Fast Fashion, Garment Worker Exploitation, and Consumerism

By: Laura Anaya-Morga

Like many, I had a closet full of clothes for every season, but for some reason I could never find something to wear. I knew I had too much but also felt like I was always missing a new piece of clothing, a new pair of shoes or some more accessories, and now I do not. It was not until I noticed people promoting sustainability when I began to wonder what I could do this year to live a more sustainable life. Then I watched the documentary The True Cost and everything changed. I fell deep into a hole of research regarding capitalism consumerism, and the dark side of the fashion industry; what I found was alarming. It starts with advertisements - advertising is a $250 billion industry in the United States and consumers typically feed into these advertisements subconsciously. People want cheap prices and want to fill their closets with new items every chance they get. Stores like H&M, TJ Maxx, Ross, and Forever 21 are restocking their items and bringing in new ones every single week and prices are constantly being changed to fit the rates of competition. Through marketing and advertising, we are at a point where consumers want more things but for cheaper than all of its competitors. The only way these low prices are achievable is if they are manufactured at a low cost, and the only way for companies to produce clothes at such a low price is to switch to global outsourcing which translates to garment factories from around the world. This is where garment workers come in and pay for it in the most exploitative ways. Bangladesh is a country with a $28 billion garment industry, second behind China, but with very little to give to its workers. The workers in these factories are constantly forming unions to fight for better, livable wages than they currently have. One tragic day in 2013 an eight-story garment factory collapsed in Rana Plaza, killing over 1,100 people and injuring thousands more. This happened after workers had contacted their supervisors time and time again about cracks in the building and feeling unsafe in their work environment. This particular garment factory produced clothing for US and European retail stores such as Joe Fresh and The Children’s Place (The True Cost, 2015). This is not the first time where there has been an accident in garment factories; there has been numerous fires where people are unable to flee to safety due to barred windows and buildings have also been reported as being structurally unsound. Capitalism already exploits workers living on a basic minimum wage in the United States, but in countries like Bangladesh, it exploits its workers even more, throwing them under the rug as if the public should not even care about what they have to endure. Living on around $2 a day is not enough for all the mothers working in these factories who have to provide for their families. Since that Rana Plaza tragedy, there has been numerous calls of action to help these workers, and in 2017, 4 years after the tragedy, “a report on supply chain transparency released by Human Rights Watch [found] only 17 of 72 apparel and footwear companies contacted by a coalition of labor and human rights groups and global unions [had] agreed to implement a transparency pledge by the end of [the] year” (“4 Years After Rana Plaza Tragedy, What's Changed For Bangladeshi Garment Workers?”, NPR). The exploitation of Garment Workers happens in our own backyards as well. The Garment Worker Center focuses on the mistreatment of workers specifically in Southern California; constantly protesting against Black Friday and large retail stores such as Ross and TJ Maxx. They host events called Sweatshop Saturday’s where they plan and execute marches against these large companies, demanding better wages for workers who are earning around $5 a day in a place where the minimum wage is about to reach $11. Groups like the Garment Worker Center are important because they give voice to those too afraid to speak up, such as immigrant women who fear deportation for voicing their injustices or even those who simply do not have anywhere else to go. However, the companies are not the only ones to blame - it seems that consumers are blind to what is happening around them when buying clothes. They swipe their cards as if it were free, and most of the time they do not think long and hard about where their clothes come from. The only way for companies to actually help those employees that they are hurting, is for them to rise up and resist along with the protestors. There is so much that needs to change in the fashion industry. Capitalism is essentially killing its workers, and it’s all thanks to consumerism. Working in such dangerous conditions can be harmful to workers’ wellbeing. Although it seems like a hopeless cause because of the growth of the fashion industry, I have noticed a surge in environmental awareness and sustainability not only because of global warming and climate change, but also because people are becoming more aware of what is happening around them. For instance, using less plastic, producing less waste in their everyday lives, and also buying less goods. We are taking steps in the right direction and the most crucial step is to start the conversation about how to help. Fortunately, things are looking up. As time has gone by, sustainability has been on the rise; YouTubers, social media influencers and more have become more aware just as I have about the effects that the fast fashion industry has on the environment and society as a whole, as well as, the injustices garment workers face every day. As a result, I have challenged myself to not buy a single item of clothing for a whole year and also take steps towards buying from sustainable brands in 2020. I encourage everyone reading to take a step back and think about the clothes they own at the moment as well as join me in leading a better example for the future.

