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As a model and a young woman, I used to enjoy the fast fashion industry since their prices “don’t bite” and everything they offer is always up to date with the latest fashion trends. Most of us don’t have enough money to buy every new fashion trend from big retailers, but fast fashion brands seem so seductive since you can offer to buy all the latest clothing trends for a small price and “dispose” of it after that mainstream trend is gone.
H&M used to be my favorite choice for fast fashion. However, I didn’t know how my choice was influencing unfair trade, kids labor, farmers’ suicide rates, water and environment pollution, and human and women rights violations until recently.
Why Are Fast Fashion Brands Bad for the World?
After watching the Netflix Original documentary “The True Cost” I became more open eyed about this industry and I want to share this information with you, since fast fashion brands will never share with us “the real cost” of your purchases!
The Fast-Fashion Industry and Pollution
According to Business Leader,
“The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, coming second to the oil sector. 20% of industrial water pollution stems from textile development and this booming industry emits 1.2 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year.
These appalling consequences of the lucrative fashion industry are only going to increase as consumers continue to buy cheap clothes. By 2050, it is estimated that clothing production will account for 25% of the world’s carbon budget. That’s more than road transport and agriculture.”
The biggest impact is made by the two largest fashion giants: H&M and Zara.
The world consumes 80 billion pieces of clothes per year. Production of this clothes, as well all the waste we create by throwing it away (don’t forget to include packaging, labels, plastic bags and so on), is harmful for our environment.
Before we talk about anything else, why do we even need that many clothes? Trying to catchup with fashion trends causes only harm for environment, labor and mental health. Fashion industry profiting from our insecurity and making false promise that all your problems will be gone if you buy their product. It is good only for their pockets.
Furthermore, according to the report from Business Leader,
“For each tonne of dyed fabric, 200 tonnes of water is needed. With factories in countries such as India, Bangladesh and China churning out thousands of items per minute, these effects are aggravated to an alarming level of 1.5 trillion liters of water used annually.”
The shocking costs to our environment can be seen by the complete loss of the Aral Sea, where cotton production converted a sea into a desert.
The problem doesn’t stop after the clothing has been produced. A report by the UN found 90% of chemically infused wastewater in developing countries is released into local rivers and is used by locals daily.
Once we’re bored of our clothes, what happens? In the UK alone, people throw away 300,000 tons of clothing a year to landfills. Synthetic fibers, like polyester, are used in 72% of modern clothing and they’re non-biodegradable, meaning each garment can take up to 200 years to decompose.
More About the Loss of the Aral Sea
I am natively from Kazakhstan, the country next to China and Uzbekistan where cotton production, as well as water pollution, affects us in so many ways. Because of cotton industry, we lost many water sources, as well as we are the country which shares the Aral Sea with Uzbekistan.
Seeing how it disappeared broke my heart.
My grandmother’s brother is a farmer in the Orenburg area of Russia, the city which is located next to the border with Kazakhstan. Recently he ran out of business because he ran out of water in his farm region.
He spent all his money to search for a new water source nearby but found nothing. Furthermore, my grandmother herself has a private garden in Aktobe, Kazakhstan, where she periodically runs out of underground water sources and is forced to spend large amounts of money to find new ones.
Both my grandmother and her brother lived in their areas for decades and only recently the water problem became severe. I hope through my personal example of my family you can see how much your choices influence people in Central Asia, where we aren’t surround by water and rely mostly on small water sources and underground lake streams.
Additional Environmental Affects of Fast Fashion Brands
According to Independent, H&M, Asda and NEXT polluted rivers with chemicals linked to cancer and death.
Also, according to The Guardian, H&M, Zara and Mark & Spencer are linked to polluting viscose factories in Asia.
Fast fashion brands such as H&M and Zara impact the environment of many parts of the world without care, and us as consumers can directly contribute to stopping their impact by refusing to purchase their products!
Human Labor and Fast Fashion
From the “The True Cost,” I also learned how fast fashion and H&M violate human labor rights.
H&M clams that they are an ethical and transparent corporation, but the Business and Human Rights Resource Center informs us:
“New research findings published by Clean Clothes Campaign on 24 September 2018 allege that many workers making H&M’s clothes live below the poverty wage, forcing many employees to work overtime – despite H&M’s commitment to ensuring workers in its supply chain are paid a living wage. The new research, based on interviews with 62 people in six H&M supplier factories in Bulgaria, Turkey, India and Cambodia, forms part of the campaign “Turn Around H&M” launched by CCC and International Labour Rights Forum on Labour Day 2018.”
