The Lesser of Two Evils:
A couple of nights ago, as I was scrolling through my favorite app Tik Tok, I stumbled across a video talking about how the coronavirus has forced many fast fashion brand factories in Asia to close. If you follow our magazine, you might have seen an article about how changes in the fashion industry had contributed to fast fashion giant Forever21 filing for bankruptcy which I wrote back in October of 2019. Having expressed my dislike towards fast fashion brands in that article I was naturally pleased to receive such news.
The hopes are that in forcing such brands to close down their factories in China, India and Bangladesh, greater sustainability within the fashion industry may be achieved. The mass production of clothing, resulting in a lack of waste management, would cease to be a problem for the time being. Therefore, within an environmental context, this is great news.
As of March 23, 2020, H&M has reportedly closed 3,441 of its 5,062 stores worldwide, according to CNBC. With this, clothing production has been halted and as garment factories begin to close down, workers are being laid off. According to associate professor Lu from the University of Delaware’s department of fashion and apparel studies, this epidemic can cause countries that heavily depend on clothing exports to cut between “4% to 9% of garment sector jobs” as cited from BBC news.
Bizarrely, it is not the pandemic that causes the factories to stop payments to garment workers, but rather the demands of the fast fashion brands for cheaper payments, cancellation of orders and extensions of payment deadlines. According to BBC news in an interview with Vijay Mahtaney, chairman of Ambattur Fashion India, fast fashion brands are focusing on pleasing their shareholders at the expense of garment workers. Yet, it is rather ironic for big brands to ask their suppliers for discounts on their orders, as these factory owners cannot economically afford to charge less for their orders in the first place. With such unreasonable expectations, it is extremely difficult for garment factory owners to keep their factories running, and to continue to pay their employees.
Ironically, it’s a give and take relationship. After watching the Tik Tok video and having done further research on the topic, I stumbled across a GQ article detailing the negative consequences of such closures including that of sudden unemployment. Being privileged enough to not have to worry about living from paycheck to paycheck, it completely glossed over my mind that these workers, predominantly women in rural areas, are left without any wages to support themselves and their families. These very women on average depend on about 87 euros a month, according to GQ.
It is easy to condemn the fast fashion industry from afar. Left jobless, however, it is now up for question how these people will be able to gain their livelihood. Therefore, I am left divided on this matter. On the one hand, I am incredibly happy that fast fashion brands are closing down due to the coronavirus. Yet, considering the detrimental economic consequences of the pandemic, I cannot help but reevaluate my opinion on the matter.