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H&M is one of the most well-known fast fashion brands in the world with thousands of stores on all continents. The retailer’s success is based on low prices and aggressive marketing, including collaborations with high-profile celebrities. As any big company, H&M is interested in profits and nothing more. A lot of money is spent on their marketing campaigns and the décor in their stores. The prices are kept low so that the lower middle class can afford to shop there, and yet Stefan Persson, the son of H&M founder Erling Persson, is one of the richest people in the world. His son Karl-Johan Persson is currently the CEO of H&M. How is that possible when we, the consumers, have to pay such low prices, and H&M spends so much money on advertising and nice locations?
Well, marketing and their stores are precisely the only things H&M spends money on. Where Madonna makes millions to collaborate with H&M on a new line of clothing, the people who actually produce the clothes are never paid a fair wage.
How can the price of a t-shirt be 15 euros when rent has to be paid for the store it is sold at, the cashier and other people working at the store have to be paid, the t-shirt has to be flown in from the country it was produced, the textiles have to be created and turned into a t-shirt, the t-shirt has to be dyed, the textile workers have to be paid, rent has to be paid for the textile factories, a designer has to be paid who came up with the concept of the t-shirt, etc.?
The answer is simple, the most relevant people in the production process of the t-shirt, the garment workers themselves, get paid very little, and have to work in unsafe working conditions. Don’t expect that any safety measures for our planet are being taken either.
Time and again, there are reports of accidents at textile factories supplying H&M and other fast fashion brands, such as those owned by Inditex, with their products. Textile workers are exposed to dangerous chemicals in unsafe buildings with poor ventilation. They usually work more than the eight hours we are used to working in the Western world, and whenever they demand more money, their protests are being aggressively shut down by police, as seen in Cambodia.
The countries that are most well-known for producing clothes are not exactly known for their commitment to the workers’ rights, but, in the West, we continue to buy these products. We buy them because they are cheap without asking why they are so cheap. We don’t want to spend more money on items made by small brands who source their materials ethically and pay their workers a living wage. We feel that this would be too much money to spend. The truth of the matter is that the less we pay the richer we make the company itself so, despite spending less money, almost all of it goes to paying for the mansions of billionaires.
The cheaper the clothes are the more you’re going to buy because hey, it’s such a bargain. This way, fast fashion brands can bring out new lines every few weeks, and with targeted marketing, they can make us buy a new pair of shoes every month as if we really need it. One pair of shoes for every imaginable situation, it’s only 20 euros, so who cares, right? And since the quality of these products is so low we have to dispose of them quickly, which again helps to create space and "need" for newer items. Where do all those clothes you discard end up? In landfills where they take decades to decompose. Or they are returned to poorer countries as part of donations. And guess what? With all those cheap clothes entering poor countries from the Western world, the people that try to make a living off of selling clothes there are put out of business.
It’s up to us to change the conditions of those people who make our clothes. It will not be an easy battle, but remember that you sanction the exploitation of people, animals, and our environment by buying from unethical companies.
“But I need clothes,” I hear you say. This is where minimalism ties in nicely. You can spend the same amount of money on fewer clothes but be certain that they were not made in sweatshops with cancer-causing chemicals. Trust me, you’ll be just fine with six pairs of shoes instead of 20, and those six pairs will last you much longer than the cheap ones made in China for H&M.
Fast fashion brands such as H&M and Zara have realized that consumers want more ethical choices, so they spend money on marketing campaigns to convince us that they are improving the rights of the women and girls that make their clothes. They donate money to organizations such as UNICEF, and H&M even has an organic line of clothing. With all these efforts they have managed to convince some consumers that they’re actually one of the good guys, but don’t be misled, these are all publicity stunts. Recycling all the clothes that people would return to stores as H&M suggested would take years. Don't fall for this greenwashing.
As uncomfortable as it is, we should all be aware that by continuing to shop at H&M and other fast fashion retailers we pay these billionaires to exploit people in other regions of the world.
Please watch the documentaries “The True Cost” and “Sweatshop” to find out more about the working conditions of garment workers, as well as the negative impact the fast fashion industry has on the environment.
Don't forget to let me know in the comments what you think about fast fashion.
Half Bulgarian Turk, half German living life as an expat in Greece.