Amara Mozammel: A closer look, and 'fast fashion' loses its Shein
When you scratch the surface of the power, you realize there is something slightly menacing underneath. And if you look deeper, you understand that it's suffering.
No matter your age, if you've read any news in the past year, shopped for apparel, or even used TikTok as a source of information, then you probably have heard of Shein.
But if you haven't, Shein is a $100 billion clothing company with an objective of "bringing fashion to all." Initially trending because of its low prices and up-to-date designs, not even two years later it fell under harsh security and protests for using indentured child labor.
Clothing is just one example of a paradigmatic item we buy. It used to be expensive — home-spun and washed far less than current hygiene rules would have liked — and now it's not. Cotton seeds are sowed by children thousands of miles away, assembled by women workers in Asia, shipped to your local outlet mall, and eventually end up as microplastics in the ocean.
None of this is news. Hundreds of news articles regarding various other companies were posted years before Shein came to light. However, unlike its predecessors, Shein not only continued to thrive after its exposure, but openly embraced fast fashion as an objective. Shein mastered what others could not; the art of whittling down to the sharpest edge of profitability by appealing to the eyes of consumers and understanding our helplessness in change.
The barely exhaustive investigation of clothing hits the bullseye of moral hypocrisy in American society and scratches at the surface of the half-known horrors of many of our commodities. If we stop to think about it for even a moment, we realize that our global marketplace is unprecedented in terms of the human experience. The online marketplace offers a continuous, dream-like bounty of products that costs lower yearly, even as the quality increases.
From a customer's perspective, this bounty appears completely frictionless, like some urban American birthright. But of course, on the inside, it is the opposite of frictionless. It requires tremendous power to maintain. When you scratch the surface of the power, you realize there is something slightly menacing underneath. And if you look deeper, you understand that it's suffering.
I remember reading a specific article about a girl named Bithi, a garment worker at one of these factories. Her story was one of the thousands; slave labour is a better outcome than starvation. She lost a finger, and years of her life, but considers herself lucky.
Bithi's story is an example of the reality for many of these people. Closing these marketplaces only seem to push people farther underground, and "woke culture" does little to acknowledge personal stories.
Fortunately for those making money off these enterprises, we consumers have little choice. We can shop at a place marked with higher prices or thrift our clothing, sure, but the real atrocities happen long before the desired product hits the rack. And here is where companies have one final trick — it allows us to hate our clothing and still continue to buy it. We feel enraged at the image of an exploited child or polluted rivers, while the disguise of commodity goods-past all the labels and branding -- soothes us with the plausible deniability we crave. Shein may be another drop in a stockpile of issues hidden by colourful backgrounds in our Instagram feed, but it's an important example of the gulf between what consumers actually know and the public image these brands create.
So what do we do? To be honest, I have no clue. Personally, I've attempted to steer myself away from more prominent sources of fast fashion and scour the Internet for hidden, obscure brands on Instagram while probably engaging in equivalent supply chains. Ultimately, clothing shopping is hard to avoid and most certainly an ethically compromised activity. But I still think there's some merit in knowing about it.
Amara Mozammel is a senior at Century High School. Send comments on teen columns to Jeff Pieters, email@example.com .