Eco-colonialism in Fast Fashion (part 2): Alternatives and solutions
As mentioned previously, through Fast Fashion, Western countries are exploiting the Global South’s environmental and human resources with methods that are colonialistic. The economic interdependence between the two continues to fuel this issue. As illustrated by Fast Fashion, the West depends on the Global South for cheap labor production, whilst the latest currently relies on the demands of the West to sustain their economy (biggest export of Bangladesh and more than 80% of their earnings), (Pranto Dey, 2019). This interdependence widens the economic gap between those two parties, as the West profits from the destruction of Nature, and abusive exploitation of resources and the lives of the natives.
Fast Fashion, therefore, combines a high human and environmental cost, endangering both simultaneously, while also affecting others that do not even partake in it. The comfort and choices of the wealthy impact all beings, species, and ecosystems. It not only is built on colonial histories, such as the exportation of cotton being one of the biggest exports historically but also re-actualizes it through new ways, leading to neocolonialism. Sourcemap, for example, noticed the same pattern between most current fashion brands' supply chains and the trade routes used 150 years ago for Europe's colonial conquests (Sourcemap, 2018). Furthermore, similar colonial practices are often been used, such as lowering wages, child labor, sexual and physical abuse, overwork... Once produced through those abusive conditions, the products seem to almost lose their past through marketing campaigns disconnecting the products to their conception. Designers, models, businesses in the West are therefore acclaimed, without any association to the person that has been exploited in the process, often a woman of color in the Global South.
The first step for change is in acknowledging the current reality of the power imbalance, abuses, and colonialism present in Fast Fashion as well as ecological research. We then need to commit to Decoloniality instead of Post-coloniality, by actively and consciously undoing our current systems through taking responsibility for them. It is, therefore, necessary to include more voices from diverse backgrounds into the ongoing ecological research to come to an equitable transition.
Language (especially scientific) can sometimes play in those power imbalances, the use of alternative forms of knowledge can therefore be essential, whether it is through art, narratives, traditions... and by deep listening of one another.
When it comes to better our fashion choices, we can do this from a place of compassion and respect instead of guilt or judgment. The current situation is complex, and therefore a simple boycott of Fast Fashion is not enough. Workers in the Global south rely on Fast Fashion companies for their survival, it is thus in becoming more intentional in our consumption and waste that we can already move forward. The fashion industry depends on the consumers' wishes and behaviors, as those evolve they will have to adapt to continue their businesses. As the consumption of Fast Fashion goes down, a just transition for those workers into more sustainable and respectful working conditions is necessary.
Fast Fashion has created a new economic class causing many people to be unable to afford anything apart from those low-cost options. Blaming oneself is therefore not the solution. Indeed, due to economic, geographical, cultural reasons, not everyone has yet access to more sustainable clothing. Whenever possible we can choose to consume less, from more sustainable, transparent, and respectful companies, buy already second-hand products, or support local and small businesses... Change can only happen when it is both individual and corporate/governmental. It is therefore important as citizens to do our best and do our part, through educating ourselves, consumption, activism... even if it can feel almost insignificant at times...
Bramwell, L. (2021, March 7). Eco-colonialism: How Bangladesh is burdened by the impacts of fast fashion. The Meridian. https://meridian-magazine.com/ecocolonialism-fast-fashion-in-bangladesh/.
Meadows , B. (2020, April 26). Why is fast fashion a feminist issue? XR NL Fashion Action. https://www.xrnlfashionaction.net/news/why-is-fast-fashion-a-feminist-issue.
Chatterjee, N. (2017). Critiquing Colonialism: An Ecocritical Reading of Oodgeroo’s We Are Going. The Criterion: An International Journal in English, 8(II).
Trisos, C. H., Auerbach, J., & Katti, M. (2021, May 24). Decoloniality and ANTI-OPPRESSIVE practices for a more ETHICAL ECOLOGY. Nature News. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-021-01460-w.
BadEmpanada. (2020, July 18). The environmentalist colonial gaze | badempanada. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhylNGKpLjE.