fast fashion: who's to blame?
Fast fashion is a massive problem in our world. But where did it come from? Whose fault is it that fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world (second only to the oil industry) and a system that oppresses the majority of people working within it?
Who's to blame?
That's right, there's no one to blame.
Garment workers? We certainly can't blame the oppressed for their own oppression. They don't want to be in the situation they're in.
Factory owners? It's tempting to place the blame on those who are in charge of sweatshops, but let's not be too hasty to place the entire burden on them. While I despise the conditions that exist in their factories, it's important to ask ourselves, "Why are they treating people so poorly?" The answer is often tied to the fact that they are struggling for survival themselves. If they raise their prices enough to pay people fairly and implement safe working conditions, big companies will take their business elsewhere and the factory will be forced to close.
Fashion brands? The majority of brands don't own their own factories. This means that they aren't directly responsible for the conditions therein. Unfortunately, that's why a big brand can honestly say, "We guarantee the safe and fair pay of all of our employees" even when sweatshops are involved in their supply chain. Garment workers aren't technically their employees. They sometimes sign contracts with factories that say conditions are safe, but don't really have any way of checking in when they're across the world. While big brands are generally the ones profiting most from fast fashion, they aren't completely in control of it.
Consumers? No one likes the fact that their clothes might be made in sweatshops, but most consumers feel powerless to change this reality. People often don't feel like they have the resources (time of money) to shop ethically. Without many convenient locations to find ethical clothing at, the modern consumer often has to adopt an "ignorance is bliss" sort of attitude to cope with the disturbing reality behind the tag on their shirt.
Who's to blame?
The tricky thing about a systemic issue as large as this, is that you can't ascribe the entirety of the blame to one party. Each involved party carries some of the blame. Because of that, they tend to focus on the pointing out the flaws of other members in the process instead of fixing the area they control.
Consumers say that if there were more convenient options from brands, they would do their part to shop ethically. Brands say that if consumers would be willing to pay more for ethical items, they would have the resources to make them, and that factory owners need to be responsible for implementing stronger policies of ethics. Factory owners say that if brands would be willing to pay them more than pennies per shirt, perhaps they could afford to run their factories better.
Round and round the system goes.
We will only begin to move in the right direction when we take charge of our own involvement regardless of how flawed the rest of the system may be.
There is great beauty in realizing that you can be part of the solution even if you aren't responsible for the problem.
There is great empowerment in accepting responsibility for a problem that existed long before you were born.
There is great freedom in breaking the system of fast fashion in your own life even if you can't singlehandedly break it worldwide.
Who's to blame?
I'm done asking that question.
A preoccupation with blame only serves to slow down real progress in any movement. You don't have to understand all the nuances of a broken industry before becoming a force for change within it. Simply using your connection to the industry as a consumer will add to the momentum of justice.
You can purpose to be a force for good even if the bad isn't your fault.