The Human Cost of the Fast Fashion Industry

Fashion. It’s possibly the world’s leading means of self expression and exhibits itself in various forms across the globe. What we wear, how we look – it’s how we show the world who we are. In recent years, big brands have started producing more clothing than ever before as trends continue to rapidly change. It’s never been easier to get the latest looks at the lowest prices. Our wardrobes are bursting at the seams. But what does this mean for the people who make our clothes? And at what cost to the environment?

Despite there being international standards and national laws to protect workers, human rights abuses are prevalent throughout the fashion industry. Forced labor, child labor, sexual harassment, discrimination and unsafe working conditions are just some of the things that garment workers experience on a daily basis. Basic human rights, including access to drinking water and toilet breaks, are often dangerously restricted or denied in garment factories, as companies continue to place value on profit over wellbeing.

The vast majority of clothing for sale around the world is manufactured in developing countries. This allows companies to keep down production costs, including wages, and increase profit margins. Garment workers – who are typically women – lose out in this process, with low wages perpetuating a cycle of poverty and adding to the pressure to work long overtime hours. Many women cannot afford childcare and are forced to give up their children to relatives, and low education levels combined with limited jobs in other sectors mean that workers often have no other option to generate income.

Over time, mass-produced clothing has eroded the artisanal and craft skills passed down through generations. Millions of people in developing countries depend on the artisan trade for their livelihoods.  But how can they compete with this ever growing industry of disposable, low-cost clothing?

Maya Traditions Fair Trade certified backstrap woven tote.

Fair Trade is becoming an increasingly important tool to help make safety, fair wages, sustainability and empowerment a tangible reality for artisans worldwide. Through Fair Trade certification, organisations such as Maya Traditions support women through dignified artisanal work and access to international markets. Women are empowered to preserve traditional culture and handicrafts and receive a fair wage for their work. Maya Traditions’ partner artisans work from the comfort of their own homes and can plan their work as it fits in with their family lives. Mothers can teach daughters (and sons) how to carry on important traditions and are supported with opportunities to further develop their knowledge and skills in a number of areas.

Investing in Fair Trade is one way to vote with your dollar, and there are many more ways you can have your say about fast fashion. Various organisations, such as Fashion Revolution have emerged in recent years to challenge consumption and create ‘a fashion industry that values people, the environment, creativity and profit in equal measure.’

The sad reality is that our desire to keep up with the Jones’, or in this day and age, the Kardashians, is doing people and the planet much more harm than good. But it doesn’t have to be this way. As has been proven time and time again throughout history, our voices matter. Our dollars matter. We can say no to fast fashion by buying second-hand, vintage, ethically produced and Fair Trade products. We can repurpose what we already have. By changing our attitudes towards fashion, little by little, we can help to change the story for those who are currently being exploited by the fashion industry.

And so we are left with the question – why do we do what we do at Maya Traditions? To do our part in changing the story.

2 thoughts on “The Human Cost of the Fast Fashion Industry”

  1. Your description of the Fashion Industry’s fabrication of cheap disposable clothes is very accurate; I’ve noticed that for many years now. I agree that handmade artisanal textiles & goods not only contribute income to these multi talented Artisans, but encourage a continuation of their skills and allow for their beauty & enjoyment to be shared with the rest of the world!
    •Guatemalan textiles are definitely among the most colorful & beautiful textiles of the world! What’s also inspiring is how pretty the women, men & children all look in their traditional attire! Abd, on a daily basis, not just for special occasions!


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