The dark side of cheap clothing

Katie Jocelyn/File

Do you shop at Forever 21 or H&M? Of course, it’s easy to accept the low prices combined with high fashion, but it’s time to look behind these store’s adorable and extremely affordable clothing. There’s a reason these stores offer such great styles for such low prices – the clothing comes from a darker background than you may expect.

While companies like H&M outline their policies regarding labor abuse and sustainability quite publicly on their websites, most of their suppliers do not. For example, suppliers in Cambodia and China don’t follow the policies which U.S. consumers assume are in place and which the owners of H&M request. This can range from underaged workers – like the 14-year-old girls found at H&M’s supplier in Myanmar and reported about by The Guardian – to extremely unsafe working conditions.

Just last year, one of H&M’s factories suffered a detrimental fire which left four employees injured. Upon closer inspection, the factory was found lacking adequate fire doors. If the fire had occurred an hour later, 6,000 workers would have been inside as described by Project JUST.

On the somewhat brighter side, at least H&M publicly displays its suppliers and policies, while Forever 21 doesn’t disclose the locations or names of their suppliers. This causes us to question what they may be trying to hide. Project JUST describes how Forever 21 doesn’t produce an annual report with their sustainability goals or practices. There’s also no easily accessible information regarding their attempt to avoid hazardous chemicals.

On the flip side, H&M recently announced their sustainable choices and recycling initiative. While the clothing company encourages customers to bring in their old clothes, with the promise of said clothes being recycled in exchange for 15% of your purchase, it turns out it’d actually take H&M about 12 years to use up the same amount of fashion waste that they produce every 48 hours. It’s a marketing stunt – aimed to encourage more spending – and a poor one at that.

At the end of the day, these are clothing companies whose main goal is to make money. From the information at hand (and hidden), it’s clear that cheap clothing with high fashion appearance is less than virtuous.

These aren’t the only clothing companies at fault – there are many other companies with similar culpability.  So when you do your back-to-school shopping this year, try to keep this article in mind, and perhaps do some research of your own.

Contact Hailey Johnson at [email protected].