Furthermore, according to Facing Finance, there is legitimate evidence that H&M uses kids labor to make their clothes,
“A German TV program entitled “Your Cheap Fashion – Our Misery”  has reportedly featured H&M’s links to child labour and labour exploitation in Uzbekistan and Bangladesh. According to the report, young 12 year old children work up to 14 hours a day in factories for miserably low wages to supply H&M”
By buying cheap clothes from unethical brands, you are investing in inhuman conditions where people are held and forced to work. As an example, I will use the story of the Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh is 2013 where over 1100 people died.
According to The Guardian, H&M, GAP and Walmart had contracts with Rana Plaza.
According to “The True Cost,” about 250,000 Indian farmers committed suicide in the last 15 years.
One of the main reasons for this is that the farmers are going into a debt to purchase genetically modified cotton seeds, courtesy of Monsanto.
According to the Politheor, stores such as Zara and H&M put Indian farmers in positions were they are forced to go into dept with Monsanto to purchase genetically modified cotton seeds and work with dangerous pesticides in order to make their products cheaper.
As stated by Politheor,
“In order to buy the genetically modified crops, or GMCs, Indian farmers needed to take out loans. Monsanto has a trademark on the seed because it added a traceable gene so it can identify which seed is theirs. This gene intends to make the cotton plant grow faster and control weeds, but it also makes the crop require pesticides to prevent destructive insects.
These pesticides are also sold by Monsanto, thus creating a unavoidable dependence on the seed producer by the farmer. This was unforeseen by agrarian India who had no choice but to buy into the Monsanto seed monopoly. “
These seeds are easily speeding via wind and water and reaching the property of other farmers in India’s Maharashtra region, where they are commonly used. When Monsanto finds that farmers who didn’t purchase their seeds are growing their GMCs, they are demanding a royalty. These royalties’ bankrupt farmers at a rapid rate.
Most Indian farmers struggling with debt anyways and this royalty leaves them no choice but to commit suicide.
Another leading cause of the huge suicide rate among Indian farmers is pollution caused by the fashion industry. Pesticides sold by Monsanto which are essential to protect their GMC from insects are toxic. People in rural regions of India inhale these pesticides, get them on their skin, and add them in their environment which affect their water and air quality.
Overall, it causes birth defects, cancer, schizophrenia, depression, and other health problems. All these factors contribute to the alarming suicide rate in rural India.
According to IDSN,
“every 30 minutes an Indian farmer commits suicide due to indebtedness to Monsanto. A total of 8,000 farmers committed suicide in 2014 with 3,000 being from Maharashtra, India’s cotton belt. Indian publications, however, have conflicting data. The Times of India cites the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) saying bankruptcy only accounts for 1.8% of suicides in 2014.”
Along with working in terrible, dangerous and toxic conditions, workers are paid so little that it is not enough to survive.
The Guardian shares a story of 29 year old Ashok Kumar Singh who worked for a GAP factory where he says that he was paid 5,097 rupees per month (which is approximately $71).
In fact, women are paid even smaller. Sakamma, a 42-year old mother-of-two who is working for GAP supplier Texport stated,
“It hurts us to be paid so little. I have to do this, and they sell one piece of clothing for more than I get paid in a month,” she said. “We cannot eat nutritious food. We don’t have a good life; we live in pain for the rest of our life and die in pain.
Sakamma also informs us that there is physical and mental violence on working space.
“The targets are too high. They want 150 pieces an hour. When we can’t meet the targets, the abuse starts. There is too much pressure; it is like torture. We can’t take breaks or drink water or go to the toilet. The supervisors are on our backs all the time,” she said.
“They call us donkey, owl [a creature associated with evil], dog and insult us … make us stand in front of everyone, tell us to go and die.”
How Can You Stop Fast Fashion from Destroying the World?
To make a beneficial impact on the world you don’t need to do much to make a huge difference! Check out these simple ideas:
- Don’t Support Fast Fashion Brands (H&M, Gap, Zara)
- Consider Buying Less Clothes
- Experts Recommend Wearing Each Piece of Clothes at least 30 Times Before Throwing it Away
- Consider Donating Unwanted Clothing Items
- Spread the Information You Have Learned in this Article!
Along with those simple tips, here are a few other ideas.
For example, the overall best way to make a difference is to buy less clothes, and only from fair trade organizations. It will not only make an impact on the world but will help you look more individual and stylish than ever!
Fair trade clothes are also better quality, so you can wear them much longer and they will look just great!
Also, always think with what you can combine each piece of clothes you are purchasing to ensure yourself that you will actually wear it.
