When it comes to fashion we seem to have a large collective blind spot. As a society, we know the right things to do; we recycle, we give to charity and we buy organic vegetables. Yet, in our fashion habits we are missing something very important. We are happy to wear the latest fashion and enjoy the wide variety of new items on sale each season. But, there is an unsightly and unseen world we ignore that lies behind the piles of fast fashion items on display in stores. Out of sight, and seemingly out of mind, are an estimated 150 million children working in factories and workplaces around the world. Children producing the very fashionable items we crave with each new season.
A Fast Fashion Blind Spot
These days our fashion tastes change quickly. Trends come and go. Fashion movements are powered by an industry that supplies unlimited, fast and easy fashion fixes on the High Street to fulfil our latest trendy desires. This is our fashion blind spot. We are buying into a fast fashion world of mass-produced items that are churned at the lowest price by employing cheap labour from the developing world. Many factories cut corners and ignore guidelines in order to keep their production costs as low as possible. They know they can cut their labour costs by hiring children to do adult work. Children are cheap or free to hire, they work long hours without extra pay and they have no rights or unions to protect them.
The UN estimates more than half of the 150 million child workers in the world are working more than 9 hours a day. They are paid less than a living wage and are often housed in squalid conditions. Many of these children are employed in the cut-make-trim garment industry. They are the ones exposed to toxic chemicals to dye our clothes the exact shade of green of the coming season. They spend their days cutting cloth, sewing garments together and attaching the trims by hand.
The curse of child labour is hard to stamp out. Factories hide the children when an audit takes place. Bribes are paid to ensure no evidence of their labour practices are documented. The children will not speak out, nor will their poor and illiterate parents. It is a tragic cycle of the poorest and weakest being exploited for the tastes of the rich. While the problem is hard to eradicate at the source, collectively opening of our eyes and exposing our blind spot can bring change.
When our fashion appetite is fed by cheap clothing and we can buy a t-shirt for as cheap as a takeaway coffee, our clothing loses any sense of value. It is disposable, in one season and out the next. It is too easy to turn a blind eye to the poorly paid worker who made these items. How easily we can wear mass-produced clothing and not think about the young children who are part of this industry, who are missing schooling to work on a factory floor nine or more hours a day.
Removing Our Fashion Blind Spot
Change begins when we start to value our clothing again. This change is fuelled by choosing to buy items that have been made to last. Real change erupts when we all stop following the fast fashion trends and move towards a slow fashion mindset. Mindfully choosing items that have been produced by ethical brands. A slower, more mindful approach to how we fill our wardrobes can send a powerful message to manufacturers. It tells them that there is a growing group of fashion consumers who are no longer blinded but are now making buying decisions that are consistent with their knowledge of right and wrong. It tells brands that this community wants well-made items that are made to last seasons. It says they are willing to choose quality over quantity in a move back to a world where fashion items were made to be loved and worn many times.
To the manufacturers who use child labour in a bid to produce at the lowest cost, this group of consumers are sending a strong message of change; they would rather have a fashionable wardrobe with fewer items that are well-made and well-loved than have a large fashion blind spot in their life.