Now What?

Perhaps on Sunday evening or early this week, you watched John Oliver’s segment that shared the scary cycle of fast fashion companies getting in trouble for human rights violations and the rest of us quickly forgiving and forgetting.

It is a full 17 minutes, but I hope you’ll forget about the fact that our attention spans have disappeared and stick it out for the full video.

Why? Because we have to recognize this as a significant moment. No, we didn’t do enough after the Rana Plaza factory collapse and the subsequent factory fires that led to the creation of Fashion Revolution Day whose anniversary was April 24. Just like we didn’t do enough after all the tragedies since the early 1990s caused by the pursuit of ever cheaper clothing that John highlights in this feature. But it is a significant moment when an extremely popular tv show that is only 30 minutes long gives more than half of the show over to reminding us how we (this means you and me) are letting this pattern continue.

I will say that Gap, which is the company in focus for majority of the video, is not the worst offender. Who is? Every store you’ve ever been in where you’ve exclaimed “I can’t believe how cheap this is.” Sometimes that is Gap, but it’s also Forever21, H&M, Zara, Target, Walmart, American Eagle Outfitters, Old Navy, Topshop, Kohl’s, Joe Fresh, and so many more.

Many of these companies are in reputable industry organizations and have CSR departments and compliance teams. Some of them have really innovative programs for trying to improve on environmental issues. But at the end of the day, a $5 t-shirt and a $20 blouse need to cause us to raise our eyebrows and ask ourselves “but how?”.

The next step is action, but today, I hope you’ll take some time to watch the video,  notice the patterns, see the cycle, and decide whether you want to do something about it.



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  1. Pearl

    Hi Rebecca,
    I watched the video and all the time I spent on it was worth it. Thanks for sharing it! I don’t watch TV or keep up with any shows so I didn’t know about it. I think that the segment on fast fashion is effective because it is also entertaining. There may be a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t spend so much time thinking about where their clothes came from. John Oliver showed that there is a cycle of people caring and forgetting, and I don’t think that will stop for a lot of people in this video. But when some people are laughing at some of the stuff in the video, they may also think about why they are laughing, about the way people swoon over prices (“Get out!”) without thinking where they came from, and that might really impact them. And I think that creating a lot of opportunities for people to think about these things will help too.

    I wondered about the food and clothing at the end of the video. Would buying products from questionable sources to make a point about supply chains be worth it? I learned some new things in the video, and I was excited to be able to make a connection about the Walmart subcontracting to what I read in an article I found for a history class project. In our unit on Industrial Revolution, we had to find a modern example of how industrialization impacts society, and my group was assigned factories/working conditions/child labor, which I mainly looked at through the clothing industry because of my interest.


    • Rebecca

      Hi Pearl, I’m not a regular TV watcher either but I love John Oliver, so I’m glad you got a chance to see this! I think the joke about the overly cheap clothing and food at the end is helpful because food is far ahead of fashion in terms of changing practices. The food revolution and having shoppers ask where their food comes from is well on its way, and I think fashion is where food was maybe 10 or so years ago before you started to see organic becoming more mainstream. There’s just going to have to be a culture shift in the fashion industry and that’s going to have to involve all stakeholders changing their practices.

  2. liesbeth

    I’ll definitely watch the show when I have the time :). Just wanted to add that although yes, we should be wary everytime we see an object (not just clothes) that is so cheap we cannot imagine the retail price covering any kind of production method let alone transportation across the globe, we should also keep in mind that expensive isn’t necessarily better. When I check websites like Rank-a-brand, it’s shocking to find that designers and luxury brands are often even worse offenders when it comes to sustainability than highstreet brands, perhaps because those last ones are so big they’re under more scrutiny..? And it’s well know that so far, only the designer Bruno Pieters (from my own country, yeah!) has taken serious steps towards promoting sutainability and transparancy in his products.

    • Rebecca

      Liesbeth, yes! Thank you for this call out! I actually haven’t heard of rank a brand so I will definitely look it up.

      But your point on expensive doesn’t mean “no sweatshops” or not harming the environment is so right. I think a great example of that is designer handbags, sunglasses and fragrance – these are a few product categories where luxury brands have more than the standard markup so the price is extremely inflated and you have both no idea of quality or how they might be manufacturing these (especially if they are licensed products so the brand isn’t even using their direct manufacturers).

      Thank you so much for adding this perspective!

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