Lastly, old pieces of clothes which are no longer presentable for wearing or donating can be used as a washcloth to clean your house! Make use from each product as much as you can before throwing it away!
Sustainable, Fair-Trade and Ethical Clothing Brands
Finding a sustainable, fair-trade, and responsible brand for what you need to buy is not always an easy task, but keep your chin up; I found some options for you to consider. Here are the two best of the “big brands” for ethical clothing.
Levi Strauss & Co – Levi’s Jeans
Let’s start from big brands, and then move to smaller ones.
As Levi’s states on their website, they have always stood up for what’s right!
Levi has been an ethical clothing company for as long as they have existed. Back in the 1940s, they dared to reject racial segregation.
During World War II, the company hired African-American sewing machine operators in its factories in San-Francisco, Sant Cruz, and Vallejo, California.
Although some workers refused the change, and some of them quit, the company stood up for what was right.
Levi’s never chooses easy over right, and the company continues to be recognized for its leadership on the social issues and events through time.
Levi Strauss & Co take great care of their workers and make sure their company is free from discrimination. Levi’s also has a long history of supporting the LGBTQ+ community. As stated on their website,
“In July 2018, nearly 200 of our Levi’s® and Dockers® stores nationwide added an “Open to All” sign to their windows. The message is simple: Everyone is welcome, regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, religion, or disability.”
They are also known for their full transparency:
Levi Strauss & Co has developed new requirements for their key suppliers that align with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Among these include:
- Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger
- Improving maternal and child health
- Combating HIV/AIDs, and other diseases
- Promoting gender equality and empowering women
- Ensuring environmental sustainability Levi Strauss & Co.
Furthermore, they have found ways to preserve our resources and use less water to make their apparel.
Making denim apparel requires an enormous amount of water, but Levi’s has created more than 20 alternative techniques to change this.
So far, their process has comparatively saved over 3 billion liters of water and recycled 1.5 billion more. But the company did not stop on there. They shared their techniques with their competitors and invited their engineers right into their lab to show them the process! This technique reduced the necessary amount of water by 96% compared to how much was usually used for denim finishing.
But that’s not it! Levi Strauss & Co also supports art education!
Levi’s music project provides young people with access to music education programs, community resources, and experiences with visionary artists.
They as well launched music tech classes in Brooklyn, a sound studio for young musicians in Long Beach, and a summer concert series in New Jersey.
By choosing Levi’s cotton products, you are supporting the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), more sustainable cotton farming. More information on BetterCotton.org.
Levi’s truly represents America’s spirit, and I love it! Want a couple of suggestions? Here are a few iconic looks from their female, male, and baby collections:
Levi’s Women’s Straight 505 Jeans
Levi’s Women’s Original Trucker Jacket
Levi’s Women’s Perfect Tee Shirt
Levi’s Men’s 501 Original Fit Jean
Levi’s Men’s Original Trucker Jacket
Levi’s Baby Boys’ Straight Fit Jeans
Levi’s Baby Boys’ Hooded Trucker Jacket
Did you know that Hanes and their other companies are fair-trade? According to their website,
“All apparel, including Hanes, Champion, Playtex, Bali, Barely There, Duofold, GTM, Gear for Sports, JMS, Knights Apparel, Wonderbra, L’eggs, Outer Banks and other licensed brands. Hanesbrands’ compliance program is accredited by FLA.”
Hanes also supports our environment and is committed to the responsible use of energy, carbon emission, water, wastewater, chemicals, solid waste, and recycled materials in all their facilities worldwide. They use renewable energy, are a part of an industry-leading chemical management program, a member of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, the first leading apparel manufacturer to join The Sustainability Consilium, and are one of only four apparel companies to become a member of the Corporate Eco Forum.
So, feel free to choose them over other brands! The other great news about Hanes producs is that their closes are really affordable, and they have a huge range of clothing items. Pretty much everything you need can be purchased from Hanes. From underwear to thermal clothing, and outwear for the whole family!
A few cool examples are:
Hanes Ultimate Baby Flexy 5 Pack Short Sleeve Bodysuits
Champion LIFE Men’s Reverse Weave Pullover Hoodie
Champion Women’s Classic Jersey Short Sleeve Tee
Maidenform Women’s Comfort Devotion Natural Boost Strapless Multi-Way
Hanes Men’s 5-Pack Sports-Inspired Cool Dri Boxer Brief
Duofold Men’s Mid Weight Wicking Thermal Pant
Here are a few more ethical clothing brands, but this time some “smaller” brands which you’ve probably never heard of.
