The T-shirt is our modern day must have. This out-the-door basic has endured a long reign in the world of fashion, with it’s original debut in the late 1800’s as the first buttonless undergarment. It wasn’t until the 1950’s, when Marlon Brando rebelliously sported one with a slick pair of jeans, that transformed its functional reputation into a fashion statement.
Today, tees are fast fashion’s bread and butter. Available in every color imaginable, they are easier to find than a Starbucks—and most cost less than your cold brew. So how do brands like Forever 21 sell this tee for only $3.90?
Forever 21 is a fast fashion brand notorious for hiding the human stories behind their clothing like a dirty secret. So we did our own digging, uncovered their secrets and discovered very real reasons to nix the cheap t-shirt and say hello to your brighter future of sustainable alternatives:
1. Made In Vietnam
A lot of Forever 21’s t-shirts are made in Vietnam, the second largest apparel exporter to the US after China. Although not everything made in Vietnam should alarm you, we must note the country’s history of child trafficking and slave labor. In Vietnam’s subcontracted factories, many makers endure poor conditions, long hours and are denied the right to organize independent unions. Alternatively, Vietnam has the lowest minimum wage non-compliance in Asia, which means only 6.6% of garment workers make less. We are going to make the assumption that Forever21 knows this 6.6% quite well.
When you wear your values, parents can send their kids to school, where they get to be kids.
2. Low Quality Materials
To be able to produce a t-shirt for $3.90, materials came cheap. The cheapest cotton money can buy is in Uzbekistan. That’s because they use child labor. Three months out of the year, schools close down in Uzbekistan and 2 million children are forced to work 10 hour days in the cotton fields. For the most profitable yield, cotton is grown with herbicides and other chemicals that deter pests. These toxic chemicals make the soil infertile over time and poison water sources. Not only that, they are harmful to field workers and those who live nearby–causing health problems, deformities and sometimes death. Then we put these tees on our bodies…
You can contribute to a healthy ecosystem, where cotton is grown responsibly and organically when you wear your values.
3. $3.90 = Sweatshop Labor
Cheap labor, long hours and poor working conditions are all synonymous with a t-shirt that costs less than 5 bucks. The average garment worker is a women in her twenties, who left her village in hopes of providing a better life for her family. Instead she is subject to hazardous fumes, dangerous machinery, and is vulnerable to onsite accidents. Sweatshops are also commonplace for sexual harassment, physical abuse and rape.
When you wear your values, you empower garment makers by supporting jobs that build their futures.
4. Toxic Chemicals
To cut production costs, fast fashion brands use multiple energy-intensive processes, carcinogenic chemicals, hazardous dyes and vast amounts of water to make a simple shirt. Much of the toxic leftovers are discharged into local waterways, contaminating drinking water for the people who work and live around the factory. The chemical cocktail that remains in the fabric of your t-shirt is filled with hormone disruptors and heavy metals that can wreak havoc on your body over time.
When you wear your values, you choose healthier options for yourself and your planet.
5. Made To Fall Apart
Each year, the average American tosses out 82 lbs of textiles. That’s about 155 t-shirts per person, and since the fabric is made of a mix of chemicals and unnatural fibers, that pile will sit in landfills for upwards of 200 years. Since fast fashion t-shirts fall apart after a few wash cycles, even Goodwill can’t handle that hand-me-down.
When you say no to fast fashion, just like saying no to fast food, you make room for better choices. And when it comes to the essential t-shirt, we’ve got plenty of sustainable options to fill up on.