Law in the Internet Society

The unseen cost on fast fashion’s price tag

-- By SkyeLee - 22 Oct 2021

The positive definition of ‘fast fashion’ is the production of low-cost clothing by mass-market retailers, rapidly responsive in transforming catwalk trends to high-street products to meet consumer demand. The global production of clothing has doubled in the last two decades. Its mammoth progress is attributable to the industrialisation and globalisation of the economy, enabling companies to separate processes of production and sale and diverge them into very different economies. One might also conjure up an equally valid, corollary definition that fast fashion is a highly profitable and greatly exploitative business model capitalising on society’s insatiable appetite for consumption.

Politics of Disposability

The political economy of the fast fashion industry might be premised on disposability. It generates societal inertia from the perception that any potential benefits of intervention are outweighed by the profits generated by the status quo. This essay argues that disposability lies in both the existing perpetuation of environmental and humanitarian crises, and consumers’ lack of due regard for their data privacy.

Unseen Costs

The design of disposability is weaved into the fabric of the fast fashion economy, and the five-dollar price tag, equivalent to a morning coffee, belies an unseen and far greater cost. Environmentally, the fashion industry is the second-highest user of water worldwide and accounts for 20% of total water waste. The textile production process produces more emissions than shipping and international plane travel together. The human cost is inextricably linked to this and reflects colonial power structures of inequity. In addition to exploitative working conditions, compensation schemes and inhumane treatment, what fabrics cannot be quickly recycled or resold is exported to developing nations. Ghana was burdened by this textile waste, and bereft of a system of recycling fibres, essentially became a dumping ground. Waste textiles overflow into the ocean when it rains, polluting beaches, threatening marine life. Landfills catch fire, generating toxic smoke. Clothing waste clogs major open drains during periodic torrential flooding, which public health officials predict to spread malaria and cholera. Fast fashion’s premise that new collections will often be based around trends means of course, that the fruits of the environmental and human labour/ suffering do not last. Devoured by the insatiable appetite for consumption, more human and environmental resources are expended to perpetuate this devastating and dirty business.

False Comfort

Although thrift shopping has been touted as the ‘go green’ alternative, environmentalists have expressed concern over the inadvertent marginalisation caused by sustainability trends, referencing the ableist character of plastic straw bans which disproportionately impacted disabled individuals. For instance, the YouTube? trend of intentionally choosing oversized clothes to cut them up and tailor them has been criticised to take away a crucial resource for individuals who need them. Resellers also flock to thrift stores to take in-demand items and profit by marking up the price, pressuring thrift stores to price-match at inaccessible prices for individuals who need them. To put things in perspective, the shelves of Goodwill remain generously well-stocked due to continued patronage of the high street stores which end up as charitable donations. Thrifting lures shoppers with a false sense of security. It does not fill the ethical hole and is at best a band-aid solution, not resolution.

Market Forces

The key driving force then appears to be human capitalistic habits. The industry’s awareness of this is evident. Inditex’s (the multinational clothing company that owns many household names such as Zara, Pull&Bear, Bershka etc.) marketing model specifically strays from magazine advertising and print campaigns, favouring budgeting for celebrity and influencer endorsements as well as prime locations with high street visibility.

Facebook’s partnership with the fast fashion brand Zaful revealed that they kept their ad campaign running sustainably by maximising the purchase value for each customer interaction on the platform. Facebook’s true customers are not the active users on the site, but rather the advertisers utilising its network, capitalising on the interconnected superorganism to target ads at these users. The physiology of this nervous system is wired in favour of the companies able to modify it through shadow profiling. This is only possible when the fundamental political economy in which the network operates is the disposability of personal data, supported by callous indifference to privacy and succumbing to convenience exchanged for analytics.

The interconnectedness of the web also allows for user identification with a product or aesthetic to be consolidated. A psychology study conducted in 2020 ratified the ‘Instagram envy’ hypothesis, identifying that fashion posts arouse envious feelings that motivate consumption. This explains the vested interest in continuing influencer sponsorships, and celebrities become nodes of connection for fast fashion patronage.

Will the restraining hand of government tap on the fast fashion industry’s shoulder? Within the past few years, Western governments have signalled a turn of the tide from caveat emptor to more market regulation using labour and labelling laws. In the US, the federal government has passed domestic labour laws such as the Clean Water Act, to counteract pollution caused by textile factories dumping untreated toxic wastewaters directly into waterways. In Europe, the GDPR’s rules on consumer protection against invasions of privacy caused by data breaches may impact the way companies can leverage consumers’ social media analytics, forcing a re-evaluation of business strategy and reconstruction of brand identity.

There's good material here, though it would be better if the sources were linked into the text. You are writing for the web: make it easy for your reader to find what you're relying on with a click.

What improves the draft most, from my point of view, is getting the material out of the way of your analysis. In the new nervous system there are new forms of neural impulses. Fashion, which is already very closely tied to the sensory impulse structures in the individual body, now reorients itself in globally significant ways affecting worker safety in Bangladesh, the racial oppression in Xinjiang, the microplastic plague in the deep sea, and dozens of other physiological phenomena in the "real" world. Your ideas have their primary value lifted above the details your first draft conveyed.

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r2 - 04 Dec 2021 - 18:31:23 - EbenMoglen
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