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Women’s March Organizer Tamika Mallory Accused of Being Anti-Semitic

By: Sarah Harwell

Just days away from the third annual Women’s March, the leaders of the revolution have been accused of anti-Semitism, causing many loyal marchers and sponsorships to be revoked. Two organizers of the event, Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez have claimed that Jewish women have to be held responsible for the privileges that they uphold as being “white”. The whole purpose of the Women’s March is to strive for the equality of all people of all races, religions, and sexualities - this goal is deemed as irrelevant as they have been continuously ignoring the marginalization of an entire group. A religion can have members from other marginalized groups, and is more than just an ethnicity. A religion is not an ethnicity. We also cannot forget that Jews are seen as marginalized because of the hate that they continuously experience in America; not long ago in Pittsburgh, 11 innocent individuals passed away because of this hate. There is a whole community of neo-Nazis brewing in our very own homeland, a group that hates an entire religion. To claim that Jews hold a privilege is ludicrous, and if they held any privilege, why is there so much hate held against them? Why did 11 individuals go into their place of worship, and die that afternoon? Why is the largest genocide in the world about Jews? The irony of calling Jewish women privileged, in an environment which equality is the main objective. 


Tamika Mallory told former organizer of the march, Vanessa Wruble, that Jewish women contain white supremacy because of the white-dominated population within the religion. She further argued that Jews held a large role in the African slave trade, which laments their supremacy in America. Through an easy search and sifting through data, it can be found that they did not play a large role in the African slave trade at all, and a very few percentage of slave owners were Jewish. Furthermore, Tamika Mallory claimed that Louis Farrakhan was “the greatest of all time”. Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, is known for making anti-Semitic remarks, and has written a series of books, The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews. The series is full of declarations of the responsibility of Jews in the transatlantic trade, and that there is “irrefutable evidence” of their role in it. Yet, the book series contains no hard evidence or data of this notion, and is deemed as pure anti-Semitism. This same concept is also reiterated by David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard. In videos created by Duke, he makes large accusations that the slave trade was not a Christian-led ordeal, but instead a Jewish one. With data from numerous sources, such as David Brion Davis, who found that there were “120 Jews among the 45,000 slaveholders owning twenty or more slaves and only twenty Jews among the 12,000 slaveholders owning fifty or more slaves,” this idea ceases to be true. Briefly, Mallory believes in the anti-Semitic propaganda that wrongfully blame Jews and their position in racism today. She is single-handedly marginalizing an entire religion with a cruel agenda.


As individuals march nationwide, I truly applaud those who fight for inequality and those who suffer from it. A movement is more than a person, and the person who leads it - it is a group of people who believe in their civil rights, and in this case, it is the equality of everyone from any gender, religion, race/ethnicity, or sexuality. The people make the movement, but it is  disappointing to see that the women who are behind such a cause have an offensive background. 

A Problem Bigger Than Just Straws

By: Cassidy Bessa

Is there anything better than a day at the beach? Or how about seeing sea creatures in their natural habitat? It’s a beautiful sight, however our vision may be skewed upon seeing how our ocean is littered by plastic waste. The impending ban on plastic straws and single use utensils shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. We have all seen the photographs and heard the lectures about how the things we don’t give a second thought about, are ruining our planet. 

The World Economic Forum predicts that if we keep using plastic in the way we are, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean. The uproar about plastic straws happened when a local researcher filmed a turtle with a straw in its nose. It was estimated that Americans use around 500 million straws a day. People all around the world are changing from plastic straws to metal straws and to biodegradable paper straws in order to help their own conscience. However, this is only the first step in stopping our problem of plastic consumption. According to Business Insider, in 2015, our plastic consumption was at 300 million metric tons. Awareness about the dangers of plastic bags have been drilled into our brains for the last few years, but that doesn’t stop most people for asking for a plastic bag at checkout. What we don’t know is that less than 9% of all plastic gets recycled, regardless of which bin we throw it in. Recycling just seems too expensive, and throwing it into the ocean is free. None of us think twice when we buy a beverage in a plastic bottle, we’re told that it will be recycled when in fact 79% of it will be thrown into landfills and 12% will be incinerated which releases harmful chemicals into our atmosphere. 

Plastic was invented 111 years ago, and it takes plastic up to 1000 years to decompose. That means that Coke you just threw away, will far outlive you. The only way forward from this plastic encroachment is to get rid of plastic all together. Before 1907, people were fine without the need for plastic as there were many substitutes. Awareness must also be spread to corporate companies who see it worth their while, monetary wise, to use plastic instead of something biodegradable. Glass would be a much better alternative, albeit more expensive. Glass is much easier to recycle and is not made from fossil fuels the way that plastic is. Tin cans are also moderately more sustainable as they only take 50 years to decompose and are also much easier to recycle. The plastic straws ban is a small way to start but hopefully this movement will take speed and encourage an eco-friendlier approach.