If you like ethnically looking clothes, take a look at Tropic Bliss!
They use 100% natural, handwoven organic cotton, and they are a fair trade, ethical brand supporting sewists with fair wages and a safe, happy work environment.
They genuinely are a “women supporting women” brand!
All their garments are made with love, and they aren’t afraid to show it! Every piece you purchase will come to you with a photo of the seamstress who made it!
Tropic Bliss Women’s Fall Palazzo Pants – Office Casual Trousers for Women
Tropic Bliss Organic Cotton Capri Pants for Women
Synergy Organic Clothing
If you are a lover of basic styles, Synergy Organic Clothing has everything you need! They make tops, bottoms, summer dresses, activewear, and outwear! They also make men’s tees
They are a fair-trade company and their clothing is made from G.O.T.S. certified organic materials.
I love how pure and minimalistic their clothes are! Minimalistic clothes are forever trendy and always a sign of great taste! Do you know what goes great with this type of clothing?
All these perfect accessories from artists around the world!
Your looks will look incredible; the best way to be a fashionista, and save the planet and humanity!
Here are some pieces I love:
Synergy Organic Clothing All The Time Jacket
Synergy Organic Clothing Doe Dress
Bird Aislen Dress
Another super minimalistic brand is Fair Indigo.
All their clothing is made from organic premium materials, ecologically gentle Oeko-tex certified dyes, and fairly made in Lima, Peru.
I love these pieces:
Fair Indigo Fair Trade Organic Button Tank
Fair Indigo Fair Trade Organic Ribbed Turtleneck Sweater
Fair Indigo Relaxed Crew Neck Organic Fair Trade T-Shirt
Fair Indigo Fair Trade Baby Alpaca Sweater Dress
If you are looking for something ethnical and majestic, look at Serbian brand IVKO.
IVKO knits are always created from natural, sustainable fibers; cotton, wool, linen, silk, and other blends.
Their designs are inspired by Eastern Europe folklore, Moroccan tiles, Old Word art, and the natural world of flowers, birds, and forests.
P.S.- If you are a US customer, keep in mind that European sizing runs small, so consider buying one size bigger.
Here is my favorite pick:
IVKO Floral Jungle Printed Jacquard Jacket
Looking for a perfect sweater or cardigan?
NORLENDER is traditional Norwegian knitwear since 1927.
Norlender Knitwear supports Polar Bear International and its work to preserve the areas left for this species! All their sweaters are made in Norway, from 100% Norwegian wool!
They have women and men options.
I so much love these:
Norlender 100% Norwegian Wool Sonja Cardigan Sweater
Norlender Norwegian 100% Wool Voss Cardigan Sweater
I will leave this perfect poncho from Indigenous Women’s here as well:
Indigenous Women’s Organic Cotton Sustainable Essential Poncho
Ethical and Responsible Baby Apparel
Levi’s and Hanes are two major brands that are sustainable, but I wanted to show you a few smaller brands that are sustainable, fair-trade, and incredible in other ways as well! First, I chose a couple baby apparel brands which follow ethical practices. Check them out!
Finn + Emma
My favorite eco-friendly and fair-trade company for baby clothes, accessories, and toys is Finn + Emma!
This brand isn’t just great for the world, but it was also voted the most stylish and sustainable brand by Vogue!
Their quality is always on point, and their fabric is heavenly soft and pleasant to touch!
All their products are made from G.O.T.S. certified organic cotton, and non-toxic, eco-friendly dyes.
Our baby boy Addison also loves their rattle buddy toy and rattle pacifier clip!
Here are three examples of their products:
Finn + Emma Disney 2 Piece Organic Cotton Baby Set – Footie & Hat – Dumbo
Finn + Emma Organic Cotton Long Sleeve Baby Bodysuit
Finn + Emma Organic Knit 15″ Big Buddy Baby Stuffed Animal Toy – Olivia The Mermaid
I also love the brand Feather Baby!
All Feather Baby products are made from luxurious, lightweight, ultra-soft 100% Peruvian Pima jersey cotton that is knit exclusively for their company.
Their products are made in small scale production of a few hundred pieces at a time. Their extra-long Pima thread is knit into a refined, soft material that has exceptional strength and delicate warmth without bulk. They also claim that their cotton gets softer after each wash!
Feather Baby is made in Peru by skilled artisans that commit their talent to each piece.
