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What’s Stopping Fast Fashion from Paying a Living Wage?

What’s Stopping Fast Fashion from Paying a Living Wage? - FRANC

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

It’s no secret that fast fashion is all about cheap labour. Those price tags are too much of a clue. Clothing that’s sold at that low a price is a dead give away the people behind the scenes are not paid enough.

In the past year, factory suppliers to big brand names like Nike, Zara, and H&M refused to pay their workers the legal minimum wage. Called the “biggest wage theft to ever hit the fashion industry,” this scandal isn’t anything surprising or new.

Approximately 85% of garment workers earn under the required minimum wage. Fast fashion scandals hit our newsfeeds every couple of years. We read the headlines and become enraged with shock and disbelief. Then we forget about it. Because in western society, we can forget about it.

Worker wages is just one of the many problems with fast fashion. Considering what we’re dealing with, it’s no surprise that fast fashion won’t pay a living wage. Why would massive corporations pay a living wage when they’re already getting away with not paying the minimum required wage? What do we expect from a capitalist industry that’s built on exploitation?

It’s enraging to watch the empire of fast fashion continue to grow when it leaves behind a trail of destruction. Every question asked has an answer though. To to go back to our leading question: What’s stopping fast fashion from paying a living wage?

It’s greed.

“There is no such thing as capitalism without slavery.”

The global fashion industry is one of the most profitable in the world, worth 2.4 trillion dollars. It’s not lacking the ability to pay a living wage. The money is there. The priorities are elsewhere.

Fast fashion has made clothing disposable. Everything is cheap―the materials, the labour, the price tag. The clothes are attractive and don’t last, keeping shoppers coming back for more. Because the price is too good to be true, this model works. Fast fashion’s affordability makes it successful. It really is an evil genius.

Let’s add the fact that clothing is a basic human right. Everyone needs clothes. Ethical, sustainable clothes are not affordable for many. With the price of living soaring to ridiculous amounts, the last thing anyone needs is to feel shame for clothing themselves or their family. For many, fast fashion brands are the only option. The evil genius wins again.

We can’t shame people for buying necessities. The consumer is not the one to direct well warranted rage at. Save that rage for our capitalist society that created a cycle seemingly impossible to break out of. When it comes to fast fashion’s injustices, we need to demand change from the big guys.

If fast fashion paid a living wage, its foundation would crumble. Fast fashion would no longer exist. Out of the rubble we can build a better future. One where the labourers are seen and respected. One that puts well-being before profit. One that is not huge and powerful but knows the importance of slow, creative, quality work.

So what can we do?

We can move forward loudly and bring some attention to the issue.

  • Demand basic human rights practises be followed.
  • Demand a stop on monopolizing on people who are desperate to work for a low wage.
  • Demand government action that forces higher pollution fines and higher tax on corporations.

All of these are easier said than done. There’s a lot of work to do. But if you have a fiery activist spirit, this is an issue that’s worth getting loud about.

We can also move forward quietly.

  • Keep learning.
  • Spend money wisely and carefully.
  • Support ethical, sustainable fashion when you can.
  • Learn to live with less and practise contentment.
  • Set goals.
  • Take care of what you have and make it last.
  • Focus on the good that’s happening and how slow fashion is changing the future of fashion.


Step-by-step, breath-by-breath, we’re shifting and growing together. There is no simple or quick solution for confronting the monstrosity that is fast fashion. But following the model of slow fashion, we can take it one step at a time and be intentional about our decisions.

There are many writers talking about this. As we learn and talk about the issues that come along with fast fashion, we can change the future for the better. It’s not an easy job ahead, but it is a possible one.

For further reading:

Capitalism and Fashion:
Why Consumer Capitalism is the Real Problem in Fashion Industry | by Puja Amlani | Medium
Lakhiani: Ethical shopping doesn't exist under Capitalism
Fast Fashion: Consumerism, Capitalism and Waste
How to Quit Fast Fashion, According to Aja Barber | Vogue

Fast Fashion and Wages:
Poverty wages—Clean Clothes Campaign
What Is a Living Wage and How Does It Benefit Garment Workers?—Good On You

Here’s to thriving wages for all. To creating balance. To resisting greed. To putting the  well-being of others and our planet first. To change. To growth. To ushering in a new era of  fashion that we can be proud of. 


Jade is a writer, potter, and gardener living in a sleepy town in Northern Ontario. They love growing food, creating functional stoneware, and hermiting with a book as much as possible. 

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