Unproblematic People Working With Problematic People

By: Liz Lemerand

If you search the word “problematic” on Twitter you will find a slew of material regarding celebrities, politicians, and companies that hold offensive or prejudice views on a matter. Most recently, an executive at Victoria’s Secret made comments that transgender models do not belong in their annual fashion show. Despite making crude racially charged statements in the past fashion house, Dolce & Gabbana has been “cancelled” for running an ad in which a Chinese model struggles to eat Italian food with chopsticks. It seems like everyday there’s a new problematic scandal.


A large crop of these problematic individuals have used their status and wealth to engage in non-censual and often aggressive sexual acts. In recent years, movements like Time’s Up and #MeToo have outed these sexual harassment and/or sexual assault instances in the form of exposés. In just one year since the infamous Weinstein piece in October 2017, Bloomberg reports that about 425 people with some sort of status have been accused of some degree of sexual assault or misconduct. 


Whether it is racially insensitive comments or sexual assault, the spectrum is vast and we’ve seen individuals disappear into the abyss, i.e. Kevin Spacey, and some bounce back with little resistance, i.e. Aziz Ansari, who is embarking on a 12-week North American tour with several dates sold out. As these #MeToo allegations grew, many began to struggle with separating the art from the artist. Popular comedian Louis C.K. was one of the first that people had a hard time quickly abandoning. These situations often perfectly mimic the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. The leader of the free world being accused of a sex scandal with a White House intern was something nobody was prepared for. The notion that the situation pertained to his personal life and didn’t necessarily affect his duty as President is something that people felt comfortable subscribing to. He remained in office and 20 years later, he is still revered. 


If you springboard off the separation of art and artist, a more complicated situation arises. One in which an unproblematic individual engages professionally (or even unprofessionally) with a problematic individual. The question at hand is: is the unproblematic individual now problematic by proxy? Trying to unpack it is difficult. As someone without celebrity status, I know I have plenty of friends and family that have been problematic in the past, but that doesn’t mean they’re “cancelled.” 


One salient example of this is Kim Petras, a transgender pop singer on the rise, working with producer Dr. Luke, accused by Kesha in 2014 of sexual assault and abuse. She recently toured with Troye Sivan and has found success with almost every single and the release of her spooky EP, Turn Off The Light, Vol. 1. Her fans are well aware and tend to overlook the partnership tweeting: Kim Petras has never disappointed me!!!! (Except for the fact that she works with Dr. L*ke). Is Petras endorsing a sexual assaulter? It is a question that requires a thorough and delicate answer. As someone who has never experienced sexual abuse, I’m not sure it’s my place to declare what’s right or wrong. What I will say is there are no trans popstars, and the transgender community remains highly underrepresented, so seeing someone like Kim Petras have success and be a voice for that community is incredible. 


A big issue for the public seems to be whether or not the unproblematic individual addresses or apologizes for the fact that they’ve engaged with the problematic entity. I mentioned the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show earlier on, in which many models and performers were slammed for their participation in the show. Specifically Halsey, a bisexual individual and an LGBTQIA+ ally, who wasn’t made aware of the transphobic comments until after the taping, took a stand against the brand the day of the show’s airing. On the inverse, Selena Gomez was attacked when she decided to work with Woody Allen in late 2017. When asked about it in press interviews she expressed she had trouble formulating a answer and ended her response to Billboard with, “I stepped back and thought, ‘Wow, the universe works in interesting ways.'” This only led to more outrage. In 2018, a poorly articulated response is almost worse than silence. 

A theory that could boil this concept down a bit is the six degrees of separation, which explains that any person on the planet can be connected to another person within a chain of no more than five individuals. It is quite mind-blowing to consider and when it’s put into terms of smaller associations like celebrities, it’s safe to assume everyone is likely associated on smaller levels of three to four degrees. That along with the 425 accusations made within the year, everyone in the industry has worked and probably is working with someone problematic. This revelation doesn’t make it okay, but it does put into perspective the difficulty of ostracizing everyone that’s made a mistake. 


