Hi All! My apologies for the short time gap in blog posts, I have really been diving into the industry as a researcher, in order to broaden my knowledge to educate to the world! I am nearing the end of my Sustainable Fashion course on Harvard, and I wanted to share with you a paper I wrote. This research paper is all about how the supply chain perpetuates fast fashion. Disclaimer, I am not a professional, nor is this research paper professionally published. However, I do think it is a super niche paper that will provide intel as to different areas of the supply chain and their negative social impacts. I give full credit to all the sources I used down below, definitely check out the sources if you are interested in learning more about it.
Social impact of fast fashion and the supply chain
Our world and society is growing increasingly competitive. A race to the top, a race to meet deadlines, a race to make money, a race in terms of supply chain, and more evidently, “a race to the bottom in labor standards”. (Gallegos, M. 2021) In the fashion industry, many different sectors are often detrimental to the workers and people involved. The primary purpose of the supply chain is to ensure a steady supply of clothing arrives to the retailers to sell in their stores. Brands struggle with maintaining their position in the supply chain which is reflected in the continuous lowering of labor and environmental standards. (SIMONČIČ, K. (2021)The garment industry and fast fashion has been around for a while, however due to the recent need for speed in our society, there has become a negative social impact. “The persistent competitive pressure in the garment industry ensures that production chains are continuously adapted, which not only drives down costs, but also exacerbates the problems.” (SIMONČIČ, K. 2021 p. 348). From the cotton mills to sweatshops, to beyond the factory, the fast fashion supply chain has an immense social impact on everyone involved.
In the fast fashion supply chain, working conditions in the cotton mills are often overlooked. Many workers prefer sweatshops rather than cotton mills (Rivoli, P. 2015). Cotton mills are where much of the cotton and textiles are developed. The cotton and textiles are then sent to sweatshops to be turned into clothing. There is a profound saying among the young girls in Bangladesh, “
if you’re lucky you’ll be a prostitute, if not, a worker in the garment industry” (Speilberg 1997, p.113). According to Rivoli, the majority of workers in cotton mills were women or children. Rivoli states that cotton mills specifically in China and Japan were “Where workers were locked in steamy Hell ripening for revolution” (Rivoli, P. 2015, p. 144) According to Rivoli, workers endured beatings, wage cuts, and murders. Sensory assault was common as there was little fresh air. They often worked 12 hour work days with only 2 holidays per year (Rivoli, P. 2015) .
The first mills were set up in Asia and left in the hands of tech and labor survivors who had little to no training. Workers were demeaned and not treated fairly (Rivoli, P. 2015) and as the fast fashion cycle perpetuated, so did the decrease in labor standards. Cotton textiles led the industrialization of a region (Rivoli, P. 2015), “Southern girls entered the mills as young as age 7 and worked more than 60 hours per week”. (Rivoli, P. 2015 p. 148) These girls had little to no access to education, nutrition, and endured crowded and unhealthy living and working conditions. (Rivoli, P. 2015). Sadly, it was a right of passage for a Southern girl to work in a mill. (Rivoli, P. 2015) .
The amount of chemical hazards in the mills was immense. “The ILO (International Labor Office), estimates that approximately two million individuals die each year from work-related accidents and illnesses. “ (SIMONČIČ, K. 2021) Some chemical hazards that workers were exposed to include cotton dust, poor lighting, inadequate temperature, ventilation, electric wiring, humidity, dirt, and non-compliance with fire and safety rules. (SIMONČIČ, K. 2021 p. 349.). Often, the workers are not aware of preventative measures to combat these health hazards that they are exposed to. They rarely have access to occupational safety training and they have little to no healthcare provided by the factories. (SIMONČIČ, K. 2021 p. 349.)
