If you search #fashion on Instagram, you’ll be inundated with 642 million posts. It’s no secret that most of us are guilty of making fast fashion purchases without giving a second thought as to where the clothing came from, who produced it, or how much they were compensated for their time and effort.
An Australian dress maker earns an average wage of $22 per hour, yet overseas garment workers of fashion houses – who are predominately women and typically work 12-hour days – earn a measly 55c per hour.
This means as little as 2% of the price of a piece of clothing sold Down Under makes it into the hands of workers who are being paid poverty wages by the fashion industry – both fast fashion and designer.
According to an Oxfam report, What She Makes, nine out of ten workers in Bangladesh don’t earn enough to provide food for their families and often have to skip meals. A staggering 87% of workers take out loans and 56% purchase on credit from their local stores to fill in the income expenditure gap.
It’s clear the true price of fast fashion around the world has enormous effects on the hardworking people producing the stylish shirts we wear on our backs.
The Oxfam report found no matter how hard garment workers and suppliers to major Australian brands hustle, they’re continuously trapped in a cycle of poverty, unable to afford the basic needs of food, education, healthcare, housing and transportation, let alone earn enough to build up a savings account.
Major Australian brands and retailers such as Kmart, H&M, Big W, Myer and Bonds – just to name a few – are under intense pressure to keep costs low, and in turn, keep the wages of their workers low too.
So, what will it take to improve our sustainability in the fast fashion league?
Feeding our fashion needs is only predicted to increase. According to the international leadership forum on fashion sustainability, Global Fashion Agenda, fashion consumption is only expected to grow with sales of clothing projected to rise to $2.1 trillion by 2025.
But if you knew that 70 million trees are logged every year to make synthetic fabrics, or that the fashion industry produces 8% of the world’s global emissions, would you change your shopping habits for the better?
The solution isn’t to boycott brands – that will only result in workers losing their jobs entirely. Instead, we want to revolutionise the system to improve working conditions, and here’s four ways how we can start off on the right foot:
Be picky and do your research: When it comes to buying the latest silk blouse or trench coat, choose wisely. Although many Aussie brands are culprits of the fast fashion industry, they’re aware of the welfare issues they’re causing for their offshore employees and are working towards a solution. For example, The Cotton On Group, CityChic, Kmart and Target have promised to strengthen their communities towards living wages. All it takes is a little digging into the brand’s corporate social responsibility and sustainability strategy.
Buy less and buy local: On average, Aussies buy 27 kilos of textiles each year, and throw 23 kilos of that into landfill. And a staggering 85% of the waste that washes up on ocean shores comes from the plastic microfibers in our clothes. If we make a conscience effort to buy less and buy local, we can reduce these numbers dramatically. Buying from locally owned businesses also raises the amount of times your money is used to make purchases from other local service providers, which strengthens your local economy.
Shop sustainably: Shopping more sustainably isn't just about the environment, it's also about changing our habits to help us buy better, support our homegrown fashion talent and avoid a wardrobe filled with pieces we hardly ever wear, or worse, end up in landfill.
Fight the urge to impulse shop:Most often than not, bad decisions are made when not enough thought is put into it. If you’re the kind of person who has a wardrobe with a handful of clothes with price tags still attached to them, you clearly haven’t worn the items yet and you’re probably throwing away your money and wasting useful closet space. Next time you see something you ‘want’, put the hanger down, step away and have a long hard think about whether or not you really need it.
To hear more about how you can make sustainable choices, tune into Episode 2 of CGU’s new podcast in partnership with SBS, The Few Who Do– two hosts, one problem, two possibilities.