So where does that leave us? First and foremost, it’s important to remember the cliché: nobody’s perfect. People will make mistakes and people can grow and learn from them. Some mistakes are worse than others and are potentially unforgivable. There is a standard for those with celebrity status because they hold influence over their supporters. In a time of social justice warriors highlighting their biggest faux pas, it’s more constructive to focus on the change we can make within ourselves and our community, rather than cancel them and move on. This doesn’t mean I want Harvey Weinstein to see the light of day ever again, but I’d like to see less condemning action of those who have intentionally or unintentionally aligned themselves with a problematic being. 


Expecting our favorite brands, stars, and elected officials to be a flawless representation of social decency isn’t reasonable. Of course I’d prefer if Kim Petras worked with a different producer, which she has, but her association with Dr. Luke doesn’t immediately compel me to denounce her, especially given her talent and the doors she’s opening for trans individuals in the music industry. She’s digested the backlash and my hope is she works with some other producers in the future. Deciding who to support can be an ethical quandary, but if we dove deep into the networks of who is working with who, we’d probably be cancelling entire industries on the daily. In the end, it comes down to personal experience and how affected one feels by the partnership of the individuals. 

The Grey

By: Moon Aziza

     

I wonder, does everyone have a story about that time they had sex when they didn't really want to? When they did it for lack of a hassle as opposed to the fact that they actually wanted to be close to this person in this moment...
And if so are they as affected by it as I am? 


When you have... one human being, and you have another human being, and you have these energies, these two bodies. And you have something as personal and as fragile and as intimate as sex... every single time means something. I don't think it matters if you've been having sex with this person for two weeks or two decades, if you've had sex with them 20 times or 2000 times. When another human being takes control of you, takes ownership of your most cherished parts... it steals something from you. It's been weeks, maybe months, I can't get it out of my head. I can't see it any dimmer, I can't feel it any less, I can’t distance myself from that night. 

He probably doesn't even remember what night it was. Is it easy for you? In, out, in, out... like a workout routine.
I can't wash myself clean of you. I can't erase the feeling of dirtiness. 


I wanted to earlier that night. I wanted you so bad. We had decided that we wouldn't discuss anything heavy until tomorrow, that tonight we would just be happy and in love. I couldn't help it though, I brought it up on the street car ride back to my house. You got angry, and you got distant. And I felt alone, you were right there, still touching me, yet again, I felt completely alone. And so we got back to mine, not saying much, and we got inside and I could tell you still wanted to pretend... you started kissing me, and touching me. And I was half-assed at first, I wasn't good at pretending. Not like you... I didn't know how to lie to you. 


You brought me back to my room and you sat me on the bed and you undressed me and before I really knew what was going on... I think I was still a bit high, a bit tipsy, a bit sad, you were on me, and then you were in me and I remember looking around... it's like everything slowed down, except for you, you were still there in and out, in and out. But I looked past you and I looked through the ceiling and I could see the night sky... I could see stars, lots of stars and I could see dark clouds. I could feel a breeze on my face. And then you came. 


And you pulled out of me and you rolled over and you went to sleep. And I laid there feeling so alone, and so gross and used and empty. I kept opening and closing my mouth. I wanted to talk to you, I wanted you to make me feel better. 


I told myself not to bring it up because he was sensitive about the fact that he didn't last long, that he didn't mean to make me feel this way. I wanted to run away, I wanted to leave this boy who was supposed to love and care for me in my bed and I wanted to go anywhere but there. 


The thing is I didn't say no. I was practically begging him all night before that. But I didn't say yes. I didn't say anything. 


My thought process was that we'd done it hundreds of times before, this one time if I didn't really feel like it wouldn't matter. 

It wasn't rape.

It was just... a grey area? 


Since that night I haven't stopped feeling alone. And since that night I haven't looked at my body the same. 


I've looked at her with hate... and with anger. I'm supposed to protect her. I'm supposed to listen to her. That was never his job. I was never meant to hand it over to him, to let him take the reigns. I understand the body's initial response to be to curl up in bed, to wrap yourself in your blankets, not wanting a drop of sunlight present in the room. My body no longer feels like home. I haven't felt safe for weeks. 


I feel like all my organs are spilling out, unprotected. Like they’re walking on the shoulder of a highway. I don't want to see myself. I don't want to see what’s been done to her. How I've let her down.

Who are we if not ourselves? 


