Why My Closet is a Human Rights Concern

When I looked in my closet earlier today, I noticed a trend in origin. Most of my items come from one store: H&M. One of the most successful fast fashion brands, H&M has become a staple in many wardrobes across the country. Historically, I have liked it for its affordable fashion, easy access, and generally trendy options. The brand has come to dominate my closet as I have become a loyal customer over the past few years, especially since entering college.

However, upon reflection, I view the H&M hegemony of my wardrobe to be problematic. As a part of the “fast fashion” industry, the affordability and accessibility of these items, while appearing to be a bargain, are symptomatic of a global system of oppression.

Low prices in fast fashion are the result of the exploitation and the abuse of women in children internationally. Workers in the fashion industry in the global south deal with unsafe working conditions, low wages, long hours, and the inability to care for themselves and their children. For the global north to receive low priced clothing, wages are slashed for the workers to ensure lower production costs. This, inherently, is an oppressive, unequal system.

It is important to recognize the devastation and abuse that frontlines the production of our clothing. Cheap prices, while satisfying us, are causing the death and suffering of millions. At the beginning of this global assembly line are women who work tirelessly to sew and construct clothing. Working days are 15–20 hours long and pay is low. In these villages, children are born with developmental defects as the result of undernourishment due to poverty, and environmental pollution. The fashion industry is second only to the oil industry in terms of environmental degradation. Fast fashion destroys the environment and pollutes water sources to the point that entire villages are depleted of safe, natural resources to utilize. While we recognize the implications of objects such as blood diamonds, we are unaware of our promotion of blood clothing.

It was vital that I, myself, recognize this. As a consumer of fast fashion, I have unintentionally been condoning this action and behavior. I have valued cheap prices and style over the lives and health of women across the globe. I have lacked perspective on how my actions have exponential impacts on foreign communities. While I appreciate my clothing and wear it regularly, it is necessary that I note that I am wearing the physical product of oppression on my body.

Furthermore, I own more clothing than I need, and discard of it carelessly. Our transition of labeling clothing as a temporary good instead of a utilizable good for long-term consumption exacerbates the desire for fast fashion, and the accumulation of clothing in poor, global south countries. We rid of products carelessly, a reflection of how we purchase them needlessly, ignorant to the consequences of our actions.

Deconstructing and analyzing my role in the global assembly line of fashion has made me aware of fair trade brands, companies that value their workers. While the clothing is more expensive, these brands dedicate themselves to producing products in safe factories that pay decent living wages, as well as considering the natural resources required to create the clothing. This information has resolved me to start shopping online through corporations that value fair trade. It is important that I do not support the fast fashion industry and the oppression that it involves.

By trading cheap prices for ethically sound products, I am committing myself to being a better global consumer.

This is a response to the documentary “The True Cost”.

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