Here’s why thrifting is political. Fast fashion operates on a neo-colonial structure, exploiting predominantly people of colour across the globe for the sake of profit. Garment workers, the majority of whom are women of colour, are paid a pittance in order to produce 52 seasons worth of clothing a year for most high-street brands. These women work unthinkable hours in poor working conditions. Most of the workers are unable to advocate for themselves or unionise, for the real fear of brutal physical and / or sexual assault. Up to 87% of factories do not pay their countries’ minimum wage. Those who protest, as 17,000 Vietnamese garment workers did in 2016, risk their livelihoods, but most importantly their lives.
These workers stay largely invisible to the average shopper: unseen, undervalued and unheard. Companies make it very easy for us to forget that all clothes are handmade. Shops feel clean - masses of symmetrical colour-blocked clothes all lined up, whilst tunes of the latest pop songs whip through the aggressively bright, clean space. Endless options appear to us weekly, like magic. The truth is this, brands fundamentally make us feel like clothes appear through robotic production with no human cost. We do not see the blood, we do not see the tears, importantly, we do not see the people.
The fast fashion system that continues to exploit workers contributes to the structural inequality of society worldwide. It contributes to the proliferation of wealth-hoarding by the 1%, who do not adequately pay their workers, sell new clothing on a weekly basis and then pocket the profits of someone else’s labour. They continue to sell through pandemics, forcing workers across the globe to continue production and supply with no hazard pay. By choosing to thrift instead, you choose to no longer take part in the exploitation of garment workers, predominantly people of colour, for the sake of clothing. Although there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, is your consumption of clothing really worth this?