Once cotton is exported from a mill, it then moves to sweatshops, or factories in which the garments will be produced. A sweatshop is a factory that produces these clothes oftentimes with gruesome conditions and low wages. The factory and sweatshop working environments are similar to cotton mills, with conditions just as harmful. According to the crime article, “One’s autonomy is undermined when someone does not have access to education, and lacks the opportunities to participate in purposeful and productive social activities, such as paid work and having children, and is unable to participate in social and civil affairs”. (SIMONČIČ, K. 2021 p. 347.) The children and women who worked in these factories were treated like animals (SIMONČIČ, K. 2021), they were played little and they were squashed like sardines in their living conditions. The reason why the majority of manufactures are women is because women were easier to raise and many didn't complain (Rivoli, P. 2015), Rivoli states, “Manufacturers found men to be more difficult whereas women and children were just as productive and had a lot less trouble” (Rivoli, P. 2015 p. 161).
Factories struggle in terms of keeping up with the standards of their competition which often leads to extreme wage cuts and more working hours. In Rivolis book we learn about Sadie Frowne and her experience working in a New York sweatshop in 1901. Unfortunately, not much has changed and the digital world has even perpetuated this cycle. (Gallegos, M. 2021). “Sadie Frowne described her 12 hour days in a New York sweatshop. She made $7 per week, but at the price of frequent injuries, brutal bosses, and the exhausting pace of the piecework sewing system. At the end of each day, Sadie was so tired she wanted nothing more than to go to sleep” (Rivoli, P. 2015 p.137) .
. “Deaths and injuries that occur as a result of work-related accidents in the fast fashion industry are another source of the first category of social harms”. (SIMONČIČ, K. 2021 p. 352.) In the Bangladesh factory collapse there were “more than 1,100 dead garment workers and 2,500 injured”. (SIMONČIČ, K. 2021 p. 353.). However a disaster like this escalated further harmful effects. These harmful effects include mental illnesses, drug and alcohol dependency, PTSD, depression, anxiety, as well as financial distress to cover the cost of health treatments and loss of employment which the majority of them cannot afford. (SIMONČIČ, K. 2021 p. 353.)
Cotton sourcing, factory conditions and the sweatshops our clothing is produced in are all very eye opening. Beyond the factory, we examine what warehousing looks like and how the products arrive in the stores. What happens when fast fashion companies' clothing gets ruined due to low quality? Many times it can be an exact replica of an expensive designer piece (Gallegos, M. 2021). Let’s start from the beginning of this sector of the supply chain; exporting. Exporting is sending the clothing to the countries to be sold. Typically, the clothing is imported to a warehouse, which has its own specific issues. The items are usually sold and exported in bulk, in many cases “fast fashion retailers have an expansive catalog of many items rotating quickly”. (2022, February 11 p. 2) These warehouses store the goods in order to ensure a timely exportation to the fast fashion retailer, keeping the entire chain moving smoothly. However, there are a few different issues that are part of this process (2022, February 11).
Working in the warehousing sector of the supply chain often comes with massive headaches and mental distress. Miscommunication is common, leaving all ends of the chain affected. When goods are lost, which is happening more and more often due to COVID 19, retailers become angry, and the warehousing heads have to go back to the heads of the sweatshops to order more supply, hence rushing the sweatshops as the conditions suffer. (2022, February 11)
Ultimately, this end of the supply chain is crucial. If the clothing doesn’t get into stores, it affects all ends of the supply chain. Working in the warehouse is a high anxiety job because of the pressures to produce. Shipping can be delayed due to global ports and exportation delays, and the warehousing employees are often blamed.
In conclusion, the fashion supply chain has many social impacts. Learning about cotton mills, sweatshops, and warehousing, we are able to explore specific social impacts in each sector. The fast fashion phenomenon not only perpetuates this cycle, but COVID-19 has created more chaos in the supply chain.
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Shipping and Warehousing Fast Fashion. Fulfillment and Distribution. (2022, February 11). Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://fulfillmentanddistribution.com/shipping-and-warehousing-fast-fashion/
9 problems only apparel warehouse managers understand. Apparel Business Systems. (n.d.). Retrieved February 27, 2022, from https://www.apparelbusiness.com/9-problems-only-apparel-warehouse-managers-understand
Gallegos, M. (2021). New york fashion week‘s lasting effects: Microtrends,
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