Racism in Fast Fashion
Written by Emily Herrmann
As the Sustainable Fashion Initiative unlearns, learns, and finds our footing in the antiracism
movement, we have done a lot of thinking about how we can help & our role in
dismantling white supremacy within our community. Within my own learning, I’ve thought and
learned a lot about racism in the fashion industry and want to share what I have learned with
the SFI community. There are MANY ways that white supremacy is upheld in the fashion
industry, but in this post I will just be focusing on fast fashion. I also want to acknowledge that I
am a white woman constantly checking my biases and unlearning the racism that has been
instilled in me & that I have taken a part of my whole life. I am simply sharing what I’ve learned,
if and when I make mistakes please don’t hesitate to let me know if you feel compelled!
So first let’s define fast fashion. It is defined as “cheap, trendy clothing, that samples
ideas from the catwalk or celebrity culture and turns them into garments in high street
stores at breakneck speed” (Good on You). This includes stores like Macy’s, Urban
Outfitters, Zara, H&M, Old Navy, Target, etc. Clothing used to be solely tailor-made until
universal sizing was invented, and then shopping was an occasional activity. But about
20 years ago, trend cycles sped up, labor was outsourced, and fast fashion was created.
This brings me to racism in fast fashion. When I say labor was outsourced, I mean
that companies are using garments workers, who are 80% women of color, as cheap
labor because the countries that they live and work in have lax labor laws. This is part of
the reason fast fashion is so cheap – because these companies take advantage of poor
women of color and pay them so little that they would never be able to afford the
clothes they are making. Not to mention the unsafe working conditions, allowing unpaid
overtime, child labor, and sexual, verbal, and physical violence against these women
If these horrifying accounts aren’t enough for you to ditch fast fashion, let’s take
into account the white-washed runways. The styles and trends stolen from small Black
designers, like lettuce-edged tops. The fact that makeup artists don’t have the right
color foundation for dark-skinned models. The white-centric work environments that are
upheld in our industry.
Julia Bond, a DAAP Fashion alumna, wrote a public letter to her company, Adidas,
calling them out for its “consistent complacency in taking active steps against a racist work
environment”. The letter details an atmosphere where Black employees are afraid to speak out
and their complaints are often not listened to. Bond noted an Instagram post by Adidas that
features the word “racism” crossed out, stating “crossing out the word racism does not negate
its reality, rather, it makes you feel comfortable knowing that its ‘gone.’” She called on Adidas
to “issue a public apology for the racism and discrimination that they have openly enabled and
perpetuated across the brand’” (Quartz). This problem is not unique to Adidas. Almost every
single company in America has a white supremacy problem.
So now that we’re aware of how problematic the fashion industry is, what’s the
solution? What can we do? I struggle to call on consumers to come up with solutions, because
ultimately capitalism and corporations are to blame. But if you feel compelled to do your part,
here are some solutions:
1. Stop buying fast fashion. Instead, buy from secondhand stores like Depop, Thredup,
Poshmark, vintage stores, and thrift stores.
2. Vote for and support progressive politicians and policies.
3. Buy from small designers, especially Black businesses.
4. Educate yourself. Before buying from somewhere, check to see if they have
information available about their labor chain or sources of their materials. If it’s not
readily available, they probably don’t want you to know for a reason.
5. Borrow and swap clothes from your friends.
6. Mend your clothes and care for them! The most ethical option is already in your
I haven’t covered nearly everything about racism in the fashion industry. It is a huge problem
that we all need to be aware of and practice being anti-racist every day. Thanks for reading,
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