Arts & Culture, Design & Innovation, Entrepreneurship, Shopping & Consumption

Are all fast fashion brands evil?


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[This post was prompted by a link posted in the Muni PH Facebook group on “Forever 21, H&M, Zara, Uniqlo: Who’s paying for our cheap clothes?“]

#MUNIonThis:

“Fast fashion” brands are definitely killing off a lot of the Philippine retail players with their low, low prices (coupled with Filipino colonial mentality). They’ve also been getting a lot of flak from human rights advocates and environmentalists about their unfair labor practices and/or unsustainable practices, like their excess waste in landfills, pesticides in their material, and so on.

Forever21
Forever 21 photo c/o philstar.com

Ever since I started to become more conscious about my consumption, I’ve made a conscious effort to stay away from fast fashion brands (particularly from a youth-centric one), because it feeds on trends and impulse-buying, thus prompting many to consume more than they really need to; encouraging excessive consumerism and a throwaway culture.

[Related read: #CutTheCrap: Rethinking Disposables’ Life Cycle and Single-use/Takeaway Culture]

Having said that, is all of fast fashion evil? 

In spite of all the bad publicity fast fashion brands are getting, I do appreciate the efforts of brands like H&M that do try to promote conscious consumption and sustainability. Of course, at the core of everything, they are still a retail / fashion brand, and it may be hard for them to change their business model overnight.

olivia-wilde-main_3135243a
Olivia Wilde for H&M’s Conscious Exclusives

However, they’re a brand I’ve been observing, and they’ve done quite a number of initiatives in greening their own clothing line through the Conscious Exclusives line in 2013 & 2014. Just last December 11, they also announced Olivia Wilde as the new face of their Conscious Exclusives collection, which seems fitting with Olivia as co-founder of Conscious Commerce, which, not unlike Muni, aims to “bring awareness to everyday purchases that have a transformative impact”.

They’ve also worked and are working with the DO School to come up with a green store and eco-friendly packaging. Back in 2012, they also announced their global clothing collection recycling program, also partnering with DoSomething.org for the Comeback Clothes campaign.

They’re not the only ones as other brands have also made the news with some of their own initiatives, though H&M seems to be the most active, or at least the most visibly active.

Could this be some cause-marketing gimmick?

Some may say that stories like that which I shared above are simply marketing ploys to make people feel less guilty and keep on shopping, which ultimately, would be the goal of most retail companies that wish to stay financially sustainable.

And oftentimes, it comes easy to wellness and sustainability advocates to simply boycott a brand because of this reason or that, but I think, it’s more of a matter of working within that system (a valuable lesson I learned from Pat Gallardo-Dwyer, global director for sustainability of Shangri-la Hotels), and educating these companies on how they can better build their brand, and also showing that there is truly a rise of conscious consumers who would opt to put their money in more mindful products.

How can we choose the lesser evil?

At the end of the day, any company who is producing anything still uses up resources, whether it’s a small indie label, or large multi-national brand. It would be difficult to produce things 100% mindfully, as there really are some components or processes producers may not be privy to. The tragic Rana Plaza incident in Bangladesh was a big eye-opener for many brands to be more mindful about their processes.

So while there may be limits to the efforts of certain brands to be more ethical and sustainable, I find it admirable that there are companies that are trying (all while feeling the pressure to continue with their operations and provide jobs for all the people working at these companies).

It’s also up to us consumers to try as much as we can to validate their claims and further encourage businesses to employ better labor practices and do less damage to the environment by choosing to be more mindful with our consumption buy buying less, buying second-hand, buying things we know we can use frequently, buying local, buying ethical and buying eco-friendly whenever possible.

I believe it’s also about us finding ways to work with big players who already employ a huge workforce and pretty much own a great amount of real estate that we could also use as platforms for better, more mindful products and business practices.

What do you say?

[Related read: Conscious Christmas Shopping for the Fashionista]
[Related read: #BetterCloset: Guilt-free Retail Therapy]


Jen HornJEN HORN (@nomadmanager) is a wanderer, writer, and designer out to build the MUNI community, create a culture of caring for self, others, and the planet, and make choosing better a way of life as MUNI’s Chief Collaborator. A graduate of AB-Psychology from De La Salle University, she has always had a fascination with the inner workings of the human mind, though she opted to pursue entrepreneurship, writing, and design after graduation. She is also a lover of handwoven textiles, and aims to keep weaving traditions alive through the use of Philippine textiles in modern fashion with her side project Tala Luna.

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