By Diane Small
It’s not a stretch to say that fast fashion affects Asians more than any other group, since most of its manufacturing is set up in that continent, mainly in countries like Bangladesh, Cambodia, Vietnam or China. And with demand for fast fashion increasing not only thanks to Western labels like Missguided and Forever 21 but also a new Korean player, Twee, in the market, this is more true now than ever.
Twee is fast-fashion on steroids, making the likes of Zara look ‘slow’. The brand, which aims to expand globally, promises to bring in more than 400 new styles for women and men every month. This means you’ll practically have a brand new shopping experience every time – and that clothing waste will increase, whilst garment workers will slave away harder than ever before.
And I don’t use the word ‘slave’ lightly. Around 40 million people are trapped in slavery around the globe, and it’s most prevalent in Asia, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the charity Walk Free Foundation.
Young shoppers are now being urged to pressure manufacturers to end the exploitation of workers under a campaign called “Do you know who made it?”, which was launched this week in Bangkok by IOM X, an migration group backed by the International Organization for Migration and the United States Agency for International Development.
With Fashion Revolution Week just around the corner, more people are asking themselves: ‘how important is this product to me? Do I really need it? Can I shop better?’. It’s important that more of us are able to see through slick, fun fashion campaigns and understand the real story of how fashion is made. A new Asian video about sweatshop labour aims to help us do just that.
It starts off with a cutsie model dancing around in a ‘Happy’ T-shirt, then fades away from the girl to reveal that the shirt was made under sweatshop conditions. It’s a serious issue that many Asian nations need to address at the state level: around $52bn in illegal profits from forced labor in Asia are made by companies each year, according to ILO figures.
Men and women in Asian countries often leave their lives as farmers to seek a better existence in the cities, where they are usually quickly employed in clothing manufacturing. They’ll be forced to work excessive hours in horrible conditions for very little pay; they are exposed to harmful chemicals and potentially dangerous machinery; they are put up in substandard housing and have their identification documents withheld to prevent them from leaving their jobs, according to IOM X.
Although most of these people are leaving the countryside for a better life, they’re probably better off staying in the fields: “It often leaves them not better off than where they started,” says IOM X program leader Tara Dermott.