Our generation is fully obsessed with the trend of fastness. In the hectic daily routines in the world we live in, people prize convenience and handiness over the quality of the product. Because the finished product is so easily accessible for affordable prices, people express immediate disposition to go with the easy choice. The public is oblivious to the disguised reality behind the eyes of the customers – the sordid working conditions and unsafe ingredients involved in this process – or even neglect this reality. The same applies for the fashion district nowadays.
According to a fashion article written by Good On You, the contemporary term “fast fashion” defines inexpensive clothing produced rapidly by mass-market retailers in response to the latest trends. Since the 1980s, the invention of the sewing machine in the Industrial Revolution, fast fashion corporations have been dominating the garment industry with its low-cost fashion. Just to name a few, the popular shops include H&M, Zara, Forever 21, Ross, and TopShop.
The skyrocketing demand for cheap clothing with faster production time accompanies a huge negative consequence: a significant yet unrecognized human cost. The cheap human labor involved in the fast fashion industry shows many pitfalls. Fast fashion impacts garment workers, who have been investigated to work in dangerous environments for unjustifiably low wages without basic human rights.
A 2016 investigation conducted by UCLA Labor Center unequivocally revealed the derelict working conditions of garment workers. Its study showed: 72% of respondents stated that their workplaces were brimming with dust; 60% reported that excessive heat and dust accumulation was due to poor ventilation that rendered it difficult to work, and even to breathe; and 42% reported that exits and doors in their shops were regularly blocked. These workers labor under horrendous conditions and, what is worse still, the workers are being exploited and getting paid below the minimum wage.
Despite the entity of the state law demanding the minimum wage of $13.25, some of the garment workers report that they receive $5 an hour because they are paid not hourly but by piece rates. Even worse, many illegal sweatshops often cut and run without paying the workers.
Some may deem that cheap labor or the exploitation of workers is only an international problem prevalent in developing countries. However, there are still people working for low wages, long hours, and poor conditions in the heart of Los Angeles. The sweatshops in LA’s fashion district still remains as a teeming sweatshop industry.
The student interns of the K.W. Lee Center for Leadership, including myself, have been researching pressing issues facing the Los Angeles community in order to find viable options for a community project. What we have discovered is that many garment workers have undocumented immigration status, thus, making it hard for workers to report safety violations.
In order to speak up against the illegal sweatshops in Los Angeles, we have partnered with Los Angeles Garment Center to organize direct action movements and deliver delegation letters to Ross, one of the stores that exploit sweatshop workers.
It is time for us to shine the light on the underpaid workers constituting the facade of the popular fast fashion industry. So, tomorrow morning when you’re putting your clothes on for the day, why not remember and appreciate the garment workers’ efforts from behind the scenes?
Goeun Lee, Grade 10
Larchmont Charter School