By: Abi Hillrich

Surely you have heard the term “sweatshop.” Perhaps what comes to mind is a vision directly from the industrial revolution, before national laws about working age, when children were forced to create goods in small, too-hot factories. But, of course, it is easy to reassure ourselves that these situations were resolved with the national laws in place today. We know these kinds of things may still happen in other countries, but they’re difficult to think about and awfully far away.

However, we must get our facts straight. A sweatshop can be defined as “a business that regularly violates both wage or child labor, and safety or health laws.” Sweatshops do still exist in America. Though they are few and far between, the impact is massive. Experts say that there were still about 255,000 sweatshops active in the USA in 2000. Though it is easier to for those shops to exist in other countries, many businesses get away with improper treatment frighteningly nearby.
Fast fashion is a term used to refer to designs in the fashion world that move quickly from runway to easily accessible stores. Shops like Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, and H&M fit this brand. For the consumer, and especially the college student, fast fashion brands offer the most affordable (and fashionable) clothes on the market.
But fast fashion is known for its support of sweatshops in the fashion industry. This is the only way to make cheap, fashionable clothes quickly. Take, for example, the recent story from Zara’s workers in November. Customers of that popular brand began to discover notes sewn into their clothing from the people who had made them, begging to be paid. “I made this item you are going to buy, but I didn’t get paid for it,” one read. Upon further research, it was uncovered that in July of 2016, the boss of an outsourced manufacturing company left 155 workers without jobs or wages. It was in November 2017 that consumers finally began to discover these notes from the employees who had still not received payment. Even now, in 2018, these workers have not been paid. One worker does not ask for the consumer to stop purchasing from Zara, because of all the people who would be laid off if the company went out of business, but asks that we use our voices to demand ethical treatment.
Not only do fast fashion companies support sweatshops, but they often steal from artists. Many, many companies have been confronted for this unforgivable slight. H&M is one of the most recent issues, after a graffiti artist named Jason “Revok” Williams from Brooklyn issued a cease and desist order in response to stolen street art. Instead of addressing this issue head-on, H&M chose to respond with a federal lawsuit against him because of the illegal nature of graffiti itself. Upon the uproar issued from artists across America, H&M chose to drop the lawsuit and issue an apology. This situation is, surprisingly, one of the most well-handled encounters. Fast fashion frequently steals art from independent artists, often without consequences.
This can create a dilemma for the consumer. Is the staggering price of ethical, fair-trade clothing worth the moral high ground? Oftentimes, purchasing more pieces of clothing for cheaper prices just makes sense (or is the only option); it can be easy not to think of the effects of supporting businesses that probably buy from sweatshops.
Thrifting is one way to combat this issue. Purchasing clothes that are being resold, at Goodwill or even Plato’s Closet, can be a way to avoid supporting corrupt corporations while staying on-trend. Another way to solve this issue is to support ethical brands (like Everlane, Reformation, Outdoor Voices and others) that may cost a little more but are worth the pricing. Creating a minimalist closet with a few quality pieces rather than too many cheaply-made pieces is worth it in the long run.
Something else we can do is to demand change. Recognizing that there is something wrong is the first step. Do research on sweatshops. Figure out what brands may not treat their workers correctly. Stay updated on the news and seek out shops and indie designers that you know are doing their best to remain ethical. Do everything you can to allow your money to support your beliefs.

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