Why 'Fast Fashion' in Spain is as popular as ever
Featured Image by Nicola March

Workers from Marrakech, Bangladesh and many other countries are being exploited by Spanish clothing companies.

Why do these businesses continue to employ workers under such terrible conditions?

Why do they insist on having their factories far away from where their clothes are sold except to keep us in the dark?

It is about time we knew how these types of factories work and what goes on behind closed doors.

How much money does Spain make from the ‘fast fashion’ Industry?

Nowadays, the cost of having textile factories and keeping workers in Spain is very expensive. This is one of the main reasons why textile factories decide to relocate their factories to other countries where they don’t have to pay as high running costs and the legal minimum wage for workers is much lower than it is in Spain (€1.050 per month). By cutting these corners, businesses save a substantial amount on their spending.

In 2005, Spain introduced a law called ‘Acuerdo Multifibras’ which puts limits on Spain’s exports and has forced Spanish manufacturers out of the industry. This has created a gap in the market, allowing other countries like China to enter the textile industry. As a consequence, the Spanish industry has reduced by 45% since the 2000s. According to modaes.es, more than 60,000 employees have lost their job in the sector and more than 1000 textile business have closed.

Now, the Spanish textile industry, thanks to the growth of brands like Zara, Mango or Massimo Dutti, is expanding the market rapidly. More than 70% of EU imports of textiles come from Asia. Spain is the 6th largest clothing importer in the world, like the rest of the EU, it is importing mainly from Asia: India, China but also Turkey. It turns to countries like India to increase its market share in fashion textile exports. Turkey is also a country which has increased its clothing exports to Spain in the past few years. Despite this, Spain is the 4th largest exporter of fashion in Europe, because of its recognisable brands: Inditex, Desigual amongst others, that are collectively worth more than 1 billion.

Working conditions and the consequences of ‘fast fashion’

Developing economies with booming textile industries like India, Morocco and Bangladesh are forced by western developed economies into these abusive labour practices. This is because these richer developed economies have a “third world monopoly” that pressures the people who need to work on to the assembly line if they want to bring home money to their families. In some ways, they are forced to work in these poor conditions because they have no other alternative.

These factories are often badly ventilated with faulty or overloaded and dangerous wiring that risks the lives of their workers. In recent years, there have been many accidents that cannot be treated as isolated incidents and separate tragic cases. On the 12th of September 2012, a short circuit fire broke out in Karachi, Pakistan which became the country’s worst disaster in the textile industry as 280 workers died. More recently, on the 11th of November 2016, 13 people were confirmed to have died following another short circuit fire in a textile factory in Sahibabad, India. These are only two examples of a long list of catastrophes in textile factories in developing economies that only go to highlight the poor and dangerous conditions that these workers have to work in.

The salaries of these textile employees are typically extremely poor. In Morocco, it is commonplace for textile companies to pay their workers under the legal minimum wage of €240 a month and to force them to work at least 44 hours per week.  The workers which make medium to high-quality clothes might not even earn €200 per month. The main reasons for Morocco’s popularity as an export partner to Spain is its geographical proximity in addition to the low wages and almost non-existent taxes. In fact, the EU’s strict controls mean that the Spanish companies are using international textile factories are their loophole since there are little to no restrictions.

To try to solve this type of inhumane exploitation, people in developing economies have started to fight against these labour conditions. Boubker ElKhamilichi is a well-known trade union leader who has been fighting for more than 30 years against labour exploitation and many other social problems in his home country Morocco. Boubker has called for business associations to improve labour conditions for exploited workers. Furthermore, he is continuing to fight to change the lives of those around him. One of the other most abhorrent recent revelations is that most of the fashion labels in Spain are actually forms of ‘fast fashion’.  Their brands are designed to make us believe that this exploitation in other countries is not true and the clothes that we are buying are made in Spain and are subject to the Spanish legal minimum wage requirements and decent working conditions. This is a lie.

Fast fashion’s consequences on the environment 

‘Fast Fashion’ is creating a huge problem with respect to climate change since these factories generate a huge carbon footprint. These types of factories are constantly overproducing clothes to sustain the appetite of the consumer. 

According to the United Nations (UN), to produce different types of dresses requires 9.3 billion cubic metres of water per year. To put this into perspective, we need 5 billion cubic metres to survive

It is not a secret that our clothing is 60% made up of different types of plastics such as nylon or polyester. Through the simple act of washing our clothes, we become part of the process, as these microplastics then pass through into our water systems and our oceans. Although microplastics vary in type, it’s possible that just one wash could release hundreds of thousands fibres from our clothes. The pollution created from microplastics is one of the most harmful factors affecting our environment.
To combat these problems,  fashion retailers are implementing new measures in the ‘fast fashion’ industry, including; using sustainable cotton or recycling unwanted clothes that would normally be thrown into landfills.

What can we do to solve the problem? 

It’s very sad to write something like this but the truth is that ultimately, Spaniards are addicted to buying ‘fast fashion’ which makes the industry unstoppable. This fact will not change until we stop taking advantage of cheap clothes and stop supporting the ‘fast fashion’ industry.

The good news is that young people in Spain are becoming more conscious of this huge problem and they are well-informed on the topic. Young people know how every decision they make can change the world, one step at a time. They are boycotting their once favourite shops and are supporting local fashion retailers instead. This will put pressure on bigger companies to stop their exploitation of workers especially in developing economies. They are also more environmentally conscious and are wearing more second-hand and sustainable clothing to reduce their own carbon footprints.

Moving forward, there is a change coming to the EU that might see the end of ‘fast fashion’ as we know it. The EU has introduced a new programme: ‘Estrategia Europa 2020’ to try and make Europe a more sustainable place. The plan includes an approach to reducing ‘fast fashion’ and its impact on the environment. Hopefully, we will begin to see real change in Spain’s fashion industry very soon.