Fast fashion helps sate deeply held desires among young consumers in the industrialised world for luxury fashion, even if it embodies unsustainability.
Trends run their course at high speed, with today’s latest styles swiftly trumping yesterday’s, which have already been consigned to the waste bin. Fast fashion has allowed for the constant supply of fashion trends, captured straight from the catwalk, at a cheap price.
What is ‘The True Cost’ of Fast Fashion?
The True Cost movie is a 2015 documentary that focuses on fast fashion and the supply chain. The documentary discusses several aspects of the garment industry from production – exploring the life of low wage workers in developing countries – to its after-effects of river and soil pollution, pesticide contamination, disease and death.
The True Cost is a collage of interviews with environmentalists, garment workers, factory owners, and fair trade companies and organisations, promoting sustainable clothing production.
Lucy Siegle is an author, journalist and Executive Producer of The True Cost. Her research into the fashion supply chain lifted the lid on the pollution and blind exploitation, inspiring her book ‘To Die For’. The deeper she dived into the fashion supply chain, the bigger the story became.
In an interview for The True Cost, Siegle comments that the most surprising thing she discovered was how quickly a sustainable system can be undone and destroyed forever. She had discovered that most western buyers were using completely nonsensical calculations when they placed orders in first tier factories.
This meant that factories could not possibly complete the enormous orders that had been placed, and would turn to outsourcing. This was where sweatshop labour became the reality.
“I realised there were a number of flashpoints in the supply chain that were adding up to extreme exploitation and possible catastrophe and that this was a standard business model.”
Garment manufacturing is estimated to be a $3 trillion industry. Yet factory workers are subjected to poor working conditions, low salaries and minimal to no rights. The True Cost documents the events of the 2013 Savar Building, or Rana Plaza, disaster, when an eight-story commercial building collapsed, killing over 1,000 people.
The event sparked the investigation into fast fashion on a global scale.
The Supply Chain and Fast Fashion
There is pressure on the supply chain to manufacture garments quickly and inexpensively, allowing the mainstream consumer to buy current clothing styles at a lower price.
Fast fashion very quickly became disposable fashion, due to the relatively low costs needed to deliver designer products to the mass market. The consequences of the trend became noticeable through increased pollution from manufacturing of the clothes and the decay of synthetic fabric, poor workmanship, and the emphasis on brief trends rather than classic pieces.
Recently, Australian surfwear brands have been urged to publish a list of every factory used in their supply chain. This follows an investigation that revealed some garments being made for the Rip Curl brand had been manufactured in North Korea, where factory workers endured slave-like conditions.
Rip Curl claimed to have no knowledge of their garments being produced in North Korea, as the clothes were shipped to retail outlets and sold with a “made in China” logo on them.
Rip Curl blamed one of its subcontractors for the practice, stating this was a case of a supplier diverting part of their production order to an unauthorised subcontractor and country. This was done without their knowledge or consent, and in clear breach of supplier terms and policies.
After the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Australian firms’ garment-sourcing policies came under intense scrutiny. More than 90 per cent of garments sold in Australia are estimated to be sourced from Asia, while a huge proportionate of Asian garment workers are women who are paid minimal or poverty wages.
The event promoted a number of global brands to speak openly about their CSR efforts. Lucy Siegle comments that Public Relations efforts around company CSR efforts are getting more sophisticated. However, in many case, the business models stay the same. This is a concern when the business model is based on furious expansion, and companies are investing in pilot schemes in new low-wage fashion production hubs.
The fast-changing and glamorous image of the fashion industry presented to consumers is the very aspect which poses significant challenges for supply chain professionals. Companies are increasingly opting for a similar supply chain network, allowing them to easily and quickly replenish and rotate stock, and align with local market trends.
Sourcing location is one of the biggest challenges posed in the fashion industry. Sourcing from further afield can bring lower costs, but results in visibility and traceability challenges. Sourcing close to key markets guarantees a fast response, but has much higher costs and capacity constraints.
Lucy Siegle and Big Ideas Summit 2016
Lucy Siegle is a key note speaker at the Big Ideas Summit 2016 powered by Procurious. She will be sharing her thoughts and experiences on the ethical supply chain and the true cost of doing business in the fashion industry and a number of other industries.
Don’t miss out on this truly excellent event and the chance to participate in discussions that will shape the future of the procurement profession. Get Involved, register today.