The fashion industry is all about numbers. Period.
As a designer, I cringe typing that. I want it to be about expression, connection, values, people. For me, fashion is color and unexpected treasures and stories.
But at the end of the day, all of us—from companies like Nike and H&M to indie designers like myself—have to make money. We all have to pay rent, pay suppliers, and reinvest in the next idea.
At a certain point, though, decisions must be made between people and profits. That is the cold, hard truth. Behind closed doors, every designer and every company decides.
Of course, companies can choose to pay workers fairly, and still make a profit—there’s no doubt about that. But here’s the way the world currently works: a company can make even more money by treating its employees poorly (paying low wages, requiring long hours, no breaks, and neglecting working conditions).
In the fashion industry especially, this is simply “how it is.”
But it’s not just companies making those decisions between people and profit: it’s all of us.
Before I entered the fashion world, I was a bargain-bin junkie who never considered the relationship between cheap fashion and poor treatment of workers, who are mostly women in the developing world.
It’s hard to blame myself; after all, the financial values passed down from my grandparents and parents were centered around saving money and taking advantage of a deal. Add in shiny stores, the latest trends, and a desire to be “cool,” and I—the consumer—was complicit in the decision between people and profit.
While designers and companies are responsible for how our clothes are made, shoppers share an equal burden. We are all a part of the decision. We all have a choice.
At the end of the day, companies make choices based on values and consumer viability.
Let’s assume (momentarily) that the mammoth fast fashion companies have no values. What will their consumer go for? Trend over transparency? Price over country of origin?
As long as companies believe that customers will support their bad behavior—without question—they have no reason to change.
It’s all about the numbers.
But the beauty of consumerism is that the consumer controls the numbers. The consumer controls the decisions.
As shoppers, we have the chance to choose people over profits. We can support companies we believe in—that reflect our values. We can withhold our precious dollars from the ones who don’t. And guess what? Fashion will follow the money. It’s a fickle industry.
If we want, transparency will become trendy and cheap will become a dirty word. It’s up to us, our decisions, and our dollars.
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Editor: Renée Picard