There is nothing innately bad about fashion. It is a form of art, a part of self-expression and, economically speaking, an income asset for a country.
But when it comes to fast fashion—mass-produced, inexpensive garments that most of the times copy authentic designs—we’re talking about an economically beneficial industry at the cost of many other aspects including the environment, cultural heritage and even human rights. With the rise of globalisation, fast fashion is flourishing at steep consequences.
Although many fashion factory workers exploitation cases are in India and Bangladesh, some Southeast Asian countries are experiencing a similar problem. These countries include Vietnam, Cambodia and Indonesia who have large-scale garment production.
Their issues vary from (mostly) overtime work, limited toilet breaks for women, pressure for productivity, threats regarding contracts and workers’ safety. In Cambodia, large numbers of workers are transported in trucks to factories on Phnom Penh’s outskirts every day.
In Indonesia, female workers are being called stupid and mocked for not working faster, along with threats of contract termination. The supervisors don’t touch them, so there would be no evidence if the workers try to report to the police. They only use verbal pressure, kick furniture and throw materials.
Besides workers’ exploitation, Southeast Asian countries’ economy is developing rapidly that they become the source of a large consumer market. So, if you live in Southeast Asia, it is only ironic that you are consuming products at the cost of people from your own region.
If centuries ago decent clothing is reserved only for the rich nobles, today you can trick people into thinking that you are from a good upbringing at a minimal cost. We can’t deny how fast fashion’s low prices have been beneficial economically; it creates new jobs (although sometimes not with decent treatment), contributes to the GDP and is the “perfect” solution for consumers on a budget. Contributing to fast fashion equals contributing to workers’ rights violations if as a consumer you know the retail label is not treating its workers decently.
Of course, not all labels are doing this. That’s why it’s important for us consumers to actively trace our clothing labels. Where does it come from? Where is the factory? How’re the workers there? Do they use sweatshops—a factory or workshop where manual workers are employed at very low wages for long hours and under poor conditions?
For these factory workers, having a job is their best option compared to not earning at all. As consumers, we can change this by demanding transparency over clothing production and ethical treatments for the workers. Companies are more or less driven by the market, so that’s how we could take advantage of our power share in the industry.
Be wise about our sartorial choices. One of the ways that the fashion industry is fighting fast fashion is through slow fashion—a movement of producing quality garments and encourages slower production schedules, fair wages, and generally more environmentally conscious.
Currently, we are supporting a great Indonesian fashion brand Copa de Flores who is supporting slow fashion and cultural heritage preservation. Read their full story here and visit their official page to purchase their products.