I remember it like it was yesterday.
About five months ago, I was standing in Madrid, Spain in a five level store called Primark with my boyfriend. We were quickly enamored with the trendy styles of the store and the inexpensive prices of everything we came upon.
It was like a dream. I loaded things quickly into my cart and we were shocked to find that an entire outfit was under the equivalent of $20! This should have set off some kind of alarm in the back of my mind, yet it didn’t. We were so caught up in the cheap prices of the store that we didn’t even stop to think, or care for that matter, about the quality of the clothing we were purchasing.
Shamefully, I thought about this quick trip to Primark about a week and a half later, as I sat on the edge of my bed in Spain, examining my clothing. My host mom had just washed my shirt and not only was it disgustingly pilled (after one washing!!), but it also was beginning to split at the seams. After only being washed once. Then, a couple of days later, the soles were splitting apart from the rest of the boots that I washed.
It hit me. I had purposefully avoided shopping at Forever XXI, H&M, and their other fast-fashion counterparts for ages, after realizing what all happens behind the scenes with these stores. Last year, I watched the documentary directed by Andrew Morgan called, The True Cost (go check it out on Netflix!!) which was the most eye-opening film I’ve watched. Ever. Maybe it’s because I work in the fashion industry, but I would recommend this film to anyone that I will ever meet.
The True Cost digs deep into the amount of waste in clothing that we produce. This frivolous, materialistic world we are living in does everything it can to distract us from the reality of the bleak conditions that are the reality of sweatshops around the world. Underage and underpaid workers all around the world are enduring the most miserable of circumstances to manufacture the clothing we grab up from H&M and all the other fast fashion retailers.
But I mean, let’s be real. It’s an awful reality to face, yet we’ve all had one of those moments, standing in a store and seeing a top thinking, “Oh my gosh, this shirt is adorable! And it’s only $10?! It’s mine!” Let’s not kid ourselves. We all think this sometimes, because it’s an easy trap to fall into.
Livia Firth, creative director of Eco Age said in an interview with CNN, “You know, we’re actually profiting from their need to work – using them as slaves. I’m not saying we don’t need to give them work, but they have to be treated with the same respect that we treat our children, our friends. They’re not any different from us.”
Everyone I know on my college campus at The University of Missouri is an advocate for something. Whether it’s LGBTQ rights, a certain political affiliation, their sorority’s philanthropy, or any other thing, college students are some of the most involved people I know. I think it’s time that more people know what happens behind the scenes of clothing production and take a stand. This is a human rights issue and it’s time to realize that. We have the power over our purchases, and the ability to change how things are done.
As for me, I know that I can make a difference where I purchase my friends’ and family’s Christmas presents, because this issue causes a ripple effect. I believe in purchasing from companies that stand for ethical labor practices and treat their employees with dignity and respect. Also, I’d encourage you to follow along on my blog, A Drop in the Ocean, because I’ll be rolling out an ethical fashion gift guide within the next week!
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Olivia is a junior at the University of Missouri - Columbia studying Textile and Apparel Management with minors in Business, Spanish, and Entrepreneurship. Olivia loves traveling the world and seeing how fashion looks around the globe, as well as promoting sustainability in fashion. When she’s not working on something fashion-related, Olivia is probably at a Cardinals game, watching Gilmore Girls reruns, or learning how to become a better cook! Check out what Olivia’s up to on her fashion + Travel blog, www.adropintheocean.us.
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