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As humans living in the 21st century, we’ve become avid consumers due to the push and programming set by big corporations and the elite to keep us distracted, overwhelmed, and undervalued. With the ever-growing industries revolving around this very consumerism, it’s no surprise big retailers around the world are going to extremes and putting little to no care or effort into the production of their products.

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Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Spanish fashion retailer Zara is making headlines in this realm. From business malpractices to a rodent sewn into a dress, controversies are anything but unknown to them. Today, however, it is the fashion brand’s malpractices that are of concern and brought to light once again.

According to reports from Business of Fashion, “several factory workers in Istanbul, Turkey are slipping cries for help in the form of handwritten notes into the pockets of in-store merchandise. After shoppers began to discover unusual tags attached to or tucked into their garments, it was clear that an underground campaign from factory workers who made the pieces was brewing.”

What exactly do these notes say? An example shared:

“I made this item you are going to buy, but I didn’t get paid for it.”

Zara has been under fire before in relation to the above. Whether they have sweatshops or promote slave labour is still under investigation, but the problem remains that, in the fast-fashion sphere, workers are routinely left unpaid for mass production of garments.

So what exactly caused these workers to write these messages and place them in items for others to see?

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According to Refinery29:

After the shutdown of the manufacturing company in July 2016, workers launched an online petition demanding the mega-retailers they’d been hocking clothing for dole out their overdue pay. It’s reported that, despite having over a year to do so, neither Zara (which makes up 75% of the factory’s overall output) nor Next or Mango, have been able to reach a solution to pay the some 140 workers employed by Bravo Tekstil. Not only are the clothing companies responsible for every aspect of the production of their merchandise, but they reserve the right to randomly shut down their manufacturing centers, too, which isn’t uncommon in the fast-fashion realm of the industry, but contributes to the ongoing crisis of little to zero protections for factory workers and their hard earned pay.

Upon hearing of this news, Refinery29 reached out to Zara for comment and was provided with the following statement from an Inditex spokesperson:

Inditex has met all of its contractual obligations to Bravo Textil [sic] and is currently working on a proposal with the local IndustriALL affiliate, Mango, and Next to establish a hardship fund for the workers affected by the fraudulent disappearance of the Bravo factory’s owner.

This hardship fund would cover unpaid wages, notice indemnity, unused vacation, and severance payments of workers that were employed at the time of the sudden shutdown of their factory in July 2016. We are committed to finding a swift solution for all of those impacted.

Great news for the workers if true, but of course there still lies an ongoing issue. Why are brands going this route to begin with? Why do they feel the need to treat the individuals responsible for making the very items that are bringing in their revenue so inhumanely? From in-depth research on the topic and multiple discussions with those in the fashion industry itself over the years, I believe it comes down to a fear of falling behind — both in trends, and financially.

Going back to the earlier statement regarding distraction, overwhelm, and undervalue — at times, this goes for the maker and the customer all the same. We have reached a time when trends are going out of style as quickly as they are coming in, and as consumers and creators, we are left having to refresh our wardrobe more often than ever before. This is called fast-fashion, the concept in which garments are created at low-cost and quality at expedited rates so that they can keep up with the times and what’s in at that moment.

Because there are entire industries that revolve around outer beauty, there are in turn those who wish to capitalize on our programmed perception of lack. We, as a whole, have been systematically sold on the idea that how we appear, and in this particular example, what we wear, is crucial to our success or acceptance in today’s society — something that deep down we all know to be false.

At the end of the day, this is not to say to we should not purchase items from any particular store or even more so to stop shopping altogether, but rather to say we should be cautious and conscious of our consumerism. Being more conscious about our choices and responsible for our actions will prove to create the change we wish to see in our world. Doing diligent research on ethical brands, conscious retailers, and your favourite go-tos is important in this day and age. Who knows, you could be aiding in a bigger movement than you thought possible by simply taking action and remembering you are already whole and incredible — with or without the ‘latest and greatest.’

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