The Dark Side of American Fashion

One of the fastest growing "fast fashion" retailers in the world. With a dark shadow.

If you still shop at Forever 21, take a moment to read this. It might change your mind. 

In a crowded, stuffy warehouse, hundreds of women scramble to seam together hems of pants and attach sleeves to shirts. The room is smelly, and there are carriers filled with crying, tiny babies on the floor. The supervisor comes in and yells at the women to hurry or else they may not leave. Scared workers now rush to attach embellishments and details until they are finally sent home with little pay, no dignity and withered anticipation of change.

This description reflects many unfair labor practices around the world and more specifically, highlights the horrible working conditions and underpayment of garment workers in an industry that makes so much money. What some do not know, however, is that this description mimics what goes on right here on our own soil.

Retail Fashion has forever been a competition between price and quality. Big retailers stores like Target and H&M have begun offering popular name brands with looks inspired by the runway at fairly cheaper prices—commonly referred to by industry leaders as “fast fashion”.

And with the economy struggling to find stability, more designers are recreating their brands for the middle class sector and launching in-house “generic” lines. One company in particular has continued to climb the ranks of discount retailers over the last 10 years and is now a powerhouse in the ever expanding and contracting retail market — that company is Forever 21. South Korean immigrant Dong-Won Chang and his wife started the store in a small, 900-square-foot storefront in Los Angeles. It has now grown into a well-established national brand and operates in more than 450 stores worldwide.

As wonderful as it is to know such a success story exists in modern America, it is hard to stomach how the company grew to such a magnitude. Using unfair labor practices, underpaid workers and no sympathy for the human condition, Forever 21 executives relied on sweatshops housed in the historic fashion district of Los Angeles to make its clothing, accessories and money for the last decade.

The documentary “Made in L.A.” follows the journey of a group of women who, with the help of LA’s Garment Worker Center, change the labor laws and embark on a journey to change the world. All are undocumented immigrants who are told they have no rights, no voice and no hope. But as they learn more about the labor laws and themselves, they evolve into confident, strong women who are activists for a universal cause. Through several ups and downs, “Made in L.A.” shows what it really means to be an American.

On the other side of the spectrum, Los Angeles-based company American Apparel has worked diligently to change unfair labor practices across the country. Its campaign, Legalize L.A., specifically focuses on the rights of all Americans — legal and illegal.

In their Legalize LA information packet, CEO and Founder Dov Charney explains how media outlets, politicians and business play in restricting immigrants’ rights.

“Businesses are afraid are generally afraid to speak out because they’re frightened of reprisals by government agencies…”

The company continues to strive for immigrants’ rights and workers’ rights by lobbying, rallying and educating the American public.

“Our dream for Los Angeles is that the over 1 million undocumented migrant workers who live here, and contribute to the city economically, culturally, and socially will have the opportunity to become legal residents of the city, and the United States.”

American-made products strengthen our economy, but at the cost of civil rights and responsibility, we lose so much more. Legalize L.A. pamphlets are available at all American Apparel retailers, and its entire platform can be found on the company’s website.

In recent years, Forever 21 has made slight changes to their labor practices, mainly due to media pressure, however, their ethics and legal practices are still questionable.

As a consumer in a fast paced society like ours, remember that while you will NEVER pay $60 for anything at Forever 21, you sacrifice much more and the stakes are much higher than money.

To find out more about ethical fashion practices, visit http://www.ecofashionworld.com/ and the next time you buy “American-made,” consider the source.

Your Ethisit

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