Law in the Internet Society

The unseen cost on Fast Fashion’s price tag

-- By SkyeLee - 09 Jan 2022

The generation and rapid growth of the fast fashion industry occurred only within the past few decades, more than doubling the global production of clothing within this period. It has thrived on capitalism’s model and the internet has played a crucial role in aiding its growth, fed and refined its algorithms with consumer data points, and transmitted new forms of neural impulses on a global scale.

Fashion’s connection to individuals’ neural networks

Fashion is and always has been intimately linked to the sensory impulse structures in the individual body. It is coloured by consumer choices, conceived as a form of self-expression influenced by one’s taste and preferences and shaped by one’s aesthetic and lifestyle. While it is a common and accessible form of everyday self-expression, fashion’s psychology has never been purely about the individual. The value of clothing to us extends to becoming reflective not only of the physical environment around us but our social ecology such as religion, class, gender relations etc. Fashion can be representative of all this, and closely tied to our psychological states such as mood as evinced by ‘dopamine dressing’.

How Fast Fashion takes advantage of the Net’s new nervous system

While the relationship between fashion and the self has long existed, the Net has placed the power to influence, control and eventually exploit it into the hands of conglomerates, notably through fast fashion’s rise. The key factor that the Net brings is interconnectivity. Through the Internet, the biological nervous system of each user and each human consciousness is connected into an external superorganism, metaphorically forming an exoskeletal new ‘nervous system’. Fashion companies can now generate and control new neural impulses transmitted through the masses. For instance, 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 consolidate user identification with a product or aesthetic through shadow profiling, and target adsaccordingly. Companies exploit consumer desire within the wiring of our individual nervous system, and through the new nervous system of the Net, capitalise on ‘Instagram Envy’ to motivate consumption and boost profits. Hence, fast fashion companies focus more resources on cost-effective micro-influencer sponsorships, allowing them to become nodes of connection for the promotion of the fast fashion industry’s signals of control.

Facilitated by users’ callous indifference to privacy and succumbing to convenience exchanged for analytics, fashion companies have the power to instantaneously create, direct, and drive trends of desire and consumption. With the power to control what people want, and therefore how much people consume, the fashion industry holds economic power because they can create the demand and control the supply. The result is a market that is designed to maximise demand - with constantly changing trends and a focus on the next ‘new’ thing.

Physiological effects of Worker Inequalities

As the fast fashion industry orients itself toward the market created by this new neural network, the physiological effects reverberate globally. To adapt to the need for rapid production and turnover of clothes with high product differentiation, the fast fashion industry capitalises on existing transnational and national inequity. The increased competition raised by the new Net has also engendered a ‘race to the bottom’ in a bid for companies to find the cheapest labour and materials for most expedient production. The net allows production to be efficiently outsourced to countries where fair working laws can be overlooked. The production process can be diverged from the sale process and expedited from wealthier nations to poorer ones, broadly from the Global North to South. Bangladesh continues to be a popular producer, where despite a period of increased attention for workers’ rights, entrenched and robust worker protections are still absent. Under the false promises of decent compensation, low-skilled, long-hour labour jobs are taken up by inhabitants of impoverished rural areas of these developing countries, frequently women and children. The global network furthermore allows companies to take full advantage of marginalized and therefore, cheap, workers within communities in the Global South. Xinjiang, where the Uyghur are made forced labourers under China’s ‘re-education’ programme, is one of the most popular places for big brands to produce cotton garments. The new neural network incentivises and empowers fast fashion brands to exploit and vicariously entrench global inequalities.

Another physiological effect of Environmental Destruction

The environmental crises generated in their wake is further evidence of this. The fast fashion industry’s rapid renewal production cycle makes it the second-highest user of water worldwide, accounting for 20% of total water waste. The textile production process produces more emissions than shipping and international plane travel combined. The pattern of environmental harm furthermore reflects colonial power structures of inequity, as fabrics that cannot be quickly recycled or resold are exported to developing nations. Ghana was burdened by this textile waste, and bereft of a system of recycling fibres, essentially becoming a dumping ground.

Ineffective consumer responses

Much like how the brain issues responses to neural signals and physiological effects, the humanitarian and environmental crises have prompted some response from consumers who, feeling complicit, have sought to mitigate the environmental footprint through ‘sustainability’ trends, such as thrifting. However, the actual effectiveness can be doubted. For instance, the online trend of cutting new garments from oversized clothes has evolved into a wasteful practice of intentionally buying oversized. Furthermore, thrifting has become a corrupted practice as resellers have flocked 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. Ultimately, these practices have only created a false sense of morality, no more than band-aid solutions to the ethical hole of fast fashion.

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r3 - 10 Jan 2022 - 05:40:49 - SkyeLee
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