oliticians that declare fast fashion as the enemy usually approach the topic with a high degree of unfamiliarity on the evolution of the sector, and a hint of populism since it’s politically correct to think this way. Fast fashion is a way of structuring, producing and selling fashion articles within a price range accessible to the masses.
Mass production is concentrated on a few big international chains, being the Europeans the most innovative and economically relevant. The way these chains have democratized the access to fashion with a normalized quality was positive for the consumer, and it widened the horizons of the entire sector.
The textile industry was the basis of the industrial revolution that unfolded in the United Kingdom, as early as the 19th century, and in many other countries and geographies. Later on, with globalization and the markets opening in the 90s, the textile industry was the base of the industrial revolution in China, as today is for the Bangladesh, for example, and it shall be in Africa in the future, according to the signs coming from Ethiopia.
Since the year 2000, massive industrial relocation has become inevitable, even though part of the industry still resists in Europe and quite well, responding to needs that are more specific and technical.
Fortunately, network communication has turned the world more transparent (despite also generating fakes) and, in turn, the big business groups had to become more transparent and rigorous in their approach to offshoring, since bad environmental and social practises are a threat to the brands’ reputation.
For example, the possibility that children are found working at a factory that manufactures for Zara in Asia would be in every media outlet around the world: mistakes today are severely punished, ergo the control of subcontracting has become much tighter, as well as for environmental concerns, seeking refuge in the certification of international entities (such as IndustriAll or Greenpeace).
The wages paid by a partner manufacturer of a group like H&M, or other similar European company, in Bangladesh are low when compared to the European standard, but it usually sits well above the average practised in many other sectors of that country. Something similar to what happened, in due proportion, in Europe (Portugal, Eastern Europe) or in Turkey.
Zeroing in on the Third World, the reality is that textiles are the bread and butter of millions of people, and there is no better way of sharing our wealth than transferring economical activity and employment, since the European industry had to reconvert and reinvent itself in order to overcome the obstacles created at the time markets opened up. Europe has changed too, and there is no turning back.
Paradoxically, the fast fashion sector was the one that grabbed the most attention (by the consumer), and so it had to adapt in order to protect its own reputation. It’s the Third World industries, which do not work for reputed brands or fast fashion groups, and who normally distribute their products exclusively at a local/regional scale, who act free of restraints (rules imposed by their own states), and who resort to social and ecological patterns that we do not accept in the West.