If you know me in real life, you’ll know that I never wear makeup and my closet is rather modest. In fact, a lot of my clothes are second-hand and many of them I have worn for a long time.
It is just a personal preference at first. I just don’t see the point of buying more clothes when I already have plenty and they still fit and are perfectly wearable. And makeup makes me feel like my skin can’t breathe. But then as I grow up and get into development work, I am even more against fast fashion and the cosmetic industry.
Fast fashion industry
As more and more people including activists, journalists, and even fashion designers, raise their concerns about the fast fashion industry, the effects and consequences of fast fashion on the environment, the people and the society are being discussed more widely.
Wikipedia defines fast fashion as “a contemporary term used by fashion retailers to express that designs move from catwalk quickly to capture current fashion trends”. In short, fast fashion means clothes are being produced faster and faster and sold at a cheaper and cheaper price so people can afford to buy more in quantity and in frequency.
The majority of clothes sold in first world countries are manufactured in developing countries like India, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, etc. With the current economic model that focuses on maximizing profits and cutting corners in all stages of the supply chain, garment factory workers in developing countries, those who make the clothes to be sold in Western countries, are the first to directly suffer the consequences of fast fashion. The labor costs in these nations are dirt cheap while labor laws are loose and worker unions are weak and have little power. Workers have to work in horrible and even unsafe conditions and only get paid a meager wage, not to mention the illegal use of child labor.
The biggest and deadliest catastrophe ever happened in the fast fashion industry is the collapse of Savar building in Bangladesh in 2013 with a death toll of over 1,100 people and around 2,500 injured. The workers were working in an old dilapidated building with three more floors added without permit and cracks found on the walls but the owner simply ignored all this and forced the workers to work in the building with no safety measures.
This is just one in many other incidents and accidents that have happened in the fast fashion industry. And sadly all major fashion brands like H&M, Zara, Forever 21, etc. have denied any links to such events and refused to hold accountable.
However, the impacts of fast fashion go a lot deeper than that. When we make clothes, we need to first have materials, and this traces back to the plantation of cotton which is to produce fibers for fabrics.
Genetically modified cotton are being used more widely to meet the demand for fabrics along with fertilizers and pesticides to boost production. Chemicals and genetically modified seeds are alien to the natural ecosystem and the more chemical we use, the more we have to use it. This applies to not just cotton but all kinds of plants, seeds, crops used for whatever purposes.
The use of chemicals and GMO leaves devastating consequences to nature and people as chemicals gradually are absorbed into the soil, going into underground water sources, following the drainage to the ocean. And the people working in the field themselves, living in contaminated lands or consuming affected water will develop terminal diseases such as cancer, or their children might be born with disabilities, birth defects, mental illnesses.
Animals are also used in the fashion industry to produce leather products, fur coats, bags, shoes, etc. These animals, such as crocodile, goats,… live in horrible conditions and are treated with violence then they are killed in a barbaric way. It should also be noted that toxic chemicals used in processing leather products and such also go into the soils and the ocean.
First and foremost, the cosmetic industry uses an enormous amount of chemicals. Many of those are synthesized but many are natural minerals and to get these ingredients, such as mica, people need to mine them. And the cosmetic industry has been ignoring the use of child labors in mica mines in India, China or Africa where people live in poverty and with no access to education and job prospects.
The packaging of cosmetics also causes a lot of harm to the environment as plastic bottles, bags, etc. are thrown away and end up in the ocean, leaving not only the physical, tangible trash itself but also leaking a lot of harmful chemicals into the sea or landfills.
Another big problem of the industry is the testing on animals. These animals grow up in a cage, in a lab with poor living conditions and cosmetics are applied on them, causing them to live in distress and fear before they are put down. This is animal cruelty. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal (PETA) has published a list of companies that test on animals and many multinational corporations made the list.
Beauty products also have direct effects on users themselves through their applications on our skin and body. Excessive use of cosmetics over time has been linked to cancer and other serious health conditions.
We deserve a lot better than this.
We do. As a woman, I am very upset that the fast fashion and cosmetic industries have made people, especially woman, so insecure about their looks. They also portrait women in a condescending, sexualized and objectified way in their advertisements everywhere, giving people the impression and spreading sexist stereotypes that women are inferior to men, and that their only purpose is to look beautiful and please men.
It is important to say that I think everyone has a right to feel beautiful and make themselves feel beautiful in their own ways. But there is a difference between being confident in your beauties and being insecure in trendy clothes and tons of makeups that advertisers say make you beautiful.
Endless and mindless consumption of anything, not just clothes and cosmetics, does nothing but trapping us in a vicious circle of buying, spending, owing, throwing away stuff. This is a dangerous, widespread social phenomenon that the current economic model has created.
Luckily, changes are happening and I have seen many more and more ethical brands in the past few years be able to provide high-quality products that are eco-friendly, cruelty-free, at the same time ensure safe working conditions for workers and fair wages along with other benefits.
I think for a sustainable, better future for ourselves and our children, the system must change. In the next post, I will write about why Corporate Social Responsibility is not enough.