Nice shirt. How much did that cost you? Thanks to fast fashion chains like H&M, Old Navy, Forever 21 and Walmart, the average American can now afford to buy 64 items of clothing every single year (yes, I said per year). How the hell is that even possible? On HBO’s Last Week Tonight, comedian John Oliver dives into the issue and skewers the pants off the fashion fashion biz and let me tell you, it’s painfully funny.
“A few years ago, H&M put out a dress that cost less than $5. You could take a $5 bill, scotch tape it over your genitals and you’d be wearing a more expensive piece of clothing.” And yet somehow fashion fashion companies are massively profitable. “The chairman of H&M is the 28th richest person in the world. And the cofounder of Zara is the 4th richest person. That means people who owns oil fields are worth less than the guy who makes distressed jean shorts.”
He zeroes in on Gap’s repeated sweatshop scandals and chides how the retailer’s catchy ad campaigns filled with jazzy dancers in khakis helped us feel good about the brand again.
Of course, it’s not just Gap. Oliver points out how all retailers caught with sweatshops get to pass the buck, shocked that their clothes were even found at, say, the collapsed Bangladesh factory that killed over 1,100 people. News casts say: “They had no idea their clothes were being made there. And this is not the first time Walmart was caught unaware.” To which Oliver responds, “No, it’s not! And they are losing the right to act surprised. They’re like the characters in the Hangover movies. It’s not an accident if it happens a third time, boys. It’s a pattern of reckless behaviour that has to be addressed.”
He adds, “This is going to keep happening as long as we let it.” The man is right.
You’ve got to watch the ending to see how Oliver decides to make his point by delivering a suspiciously cheap lunch to the CEOs of H&M, Joe Fresh, Old Navy/Gap, Walmart and Children’s Place. Bloody hilarious. If only it succeeds in actually shame them into overhauling their supply chains in a meaningful way. Brace for it. It’ll mean we’ll all have to pay more for our clothes.
Buy quality. Buy less. Buy ethically made and buy sustainably sourced. Or bypass buying new altogether and get your clothes from the second hand store. Lord knows everyone else is buying and ditching enough clothes to keep thrift shops fully stocked.