Is it all about profit?
On the quest to slowly replace my wardrobe with Fair Trade, natural/organic and upcycled items, I went on a mission to find some organic cotton underwear. Living in London at the moment, I assumed this would be simple; however I couldn’t have been more shocked to find that purchasing one pair of underwear would cost more or less £20 (that’s $32.38AUD or $24.59USD).
So why is Fair Trade so expensive?
Although Fair Trade products generally have high price labels, profit is not the sole purpose of their business. In fact, many of these businesses act as reforms to capitalism, aiming to address environmental and humanitarianism issues around the globe. From the beginning of the supply chain to the end of production, Fair Trade businesses ensure that all workers along this supply chain are receiving a fair wage and safe working conditions. This naturally increases the cost of the end product. If we lived in a world where all workers were not exploited and all workers received a fair wage and safe working conditions, prices for clothing, in particular, would be higher and we wouldn’t know any better. We would value and appreciate each garment more. We would make more conscious purchases, looking for quality over quantity. This ideology may even reduce demand, reducing the total cost of garments.
Profit in the fashion industry
Some may argue that the purpose of a business is to make profit and continually increase their profit. This may, to some, be the measure of success. But when this success derives from the exploitation of other human beings and the destruction of the environment, is it really a measure of success? Or is it greed and selfishness?
Here are some examples of fast fashion profits in 2015 (Fashion United, 2016):
- Nike had revenue of $30.6 billion USD
- Spanish fast fashion chain Inditex (who owns Zara, Pull&Bear and Stradivarius) had a revenue of about $24 billion USD
- Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (including Louise Vuitton, Fendi and Dior) made $40.7 billion USD
- US fast fashion brand, TXJ (including T.K. Maxx, HomeSense, Winners and Marshalls) made $26 billion USD
- Swedish fast fashion brand H&M with $25.8 billion USD
- French luxury fast fashion brand Hermès, with a revenue of $5.5 billion USD
So what is the purpose of these high profits? We know that they are not going back into the business to create high quality eco-friendly products and we know they are not going back into the supply chain to increase wages and working standards to a humane level. Are they merely selfish gains for a luxury lifestyle at the expense of the health and lives of others? Is this how we measure success?