The fact that I can buy nectarines all year round, or enjoy an authentic Italian dining experience just half an hour from my suburban New Zealand home, is all due to globalisation. Globalisation is the integration and interaction of cultures, resources, societies, companies, groups, and people. See that t-shirt you’re wearing made by a woman in India? And that book on the shelf written by an author in England? That’s globalisation. Globalisation is incredible, valuable, scary, and damaging, all at the same time. I know my current lifestyle wouldn’t exist without globalisation; I have enjoyed the many benefits that have come along with free-trade. But I’ve also come to realise just how damaging globalisation can be; especially in the fashion industry.
With a globalised fashion industry comes increased competition from overseas brands looking to profit from local fashion shoppers. In order to compete with locally-produced goods and other brands, fashion businesses and clothing manufacturers must minimise costs in order to sell garments at competitive prices. Brands can’t price competitively if the cost of labour is expensive. So, they seek cheap labour from developing countries. Why do you think many of our clothes are labelled: ‘Made in China’, ‘Made in India’, ‘Made in Bangladesh’?
Compared to the USA or UK, materials and labour are drastically cheaper in developing nations like Nepal or India. This means companies can sell a t-shirt for US$10 and make a profit because the cost of manufacturing it is significantly less. Oxfam’s 2017 living wage report concludes that approximately four percent of the price we pay for a garment goes to the garment maker. This means that 40 cents will end up in the pocket of the person who made that $10 tee; a figure not nearly enough to comfortably feed an individual and their family. But the real question is: why do we, the consumers, want and ‘need’ clothing to be so cheap?
I’m no expert, but I think the answer lies in globalisation. As we mix and mingle, integrate styles, care about what everyone is wearing, what is ‘on trend’, and what looks ‘hot’, we also urge each other into consumerism. Enter again: competition. Globalisation means you’re not just competing with the girl down the road for the boy next door, or for the title of ‘best dressed’ in your local community. No, it means you’re now competing with 3.5 billion other females.
To make matters worse, advertising and media streamed from all over the globe thanks to the TV and the internet, shows us what we must buy to look good, look desirable and trendy and compete. Since there are so many media platforms spreading style ideas and showcasing new fashion collections, this results in huge wardrobes, conflict of ‘trends’, confusion, and ultimately the demand for fast-fashion that is cheap enough for us to consume at a rate that keeps up with the ever-changing trends and the need to impress the boy next door.
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But it’s not just about competing for attraction. Fashion and identity are inextricably linked for a number of reasons: fashion helps you express your creativity, it helps you belong in society, helps you blend into your surroundings or helps you stand out, and helps you identify just how far in front or behind you are, with The Joneses. The funny thing is, we’ve brought the issues of fast fashion and its social and environmental problems on ourselves. We continue to adhere to the style trends and compete, meaning our demand grows and garment manufacturers must keep up. The vicious fast-fashion cycle turns and turns, fed by our consumer want and needs.
The negative effects of globalisation on garment factories in the developing world may now seem obvious, but what about fashion? I believe globalisation has changed the very heart of what fashion used to be. I’ve only been around the sun 21 times, but what I see of fashion in history, is a glorious and intriguing phenomenon that I can only find glimpses of today.
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Fashion used to be about culture, longevity, quality, storytelling, and admiration of skilful handiwork that looks mortally impossible. Now it’s almost as though many cultures have collided and instead of appreciating and admiring each other’s individual style, we’ve become so overwhelmed with fashion alternatives, that we’re either consuming to keep up or we’ve given up. As an unconscious last resort, we’ve adopted the styles of dominant races and influential individuals. Yes, fashion is a cycle. It evolves and warps with society and events, but I wonder how we can come back from the monster of fast-fashion when style creativity and imagination have been buried so deep along the way?
Fashion is central to our identities and that of our society. All of us participate in it daily (if you’re abiding by the law that is!). It cannot be a topic we ignore. I could rant, I could scream, I could also sit very quietly and let it happen to me. But at the end of the day, I must accept, like all giants, globalisation has its positives and negatives. I can’t help but unconsciously adapt whilst I tightly hold onto what I know of fashion and what I want my personal style to be. I can’t justify paying someone 40 cents to make a t-shirt. So, I do my best to buy second-hand or fair-trade garments where a higher and sustainable percent goes to the maker. I am a consumer, we are all consumers, so we technically hold immense power in this ‘free market’.
Globalisation has ruined the fashion industry, but perhaps it’s also made it come to life. What do you think?