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  • Writer's pictureSFI Blog Team

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,

email with any questions or comments or to be put on our email list.

Emily Herrmann

Director of Communication

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