Within the last ten years big-name fashion brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Balenciaga have been experiencing an abundance of criticism due to their unethical practices. They have perpetuated the problem of low wages, by purposefully lowering the cost of labor far below what it should be, thus causing poverty, and capitalizing on consumer unawareness.
Oftentimes, people choose to buy more expensive clothing not only for the name brand, but also because they think companies will use profits to fight for better labor conditions as they tend to advertise, but the opposite is true. Even for cheaper brands, the same relationship exists. Brand names like Hugo Boss and Dolce have paid their workers in Croatia almost one-third of what is considered a minimum living wage. Furthermore, it is the southern hemisphere of the globe that draws corporations’ eyes because of their cheap labor costs.
As discussed in the Guardian’s article, Luxury Brands: higher standards or just higher mark up? “Burberry’s decision to close factories in Britain in 2007 and relocate to China was driven by cost-based analysis.”
Corporations like Burberry are protected behind the idea of “craftsmanship and design,” the idea that since they’re a big-name brand they must treat their workers with respect, proper wages, etc, but according to the same article, factory workers face immense challenges behind this facade.
What consumers fail to understand is that factories that are making clothes for Prada and Dolce and Gabbana are also stitching the products for Gucci and other designer brands. Therefore, whether or not one purchases a certain name brand or not, their clothes are still being made by exploited factory workers.
A showcase of the lack of care for these laborers was the Rana Plaza factory incident, which took place in Bangladesh in 2013. A factory completely collapsed from structural failure, and inside it were workers for Benetton, Matalan, Primark, and other major corporations. The collapse killed over a thousand workers inside.. In response to this accident, the Transparency Index was made to see where the clothes people bought were made and who manufactured them. Only a few brands chose to reveal their supply chains, one being H&M.
“We believe transparency is key to advancing our sustainability and we work hard to further increase the transparency across our entire value chain,” H&M’s spokesperson, Ulrika Isaksson, said on VICE.
Transparency may help sustainability, but it does not change the fact that H&M’s clothes are consistently produced in an unethical way.
Another obstacle corporations run into is the complexity of supply chains. Since there are so many different companies and people a single corporation can be talking to at any point, it makes it difficult to pinpoint who is doing what and where it will be coming from.
“Many companies do not really know where their clothes are being made. The vast majority of today’s fashion brands do not own their manufacturing facilities, making it difficult to monitor or control working conditions through the supply chain,” VICE said.
Thus, fabrics and raw materials can be collected and dyed in one place while another assembles the whole piece.
Another point consumers fail to realize is that beyond the factories and people stitching the clothing are the farmers that collect the raw materials to produce the clothing. These individuals’ wages are unfair as well.
“[in China] hundreds of thousands of Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities have been forced into unpaid labor [to pick cotton],” Fashion Revolution said.
Farmers have made up over 100 million people in the world and yet countries have still forced them into low paying wages or none at all.
Many buy from big brands to fit in with peers or look a certain way, and some go as far as buying fake items for exorbitant prices just to make themselves feel better around others. It is common to buy them to keep up with changing trends in fashion or attempt to show off money through expensive clothing. Though the constant pressure to keep up one’s self-image with high fashion brands can be detrimental to self-esteem.
On the contrary, more frequently, consumers have been buying second-hand clothing in order to make their living more sustainable and have a certain look. Places like swap meets, thrift stores, and online sites have seen more attention because of their outlook on fast fashion and attempt to buy more sustainably
Even though there have been many attempts to stop fast fashion and buy clothing from big-name brands, people still continue to do so. Some alternatives to buying big would be looking at second hand options. These can look like online sites where you can sell and buy clothes from others. Another place to look would be thrift stores like Salvation Army, Goodwill, or even swap meets.