Here are a few examples:
Feather Baby Girls Clothes Pima Cotton Short Sleeved Ruched Tunic Top and Bubble Bloomer Set
Feather Baby Girls Clothes Pima Cotton Sleeveless One-Piece Sunsuit Bubble Shortie Baby Romper
Feather Baby Girls Clothes Pima Cotton Short Sleeve Bow One-Piece Jumpsuit Baby Romper
Feather Baby Boys Clothes Pima Cotton Short Sleeve Pleated One-Piece Shortie Romper
Feather Baby Boys Clothes Pima Cotton Collared Short Sleeve Polo Shortie Stitched Romper
Cuddle + Kind
As the first toy for our baby boy Addison, my husband and I found this company (Cuddle + Kind) which is not just supporting fair trade, but as well providing 10 meals per sale to kids in 66 countries!
Cuddle + Kind is an American family-owned company which uses Peruvian women fair-trade labor to create adorable toys! All their toys are created using organic materials, which are grown safe for the environment! You can watch their commercial where you can see how happy all these women are who make these toys!
Meals to kids in need are provided through the World Food Program USA, Children’s Hunger Fund, Breakfast Club of Canada and WE Charity.
Each toy has its own story, character, name and birthday! Addison’s first toy was Benedict the Bunny, but as you can see they have a big variety of toys! We believe that the best way to teach a child the right message is at the youngest age! In our opinion, these toys are the best gift for a child or a baby-shower!
However, this is just one example of purchasing fair-trade products. There are tons of fair-trade brands, and nearly all of them have the same type of beneficial impact on the world!
Sustainable and Ethical Fashion Accessories
Fashion accessories can bring even the most basic outfit to the next level. But aren’t you tired of having hundreds of dull, cheap accessories which look alike?
I’ve traveled to 21 countries, and from each of them, I brought home some local handmade accessories. Do you know what? Every time I wear them I get tons of questions asking where I bought them! I also love to buy fashion accessories like those online from different artisans around the world.
Nothing can look better than a unique hand-crafted fashion piece!
If you are searching for everyday comfort and something completely unique, I love this bag made by tribal women! They also have a bigger size.
Indigenous Bag Handmade by Iku tribe
These are made by the indigenous tribe Iku or Arhuaco in Sierra Nevada, Columbia.
Each bag is entirely unique because each bag’s design depends on the women’s inspiration. Due to the respect for their culture, women aren’t forced to make bags a specific design or exact size.
So the listed size is approximate, without the “gaza” or strap!
Each bag is made from 100% untreated, undyed wool (they use wool from sheep of different colors). They also don’t use detergent, so the bags still have a natural sheep scent. Just wash it with mild soap if you want to remove the scen.t
DAGUA only sells vegan products, and they support this beautiful tribe because of their respect for their animals and accounting for the fact that they are mainly vegetarians. In other words, these bags come from animals, but animals that are raised with love and respect, without any cruelty, and without any attempt to be eaten!
Sabai Jai – Embroidered Clutch Purse with Wristlet
These clutches are made from linen and 100% real soft black cotton!
Each of their clutches is hand-crafted in the mountains of Northern Thailand by hill tribe artisans!
When you are purchasing Sabai Jai, you are contributing to the lives of the Thai artisans who helped craft these bags. By purchasing these bags, you are positively impacting the hill tribe communities in which these artists and their families live.
They use locally grown, natural material!
Their bags come in plenty of designs, just check them out in their shop!
Here again, comes the DAUGA brand! This time with support for Columbian tribes!
Indigenous Ivory Palm (tagua Seed) Necklace Handmade in Colombia
Indigenous Engraved Ivory Palm (tagua Seed) Necklace Handmade in Colombia
NOVICA also supports fair-trade artists all over the world. Here are a few pieces I fell in love with!
NOVICA .925 Sterling Silver Dangle Earrings
NOVICA White Cultured Freshwater Pearl Multi-Strand Bridal Choker
NOVICA Citrine Turquoise .925 Sterling Silver Dangle Earrings
NOVICA .925 Sterling Silver Dangle Earrings with Garnet and Blue Topaz
NOVICA Jade 18k Yellow Gold Plated Brass Beaded Bracelet
NOVICA Hand Crafted Lapis Lazuli and Yellow Gold Plated Brass Earrings
Concluding Thoughts – How to Control the Impact of Fast Fashion
With all the provided information, you can see how negatively fast fashion affects our society in so many different ways, and it isn’t difficult to make better choices.
I hope that after reading about all the harm this industry causes us, you will consider supporting activists to achieve a better world.
Remember, your choice always matters! Spreading this information will influence the world even more than you can imagine.
Never underestimate your power and impact!