It's no longer that I don't know who I am without him, but that I don't know who I am without myself 

Indie Band, “Summer Salt”, Accused of Sexual Assault

By: Sarah Harwell

One of the best concert experiences for many people who listen to indie music stems from the band Summer Salt, who is open to meeting fans after concerts, taking endless photos, signing shirts, and following them back on Instagram. This friendliness and interaction with fans allows a gateway for the members to abuse and hurt the ones who support them the most - one in particular, Phil Baier. Former member Phil Baier has been accused of toxic behavior and sexual misconduct a multitude of times. This mindset is solely caused by the fact that his small amount of fame that he receives is sent straight to his head, and he feels as if he can merely get away with such actions unscathed. An entitlement that he will continue to get if he resumed making music. In the abuse of his very own fans, he assumes consent and the ability to take advantage of vulnerable girls who were only trying to get to know a musician that they admired so much. This admiration would grow into hate, as fans nationwide would discover that one of their favorite music groups contained a abuser. This hate began on Twitter, as women would begin to tell their story of how they were sexually assaulted, which would later be compiled into a shareable GoogleDoc. Two of these women included in the document were concert attendees Abby Jones and Vanessa Herb.  


Abby Jones was seeing Summer Salt in Brooklyn, her fifth time seeing the band, and has met Phil Baier before. They had followed each other on Instagram and occasionally messaged each other. At this particular show, Abby states that she felt “a bit more unsafe” from Phil’s continuous physical contact and compliments. She kept her distance, and would refuse Phil’s offers to pay for drinks and food, as a caution to not “owe” him anything later in the night. Phil continues to compliment Abby, and tells her that he wants to kiss her. She tells him, more than once, that “it wasn’t a good idea and [she] didn’t want to kiss him”. After this rejection, he then interrogates her of the last boy she dated, and making her feel more and more uncomfortable by the minute. “Was the sex really good?” “He’s not gonna find me and kick my ass, is he?” At this point, Abby feels uneasy and anxious. Phil Baier ultimately resorted to her last partner as a way of conceiving her, making her feel as if there was a reason the last boy she dated had a need to “kick [his] ass”. In reality, Abby consented to nothing. Abby allowed nothing. But allowing nothing did not stop Phil Baier. As Abby was leaving, Phil “forcefully kissed [her] cheek and then [her] lips” leaving Abby “violated and upset”. She made it very clear to him that she did not want to be kissed by him that night. He had to force her - for a kiss she never wanted. Phil was told multiple times that kissing Abby was not a good idea, obviously indicating that what he did was nonconsensual. But, Phil still found it within himself to kiss a girl that was nervous, and disturbed of what was to come - and what was to come was something she had been avoiding all night long. 


“I never thought [telling my story] was something I would ever have to do”, a statement made by Vanessa Herb, another victim of sexual assault by Phil Baier. Vanessa was attending Summer Salt’s concert in Phoenix, in which prior to the show, she was messaging Phil through Instagram about how excited she was to see them live. In Summer Salt’s usual tradition of meeting fans after the show, Phil asked Vanessa for her phone number to invite her and her friends for a party afterwards. After picking up the band from their Airbnb and arriving at the party, Vanessa steps to the side to get some fresh air, where Phil follows her. With very little sitting room in the area she migrates to, Phil forcibly lays her on his lap to sit on him. To her surprise, and with other people around, she had no other choice but to accept her situation and does not try to “cause a scene” but nonetheless feels extremely tense. “I laughed and acted happy as can be, all [the] while hoping I could just disappear.” Vanessa had to hide her intolerable situation, and was stuck where she was. With the noise of the party bubbling, Phil takes advantage of Vanessa’s vulnerable environment and kisses her. After the party, she feels obligated to take the band back to their Airbnb; after dropping the rest of the band off , Phil and Vanessa pick up snacks, in which he comes at her and kisses her while they are alone - again, taking advantage of her vulnerable state. Whilst at the Airbnb, Phil, for the third time,”throws himself at [her]” and pressures her to cuddle, and kisses her aggressively in which she immediately squirms her way out of his grasp. After Phil gets into a fist fight with Eugene Chang, another Summer Salt member, in an attempt to get a bedroom, Vanessa finally has had enough and feels out of place, and decides to leave “feeling totally violated and disgusted”. Not once, but three times Phil Baier took advantage of Vanessa Herb. Three times she was not even allowed to give consent. Three times she was assaulted. 


Vanessa and Abby are two of many victims by not only Phil Baier, but the entire band. The document contains a plethora of stories of brave women telling their side, allowing more victims to feel courageous enough to speak up about their experience, as the document creates a feeling of not being the only one who was taken advantage of by the band. This attitude towards women - towards women who supported a music group enough to buy tickets and drive to see them perform - portrays the unending acts by men who see women as commodities, mere “things” that they have at the palm of their hand. This attitude needs to end. Phil Baier has been removed from Summer Salt, and hopefully, this is a wakeup call for not only Summer Salt, but for men everywhere. We are not your commodity.